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Renowned expert witness says heroin, not punches, killed man

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    Werner Spitz, a forensic pathologist with over 60 years' experience, reviews a document during his testimony in the case of Nick Masley, who is charged in death of Jeffrey Brooks in 2013, on Friday in Lorain County Common Pleas Court in Elyria.

    KRISTIN BAUER / CHRONICLE

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ELYRIA — The swelling of the brain that the coroner said killed Jeffrey Brooks was not caused by the physical trauma from getting punched in the face and hitting his head but rather from the use of heroin, Dr. Werner Spitz testified Friday.

Spitz testified on behalf of the defense in the murder trial of Nick Masley, 27, of Elyria, who is accused of killing Brooks, 25, of Wellington, in 2013.

The prosecution has said that Masley lured Brooks to a residence at 183 Delaware Circle in Elyria with the intention of beating him up because he felt Brooks had gotten his cousin, Kayla Ellis, addicted to heroin. The Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner’s office, which performed the autopsy on Brooks, ruled the manner of death as homicide and said it was caused by blunt force trauma to the back of Brooks’ head and spinal cord that cause his brain to swell.

Spitz, however, said that wasn’t the case.

“The cause of death of Mr. Brooks was brain swelling,” Spitz said. “This was brought on to major degree by the injection of heroin into (his) system.”

The defense called Spitz to the stand as an expert witness in the case. He was the only witness defense attorney Kenneth Lieux called to the stand in the case.

Spitz has served as an expert witness in every state in the country. He worked as a forensic pathologist in Maryland, the District of Columbia, Michigan and Germany. He has served as chief medical examiner in multiple counties.

He has written nearly 100 scientific papers, has written a textbook that is in its fourth edition and has taught at universities.

Spitz testified to Congress and the vice president on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, sat on a commission that looked into the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., has been involved in the investigation of the death of JonBenet Ramsey and testified in the O.J. Simpson murder trial in 1996.

“It is my opinion, that with the findings of the autopsy, the fall was a significantly less severe impact in causing brain swelling than the heroin,” Spitz said.

Spitz also said the fluid in Brooks’ lungs, which caused respiratory problems, also was caused by heroin use. According to the autopsy report, Brooks lungs weighed three times those of normal, healthy lungs.

Assistant County Prosecutor Donna Freeman asked Spitz, upon cross-examination, if he felt the fracture to Brooks’ face from the punches by Masley, along with bruising on the inside of his scalp, had caused the brain swelling.

Spitz replied that he didn’t feel the impact was severe enough to cause death. Earlier in his testimony, Spitz called them “superficial” injuries.

In closing arguments, Freeman maintained that Masley planned on beating up Brooks when he invited him to the residence on Delaware Circle to smoke marijuana. Masley told police, in video statement shown to the jury, that he’d suspected Brooks and Ellis had been using heroin for sometime and was upset about it.

In his closing statement, Lieux said Masley was in the situation he is in because he cared for his cousin’s well-being and wanted to get her away from Brooks’ influence. He said Masley is guilty of assault but not felonious assault.

The jury will begin deliberation on the matter Monday morning and is expected to deliver its verdict in the courtroom of Judge James Miraldi sometime early next week.

Contact Scott Mahoney at 329-7146 or smahoney@chroniclet.com. Follow him on Twitter @SMahoneyCT.



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