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Tennis umpire's husband had superficial head wound, report says

December 31, 2012 | 12:29 pm

Attorney Alison Triessl and Lois Goodman after charges were dropped in the Van Nuys courthouse. Credit: Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times

When prosecutors decided to drop a murder charge against professional tennis umpire Lois Goodman, they gave no explanation.

But a defense team pathology report by a former New York medical examiner reveals the head wound authorities had portrayed as deadly was, in fact, superficial.

The Los Angeles County district attorney's office dropped the case Nov. 30, before Goodman lawyers Alison Triessl and Robert Sheahen presented the report by Michael Baden.

The former chief medical examiner of New York attributed Alan Goodman's death to heart issues, and not head injuries from being bludgeoned with a coffee cup, as Los Angeles police contended. 

A copy of the Dec. 7 report obtained by The Times involving Alan Goodman's April 17 death found that the 80-year-old died from "long standing severe natural heart disease" and that he had accidentally fallen at home alone and struck his head on the coffee cup. 

Baden noted that "all of the scalp injuries produced by the small broken fragments are minor and could not cause death."

The report may set the stage for litigation by Lois Goodman against the LAPD, which had a detective arrest her at a New York hotel just hours before she was due to officiate at the U.S. Open.

"The more we know about this case, it is almost unfathomable that Mrs. Goodman could have been suspected of homicide by any rational person," Sheahen said recently.

Lois Goodman, 70, said she found her husband dead at their Woodland Hills home April 17. She told authorities she came home and found a bloody trail up the stairs to their bedroom. She believed he had fallen, then made his way to bed. Responding officers believed her and the home was cleaned up.

But three days later, a coroner's investigator visited the mortuary to sign the death certificate and reported he found "deep penetrating blunt force trauma" on Alan Goodman's head and ears. The observations launched a homicide investigation. In a search warrant, a detective described how investigators had found blood throughout the home.

While prosecutors have dropped the charges, coroner's officials are continuing to list the case as a homicide and police are continuing to investigate.

Baden in his report, however, wrote that the April 24 autopsy found "17 small cuts less than 3/7 inch deep limited to the head, none of which injured a large blood vessel." He noted that none of Alan Goodman's vital organs was injured.

Baden noted that the coroner found evidence of "severe hypertensive heart disease with cardiac enlargement and left ventricular hypertrophy."

The cause of death was initially deferred by the coroner, and then on Aug. 7 changed to "multiple sharp force injuries. Homicide." Lois Goodman was arrested a few weeks later.

Lois Goodman's lawyers later revealed that the tennis umpire's DNA wasn't even found on the alleged murder weapon. She also passed a defense-arranged polygraph test conducted by a former FBI examiner, according to her lawyers.

But Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck has defended his department's handling of the investigation.

"It is an open case and detectives absolutely handled it by the book," Beck said after the case was dropped. "I have done a review through [the] detective bureau of their actions. They consulted with the district attorney. They consulted with the court. They obtained search warrants and arrest warrants. They did what detectives do."

He said investigators were "largely guided" by information obtained through the coroner's office.

Lois Goodman, who has now returned to the tennis circuit, said the experience was "unbelievable," and she never understood how authorities could believe she killed her husband.

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-- Richard Winton

Follow Richard Winton (@LACrimes) on Twitter and Google+

Photo: Attorney Alison Triessl and Lois Goodman after charges were dropped in the Van Nuys courthouse. Credit: Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times

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