The Times, Munster, Ind.
Sep. 10—CROWN POINT — A forensic pathologist testified Thursday an autopsy showed a 79-year-old woman pulled from a fire-damaged home in 2018 had been smothered but continued breathing before she ultimately died from smoke inhalation.
Barbara Booth Walker likely lost consciousness, but she continued breathing shallowly during the fire early June 28, 2018, at her home in the 3400 block of Johnson Street in Gary, said Dr. Zhuo Wang, of the Lake County coroner’s office.
“Blanching” on Booth Walker’s nose and face were evidence she was smothered before her death, he said.
If she had been breathing normally, Booth Walker would have inhaled soot deeper into her lungs, Wang testified.
Instead, Wang found soot in her nose, mouth, larynx and trachea, and the top portion of her lungs. Extensive second- and third-degree burns to Booth Walker’s head, face, neck and chest occurred after her death, Wang testified.
Lake Criminal Court jurors listened to Wang’s testimony and viewed graphic autopsy photos during the third day of trial for Booth Walker’s grandson, Kyle A. Gray.
Gray, 28, who had lived with Booth Walker since he was 14 years old, has pleaded not guilty to murder, murder in perpetration of arson, arson causing serious bodily injury and arson. Judge Diane Boswell is presiding over his trial this week.
Attorneys said in opening arguments Gray claimed the fire was an accident.
Gray claimed Booth Walker began hitting him with a cane during an argument, and he picked up a gas can and struck a match as a warning, but he didn’t intend to start a fire.
Defense attorney Scott King predicted Lake County Deputy Prosecutors Maureen Koonce and Daniel Burke would not be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that his client intended to kill Booth Walker.
Photos entered into evidence Wednesday showed black marks on Booth Walker’s bed and the floor in her bedroom, where a Gary Fire Department paramedic found her unconscious.
The paramedic testified she was unable to move Booth Walker, but firefighters arrived a short time later and carried Booth Walker to the front yard. Booth Walker showed no signs of life, and Lake County coroner’s investigators later pronounced her dead at the scene.
In response to questions from the jury and King, Wang said the “blanching” on Booth Walker’s nose and face could not have been the result of her own attempts to shield herself from the smoke.
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