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Saturday, March 2, 2024

Expert: Asphyxiation killed Morales-Rivera; Alcohol didn’t impact cause of death

Dr. Butch Huston had been on the witness stand for nearly an hour this morning, when the most anticipated question came up.

“Dr. Huston, in your opinion, what killed Mr. Morales Rivera,” asked John Gross, a prosecuting attorney with the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office.

The third-floor courtroom in the Cottonwood County Courthouse was silent as ever while Huston, the assistant medical examiner for the Ramsey County Medical Examiner’s office, paused for a moment. The defendant, Ralph Leslie Apmann, 58, of Windom sat motionless.

“That would be asphyxiation, due to compression of the neck and possible other mechanisms,” Huston replied.

Officially, Apmann has been charged with, “second degree murder without intent while committing a felony.” The charge is in connection with the Aug. 26, 2021 death of Juan Morales-Rivera, 40, of Worthington on a back patio of the Phat Pheasant Pub, shortly after midnight.

A few minutes before Huston’s statement on the cause of death, Gross followed up on information that Morales-Rivera’s blood alcohol content was either .291, or .231, based on two different medical tests.

“Does the blood alcohol have any impact on the cause of death here?” Gross asked.
“No,” Huston replied.

On cross-examination, Apmann’s attorney, Philip Elbert zeroed in on the last few words of Huston’s comment about the cause of death — “…and possible other mechanisms.”
Elbert asked, “Could those mechanisms include an obstruction of the mouth or nose?”
“Yes,” Huston replied.

Elbert asked whether the mechanisms could also be compression of the chest and compression of the abdomen. Huston again confirmed that those could be other mechanisms.

Upon further questioning from Gross, Huston explained that an obstruction to the nose or mouth cannot occur with a person simply laying down on the ground. He added that in order for sitting on one’s chest, or abdomen, on its own, to be a factor, a person would have to be there for about 20 minutes.

“But with neck compression it would accelerate death, I mean if they are occurring at the same time,” Huston said.

At the end of Thursday’s testimony the prosecution rested and Judge Christina Wietzema told jurors that Monday’s testimony at the Cottonwood County Courthouse would begin at 9 a.m. At that point, Elbert will call his first witnesses for the defense.

Wietzema also told the jury that based on discussions with both the prosecution and defense this case could be in the hands of the jury by the early part of the week.
Check Citizen Online at www.windomnews.com Monday evening for an update on this trial.

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