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Pathologist tells jury that Ogdensburg man bled to death

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CANTON — A St. Lawrence County jury heard Monday how Ralph E. “Gene” Lawton bled to death after an aortic aneurysm burst, flooding his body cavity with blood.

Forensic pathologist Dr. Samuel A. Livingstone described the autopsy he performed on the 83-year-old Ogdensburg man’s body as he took the stand during the trial of three men accused in Mr. Lawton’s death.

What caused that aneurysm was at the center of lengthy, graphic testimony Monday afternoon before Judge Jerome J. Richards, in which jurors were shown images from Mr. Lawton’s autopsy. Judge Richards acknowledged that some jurors might find the photos unpleasant, urging them to view the pictures “quickly, calmly and unemotionally” as part of the evidence.

Anthony W. Lalonde, Michael D. Durand and Michael S. Thorpe, all of Ogdensburg, are facing charges of second-degree murder and first-degree robbery in the Nov. 18, 2010, death of Mr. Lawton.

Lalonde, then 31, of 1106 Ford St.; Thorpe, then 25, of 904 Elizabeth St.; and Durand, then 29, of 513 Elizabeth St., are accused of causing severe injuries to Mr. Lawton, 83, that led to his death.

Mr. Lawton died after three masked men allegedly entered his Ford Street apartment to steal cash and prescription pills, turning out his pockets while struggling with Mr. Lawton and his 64-year-old roommate, Guy C. Bartlett. Mr. Bartlett testified last week that two of the assailants picked him up and tossed him onto Mr. Lawton.

Dr. Livingstone said he determined the cause of death to be exsanguination — the clinical term for loss of blood — due to a ruptured aortic aneurysm. The rupture of the aneurism, he said, was caused by blunt force trauma, a determination the doctor said he made based on information provided by police officers about Mr. Lawton’s being pushed to the ground and then Mr. Bartlett’s falling on him.

Dr. Livingstone also said that there was evidence of bruising and scrapes on Mr. Lawton’s head and hands, but that none of those injuries was fatal.

Under questioning by Chief Assistant District Attorney Amanda N. Nissen, Dr. Livingstone also said that Mr. Lawton’s blood pressure likely was elevated by a “fight or flight” reaction to the intruders, placing pressure on his aorta, which then ruptured after Mr. Bartlett fell on him.

Under questioning by defense attorney Lloyd G. Grandy II, Dr. Livingstone said that in more than 200 aneurysm deaths he has seen during a three-decade career, most were caused when aneurysms burst spontaneously, and this was the first he has seen in which trauma was a factor.

He also acknowledged that the aneurysm probably developed over time — years perhaps — and that the rupture could have begun slowly well before it finally burst.

Dr. Livingstone said under cross-examination that while his autopsy documented the aneurysm, he found no physical injuries to suggest blunt force trauma, of which he learned only from police.

“Without the history, I never would have noticed,” the doctor said.

Testimony will resume this morning.

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