Originally created 02/12/99

Doctor testifies man died from asphyxia, not beating



Martinez real estate agent Stan White wasn't beaten to death, a medical examiner testified Thursday.

He died from lack of oxygen, the doctor determined.

Dr. Fredrick Hellman was the last witness in the fourth day of testimony Thursday in attorney William Lumpkin's capital murder trial, a day that raised more questions than answers in the death of the 64-year-old man.

Mr. Lumpkin has pleaded not guilty to charges of murder and theft. Testimony continues today.

During much of Tuesday and Wednesday, the Richmond County Superior Court jury listened as the state's star witness, Augustus Williams, testified that for more than 20 minutes on Sept. 2, 1996, he heard repeated thuds from blows delivered hard enough to cause the floor outside Mr. Lumpkin's downtown Augusta law office to vibrate.

But Thursday, Dr. Hellman testified that the 13 bruises he discovered on Mr. White's body measured less than an inch in diameter, except for a large one on the back of his head and another large bruise near the center of his back.

In his opinion, the bruises, allegedly caused by an 8-pound sandbag, were not sufficient to kill Mr. White, and through a process of elimination he determined the cause of death was asphyxia, he testified.

"All asphyxia means is lack of oxygen," he said.

Asphyxia can result if someone's face is covered in plastic wrap, but it can also result from injury to the neck, compression on the chest or a brain injury, Dr. Hellman testified.

More forensic clues couldn't be gathered in Mr. White's case because the body was decomposed. Mr. White's body was found Sept. 5, 1996, in the Savannah River near Allendale, S.C., and Dr. Hellman estimated the body had been in water for several days.

While defense attorney Michael Garrett and District Attorney Danny Craig both told the jury in opening statements Monday that Mr. White died in Mr. Lumpkin's Courthouse Lane law office on Sept. 2, they disagreed on who caused the death.

The defense contends Mr. Williams struck the blows that killed Mr. White after Mr. White got the better of Mr. Lumpkin in a physical fight. The prosecution contends that Mr. Lumpkin committed a calculated, premeditated murder to get out of a major financial crisis. Mr. White held the deed to Mr. Lumpkin's home in the Country Place subdivision in Evans.

One thing became clear Thursday: Mr. White was already dead when someone used his cellular telephone to place six calls Sept. 3 and 4, according to witnesses who testified Thursday. Mr. White's cellular phone has never been recovered.

His red Infiniti with gold trim was found in the parking lot of Westwood Nursing Home on North Belair Road in Evans, within a short walk of the Kroger grocery store on Washington Road where Mr. Williams testified he waited as Mr. Lumpkin stashed the expensive car.

Two women who worked at the nursing home Sept. 2, 1996, testified Thursday that they noticed the Infiniti in the parking lot that afternoon. They also noticed that the car was parked in a different parking place the next day, they testified.

And a photograph taken by a Columbia County sheriff's investigator, a photograph neither defense nor prosecuting attorneys had seen before Thursday, revealed that Mr. White's vehicle had vegetation stuck to the underside and that a piece of wire was holding the license tag in place.