Autopsy photos from Lori Bases murder admitted into evidence
Steamboat Springs — The first police officer to arrive at the Steamboat Boulevard home where Lori Bases was found murdered in May 2000 was the first witness to be called by the prosecution Monday in the trial of Thomas Lee Johnson, the man accused of killing the 31-year-old Bases.
Jason Patrick, who is now a horse trainer, but 16 years ago was a sergeant with the Steamboat Springs Police Department, said he was working his shift in the early morning hours of May 12, 2000, when he received a call from dispatch that a woman had been found lying in a pool of blood.
Arriving on the scene about 12:45 a.m., Patrick said the main house was dark, but as he walked around the home, he saw light coming from a side apartment.
“As I approached the door, I saw a little bit of blood, and then, I heard screaming from inside,” Patrick said when questioned by Assistant District Attorney Matt Karzen, who is prosecuting the case with Deputy District Attorney Kathryn Brown. “There was nonstop profanity. The yelling was pretty frantic and loud. It was intense.”
Upon entering the apartment, Patrick said he encountered Ron Farmer, who Patrick later said was not present when the murder was committed.
“He smelled of alcohol and was showing signs of intoxication, so I placed him in handcuffs,” Patrick said. “Once I got him to sit down, I began to clear the house.”
As Patrick turned the corner into the small living room area, he said he saw a body facedown on the ground in the space between the living room and bedroom.
“I reached down and made contact with her leg to ascertain if she was alive, and it felt to me like she was not alive and beyond us helping,” Patrick said.
While questioning Patrick, Karzen introduced photos from the crime scene, and those photos were projected on a large screen for jurors to see while Patrick continued to describe what he observed that night.
On cross examination, defense attorney Randy Salky asked Patrick if it appeared as if there had been some sort of struggle.
“Possibly … it looked like stuff had been moved around,” Patrick said.
Former Deputy Police Chief Bob Delvalle, who was lead detective on the Bases murder case, was called as the prosecution’s second witness. He said he arrived at the crime scene about 20 to 30 minutes after the initial call and entered the home after two patrol officers secured the scene and a search warrant was obtained.
A key part of DelValle’s testimony involved narration of a video that was taken the morning of May 12, 2000. Jurors watched the video with the sound muted as DelValle explained what he and then-Routt County Coroner Doug Allen saw as they entered the apartment, where DelValle said Bases and Farmer resided at the time of the murder.
As the camera panned the dark living room, lit only by the DelValle’s flashlight, the former detective described seeing blood droplets on the wall next to Bases’ lifeless body and large quantities of blood beneath Bases and around her head and neck.
DelValle also spoke about the extent of Bases’ wounds, including a significant slash wound to her neck, a large slash wound to her torso, stab wounds on her lower back and slash wounds on the backs of both thighs.
Proof of these wounds was introduced later in DelValle’s testimony, when a number of autopsy photos were entered into evidence following a sidebar hearing conducted by Judge Michael O’Hara without the jury present.
The defense argued against the jury seeing any of the autopsy photos.
“Some of these photos are far too graphic,” defense attorney Erin Wilson said. “We still maintain none of the autopsy photos should come in, and a diagram (created by the medical examiner showing the location of Bases’ wounds ) should be used.”
Brown argued that, since the defense was claiming the crime was committed in self-defense, autopsy photos were necessary to show the extent of the injuries.
“We have to show the defendant’s state of mind,” Brown said. “We have to prove intent and disprove self defense, and that’s why each wound is significant.”
After the prosecution withdrew one of the photos, and O’Hara ruled to exclude another, the judge overruled the defense’s objection with respect to the balance of the autopsy photos.
“There is absolutely no question these are gruesome photos and are hard to look at,” O’Hara said. “But in each of these instances, the court finds there are relevant reasons for admission of each of the photos.”
During cross examination, Wilson methodically questioned DelValle about his involvement in photographing the autopsy, collecting evidence from the autopsy and handling evidence collected at the crime scene by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation.
In particular, she asked DelValle about the absence of blood in the palm of Bases’ right hand, about blood, which was later identified as Johnson’s, found on the kitchen counter and whether white residue found on Bases’ middle finger during the autopsy had been properly processed.
Johnson’s trial is expected to last three weeks. It is being held in the Routt County Judicial Center.
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