Heather Sims’ murder trial has relied heavily on expert testimony. She was charged with shooting her husband to death in their home near Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. She testified that her husband, David Sims Jr., stabbed her in the stomach with a kitchen knife and cut her arm before she shot him in self-defense. David Sims died from a single gunshot wound to the chest.
The Crime Scene
David Sims’s body was found in the couple’s master bathroom. Sims was lying on his back with his arms raised above his head. A knife was laying in his hand. Crime scene analysts found no sign of a struggle in the home.
Police searched the home for David Sims’ cellphone but did not find it. The officer who conducted the search claimed she looked in every drawer but did not document those actions in the report she wrote. Heather Sims later gave the phone to the police, telling them that they missed it when they searched. The phone contained no record of calls made. The prosecution suggests that Heather Sims deleted the phone’s records to conceal incriminating evidence. Sims says she wiped the phone because she wanted to use it as her own after the police confiscated her phone.
Sims argued for immunity from prosecution under South Carolina’s Stand Your Ground law. That law prohibits the criminal prosecution of an individual who was not engaged in illegal behavior and who used deadly force against an attacker in a home or business. After a hearing, the judge decided that the murder charge should proceed to trial.
Expert Testimony Regarding DNA and Blood Patterns
Paulette Sutton, a forensic expert in blood patterns, testified for the prosecution. She said that there was no visible blood on the knife handle found in David Sims’ hand. She expressed the opinion that blood on his palm probably came from grabbing his gunshot wound. In Sutton’s view, the absence of blood on the handle proves that Sims could not have been gripping the knife after he was shot.
The defense attempted to undermine that testimony by calling DNA expert Adrienne Hefney, who testified that Heather Sim’s blood was on the blade of the knife that stabbed her, and that David Sims’ “touch DNA” was present on the handle. “Touch DNA” is DNA that is transferred to an object by touching it. He agreed that David Sims’ blood was not found on the handle. The defense argued that there was no evidence that David Sims grabbed his wound and pointed to the DNA on the knife handle as proof that David Sims had held the knife. If the knife had been planted in David Sims’ hand after he grabbed his wound, there defense argued, there would have been blood on the knife handle.
Sutton also testified that blood splatter patterns show that David Sims fell to his knees and then slumped forward. The prosecution pointed to that evidence to support the claim that Heather Sims moved the body in an attempt to construct a crime scene that supported her story. As the defense pointed out, however, Sims could have been alive and moving for several minutes after he was shot.
Expert Testimony Regarding Sims’ Wounds
Earlier in the trial, the prosecution called Dr. Werner Spitz as an expert radiologist. He testified he believed Heather Sims’ stomach wounds, as well as three cuts on her forearm, were self-inflicted because they were “superficial” in nature. The defense countered that opinion with testimony from expert radiologist Dr. Joshua Bryan Tew. Dr. Tew explained that “superficial” is a medical term that, in this case, means only that the wound “stayed superficial to the abdominal wall.”
In addition, Dr. Tew disagreed with Dr. Spitz’ opinion that the puncture wound in Heather Sims’ stomach was only 3 millimeters deep. He testified that a CT scan showed the wound was actually 35 millimeters deep, or about an inch-and-a-third.
Forensic pathologist Kimberly Collins also testified for the defense. She noted that Heather Sim’s stomach wound could have been serious since the knife blade pierced the abdominal wall. Collins disagreed that the wounds on Heather Sims’ arms were self-inflicted. She testified that the wounds were “classic” defensive wounds, the kind that victims sustain when they raise their arms to defend themselves from an attack.
The judge expressed doubts about the strength of the prosecution’s evidence, but decided that it was up to the jury to resolve conflicts in the evidence. Reaching a verdict will be challenging as the jurors weigh the conflicting expert opinions.