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DA: Conn. doctor's trial testimony inconsistent

By Denise Lavoie
AP Legal Affairs Writer / January 19, 2012
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BROCKTON, Mass.—Massachusetts prosecutors have taken the highly unusual step of charging one of their own expert witnesses -- a Connecticut state medical examiner -- with perjury for what they allege are inconsistencies in his testimony in a murder case.

Dr. Frank Evangelista, a former Massachusetts medical examiner who performed the autopsy on the murder victim, is now an assistant medical examiner in Connecticut. He has pleaded not guilty to charges of perjury and misleading.

Following a pretrial hearing in Brockton Superior Court on Thursday, assistant district attorney Cynthia Brackett said prosecutors allege there were "material inconsistencies" between Evangelista's testimony in a 2006 trial for one defendant and his testimony in a 2010 trial for the man's co-defendant.

Both men, Eric Pimental and Robert Silva, were charged with beating a homeless man to death in Wareham in 2004.

Evangelista, then a medical examiner in Massachusetts, testified in Pimental's trial about the cause of death -- blunt force trauma. Pimental was convicted of first-degree murder and armed robbery.

In 2010, Evangelista, by then working in Connecticut, returned to Massachusetts to testify in Silva's trial. That trial ended with a hung jury. Silva was convicted of first-degree murder and armed robbery after a second trial. Prosecutors called another medical examiner to testify during Silva's second trial.

Brackett would not give specifics on what Evangelista allegedly said that prosecutors believe amounted to perjury. In his indictment, it is alleged that Evangelista, "while testifying under oath, knowingly made two or more irreconcilably contradictory declarations, material to the point in question, which are inconsistent to the degree that one of them is necessarily false."

Evangelista declined to comment on the charges Thursday. His attorney, Michael Jennings, said he has asked prosecutors to spell out what statements Evanglista made that they believe constitute perjury.

"What is the offending conduct?" Jennings said. "I don't believe his testimony had much to do with the jury's decision. The issue in the case was who did it, not how it was done."

During their trials, prosecutors said Silva and Pimental met the victim, Thomas Loftus, 47, while walking through the woods and decided to rob and beat him. A man walking his dogs found the body in the woods the next day.

In a pretrial motion, Jennings suggested that the prosecution of his client may possibly have a personal element. In the motion, Jennings asks prosecutors to turn over any information that might show that any testimony against Evangelista "was motivated in any degree by a personal animosity, or feelings of revenge toward the defendant (Evangelista)."

Jennings also asks prosecutors to explain in writing why the case was presented to two grand juries before Evangelista was indicted, and "why he was not indicted by the first grand jury asked to consider the allegations."

Dr. Henry Lee, Connecticut's former chief forensic scientist and public safety commissioner, said it is not unusual for prosecutors or defense attorneys to try to discredit the other side's expert witnesses, but it is rare for them to go after their own.

"That's unique," said Lee, who has testified as an expert in many criminal cases, including the O.J. Simpson trial. "I don't think in my career of 50 years in the forensic field I've ever heard of, both times you testify for the prosecution and then they charge you with perjury," Lee said.

A spokeswoman for Plymouth County prosecutors, where the case originated, declined to comment. A spokeswoman for Bristol County prosecutors said they agreed to handle the case to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest, and would have no comment.

Evanglista is due back in court on Feb. 23.

Todd Fernow, chairman of the Connecticut Commission on Medicolegal Investigations, which oversees the state medical examiner's office, said Thursday he also has been reviewing the situation along with another member of the commission. He declined to say when his review started or what it entails.

Dr. H. Wayne Carver, Connecticut's chief medical examiner, said the case is a personnel issue and that he could not comment on it.

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Associated Press writer Stephanie Reitz in Hartford, Conn., contributed to this report.

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