MONTESANO — Eugene V. Elkins Jr. was found guilty of second-degree murder Thursday for the brutal beating death of his girlfriend last summer in their Clemons Road mobile home outside Montesano.
Sentencing has been set for May 13. Elkins could face between 10 and 20 years in prison for the crime. After a trial that began Tuesday and concluded Thursday morning with closing arguments, the jury deliberated for less than two hours before finding Elkins guilty. Superior Court Judge Gordon Godfrey polled each juror individually to see if they all agreed with the verdict and each one said they did.
Kornelia Englemann, 58, of Montesano, was found dead June 6. The 56-year-old Elkins allegedly told police the two had argued about five days before her body was found in the home they shared, sometimes described as a “shoving match” in officers’ testimony.
But Deputy Prosecutor Katie Svoboda told the jury in her closing arguments, “Kornelia Englemann suffered a brutal beating much more than a pushing match or a shoving match. This was an internal, savage beating. The state does not have to prove that Elkins intended to kill her.”
Instead, Svoboda explained, the state merely has to prove that the assault Elkins committed led to her death.
“The defendant’s actions show a consciousness of guilt,” she said. “He knows his actions caused this woman’s death. He took steps to conceal the crime. He never called 911. He never sought medical assistance. He considered placing the body in with the grass clippings. Whether he acted on it, he had made a plan. “
Defense attorney David Mistachkin rested his defense immediately, calling no witnesses. Elkins never took the stand.
Mistachkin explained that the state had never proven its case and argued that it had also neglected to do any DNA tests or fingerprint analysis to see if anyone else had been involved.
“It’s simply inexcusable,” he told the jury. “Why collect all this evidence if you’re not going to test it? … They didn’t have any evidence that anyone else was involved because they didn’t test it. It was quicker, more efficient and it was cheaper. Period. It isn’t acceptable in a murder investigation. There is no more serious crime. This is not a two-bit drug charge.”
“To give ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ a short shrift would be an injustice to the whole system, not just to Mr. Elkins,” Mistachkin added. “Can you honestly say that the state has proven its case beyond a reasonable doubt?”
“You don’t check your common sense when you come into a courtroom,” Svoboda told the jury. “The police simply followed where the evidence led.”
Mistachkin spent most of the time during the trial trying to poke holes in the prosecutor’s case and saying that law enforcement was lazy in not following up on every lead. He criticized the Sheriff’s Office for not sending evidence to the Washington State Crime Lab.
“The investigation was totally botched,” he said.
For example, he pointed to fingernail clippings that were taken, but notes that no tests were ever done.
“You can’t see skin cells you need a microscope to look at it,” Mistachkin told the jury. “Maybe they didn’t want to know.”
Svoboda countered that there was no proof of anyone else involved in the assault so no reason to send evidence to the lab. Plus, she noted, the defense also had an opportunity to do its own independent tests on the evidence.
Mistachkin admitted there was “circumstantial evidence that looks bad.”
“How much do we really know about what happened?” he asked the jury “Do we have any idea what happened that night? Think about it. There’s no witnesses. There’s no one in the trailer or around the trailer.”
Mistachkin pointed to one potential witness that talked to Elkins after what had happened, but noted she has anxiety problems and even in the police reports, officers were questioning what she was saying.
“She has a substantial anxiety problem that causes major panic where she feels like shes having a heart attack and she’s supposedly going to remember 10 months later and testify accurately?” he said. “She has zero credibility and I’m asking you to give it zero weight. When you are under a stressful situation, will you remember accurately everything that was said? Of course not. So how really reliable is her recollection? Not very reliable.”
“Why would she lie?” Svoboda countered. “People do things for a reason. She has no motive here to fabricate this story.”
“This was not mutual combat that got out of hand,” she added. “Other than a long scratch on his back, he has no injuries. This was not a fight. This was a one-sided beating.”
Englemann was found dead June 6 of last year, her bra and shirt torn, severe bruises covering much of her upper body. Her internal bleeding was so severe, an autopsy revealed nearly all of her body’s blood was partially clotted in her chest and abdomen.
Forensic pathologist Emmanuel Lacsina said he couldn’t be sure when he examined Englemann whether it was a single blow or a series of blows over some period of time that caused the internal bleeding that killed her, but he estimated whatever injuries that tipped the scales were inflicted about the same time, roughly four to five hours before her death.
Lacsina said he didn’t find any evidence of internal injury much older than that, which doesn’t quite match up with the timeline Elkins gave police as to when they fought.
Englemann’s injuries were extensive, but Lacsina notably found five cracked ribs, some cracked on the back side of her body, bone marrow in her lungs, bleeding in her brain and a cut on her liver about two inches long and more than an inch deep. All of that pointed toward exceptional force in the blows that caused the damage, Lacsina said.
Brianne Slosson testified she woke up the morning of June 6 to a voicemail from Elkins.
“The voicemail just said it was Gene, and for me to call him back, that it was kind of important,” she said.
The certified nursing assistant had become friends with Elkins through her then-boyfriend. She called him back, her calls going straight to voicemail, until he finally called again about 7 a.m.
“He just said that I needed to get up to the house right away, that something was wrong with Kornelia,” Slosson said. “At first, he told me that she was dead and that I needed to keep my mouth shut. Then I told him to call 911, and he said well, he didn’t know she was dead, I needed to come and check.”
The bedroom was dark when she walked in, she said, she had to turn on a light to seek Englemann lying face-up on the floor, partly covered with a blanket.
“Rigor mortis had already set in, so she had been dead for quite some time,” Slosson said. “She was very cold, very stiff, and her mouth — lockjaw of rigor mortis. Her mouth was open, her eyes were open.”
Asked to describe the trauma to Englemann’s body specifically, Slosson took a long pause, fighting back tears.
“She didn’t have any clothes on. And she was just black and blue, from her chest up was just black,” she said.
When Slosson asked Elkins if he was responsible for Englemann’s death, “he said that he had beaten her, but she didn’t die while the physical confrontation was gong on. That she was fine, that she had gone to bed around midnight, she must have gotten up to use the bathroom and she fell down on the floor and he couldn’t wake her up.”
“He told me we could not call 911. I told him if we could just call 911 I could get him out of trouble, I could say that she fell or something, I just wanted him to call. He said no,” Slosson said.
So she helped him pack up Englemann’s car, moved her truck out of his way, and said goodbye.
“He said to give him a 10-minute head start. He told me he wanted to go see the desert,” Slosson said.
“Did he ask you to tell the police where he’d gone?” Svoboda asked.
“He said to tell them he was going to Oregon,” Slosson replied. “I called 911 before he was even around the corner.”
“Is there a reason that you waited until he left (to call 911)?” Svoboda asked.
“Because I was scared.”
Elkins was found at Paul Hansen’s home in the Yakima Valley. Hansen said he arrived about 1 p.m. on June 6.
“He said that his girlfriend was not alive. … That he tried to revive her, and that didn’t happen, so he got scared and left,” Hansen said. “He said he shoved her around the night before … but he claimed he didn’t hit her.”
The two talked over the situation, with Elkins at one point noting he might dispose of Englemann’s body “wherever they get rid of yard clippings,” Hansen added.
Within an hour of Elkins’ arrival, they had called police.
“He said, ‘Let me have one more beer and I’m going to turn myself in,” Hansen said.
Mistachkin said the prosecution’s case was wholly based on circumstantial evidence.
“There’s no forensics. They didn’t process any of the forensics,” he said, referring to a sexual assault kit performed on Englemann and a glass drug pipe found in the bedroom with her body.
There were two motions for a mistrial during the trial.
On the first day, Mistachkin argued that a witness prejudiced the jury when he mentioned that Elkins had fought with his girlfriend before she was found dead in their home.
Although Mistachkin’s objection at the time was sustained, and Godfrey directed the jurors to disregard the comment, “the cat’s out of the bag, the bell’s rung, you can’t unwind that,” Mistachkin said. “I’m afraid the jury will use that regarding prior alleged domestic violence incidents.”
“Even if it were to be allowed in, the fact that they had arguments is a long leap,” Svoboda said. “Everyone who has been in a relationship has had arguments, and they do not end in homicide.”
The objection came from testimony from Hansen, a longtime friend of Elkins. Elkins fled to Hansen’s home in Wapato after Elkins’ girlfriend, Kornelia Englemann, was found dead.
Hansen testified he was in regular contact with Elkins and sometimes heard him arguing with Englemann during their phone calls. The comment was struck.
“There had been a rather innocuous question, he gave a rather innocuous response, and he volunteered the statement, it was not solicited by counsel,” Godfrey noted. “I don’t think so, counsel. Mistrial motion denied.”
There was another motion for mistrial the second day of trial after a detective mentioned Elkins asked for an attorney after his initial four-hour interview.
After some explanation out of the jury’s hearing, Elkins later asked to speak with detectives again without an attorney, but mentioning a defendant’s exercise of a constitutional right isn’t admissible during trial.
“We believe it’s a constitutional error, it’s not harmless as a matter of law,” Mistachkin said. “Even if it wasn’t intentional, and the state didn’t anticipate that testimony, (it) doesn’t even factor in, I don’t think.”
“In this case, it’s a trial irregularity. The defendant is certainly entitled to a fair trial, he’s not entitled to a perfect trial,” Svoboda said.
“I am somewhat taken aback that the statement was made in court. I can only assume the prosecutor sat down with the witnesses and went through everything they were going to say and not say,” Judge Gordon Godfrey said.
Godfrey concluded his instruction to the jury to disregard the comment was enough, and the irregularity didn’t merit the extreme measure of conducting a new trial.