Blood spatter analysis has been the focus of both state prosecutors and the defense attorneys in the trial of a Gainesville man accused of trying to kill his wife and himself in February 2018 and make it look like an intruder did it.
Michael Reuschel, 63, is facing a charge of attempted murder of his wife, Susan O’Brien Reuschel, along with charges of false imprisonment, obstruction and tampering with evidence.
As soon as defense witness and former medical examiner Dr. Michael Berkland took the stand, assistant state attorney Sean Brewer questioned his professional background, given the state suspension of Berkland’s license for medical examining in 2005.
Berkland, a former Florida assistant medical examiner, was arrested in 2012 after authorities said he stored more than 100 body parts, including brains and hearts, in a Pensacola storage container.
“People’s complaint doesn’t address professional competence,” said defense attorney Patrick McGuiness. He added it’s unfair to Berkland for the state to “assassinate his character” and competency for reviewing and analyzing blood spatter and forensic evidence.
Berkland, now a forensic pathologist with Forensic Puzzle Investigations, acknowledged families’ complaints while storing preserved brains, hearts, lungs and other organs in Tupperwares inside a climate-controlled storage.
He also said he understands his limitations to only examine crime scene photographs rather than performing autopsy.
Over five hours of testimony, Berkland introduced the jury to his own experiment to draw a distinction between arterial spurt – resulting from blood exiting the body under pressure from a breached artery – and cast off blood pattern – appearing more linear by a blood-bearing object in motion.
He also expressed concern over the number of first responders and investigators showing up to Michael Reuschel’s residence and potentially transferring or contaminating bloodstain evidence.
Brewer contended Michael Reuschel himself could have walked through these stains and that the first responders’ focus was not only treating Michael and Susan Reuschel but also searching for the 6 foot 3 intruder at the time.
Brewer added since Berkland couldn’t tell exactly the source of bleeding, Susan’s wrist injury with arterial blood spurting could have been caused by the defendant Michael Reuschel.
Tension heightened as state prosecutors objected to the relevance and speculation over the 2017 arrest of Susan Reuschel and subsequent charge of domestic battery.
Deputy Leo Lowe with the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office did make a correction in his testimony overusing the word “belligerent” in describing Susan after arresting her.
“I’d say she’s not agreeable,” Lowe said. “She’s never hostile to me. She’s polite to me. She used good language.”
Lowe clarified that he arrested Susan after she had allegedly thrown a cell phone at Michael Reuschel and refused to move out of the residence.
As such, since Susan did confess to a drinking problem at the time of the arrest and – according to court documents – have at least five glasses of wine or champagne on the night of the stabbing, the defense called a toxicologist to the stand.
Clinical pharmacist Dr. Susan M. Skilly Danziger said she was especially concerned about Susan’s intake of the antidepressant Effexor, which has a black box warning and the potential to increase suicidal thoughts.
Judge William Davis said the court will hold jury conference on Tuesday, with closing to follow on Wednesday.