The defense for a Mastic man accused of raping and killing a Medford woman argued Wednesday there was no autopsy evidence of sexual assault.
If the jury now hearing the case against Dante Taylor, 21, comes to the same conclusion, it would mean the difference between a conviction of first-degree murder or second-degree murder in the death of Sarah Goode, 21, on June 7, 2014. The definition of first-degree murder in this case is an intentional killing committed in the course of rape or sexual abuse.
In both testimony and legal argument, Taylor’s defense suggested there was no basis for the higher charge, which carries a maximum penalty of life without parole in prison. If Taylor is convicted of second-degree murder, he faces a maximum sentence of 25 years to life.
The first defense witness, former Suffolk Chief Medical Examiner Charles Wetli, said the lack of genital injury was unusual for a victim of a sex crime. More than half of such victims have some kind of injury, and the percentage rises when foreign objects are involved. In this case, a sexual assault exam during the autopsy found semen — later matched to Taylor’s DNA — and plant material.
There was no blood on that material, however. Defense attorney John Lewis Jr. of Farmingdale argued in a motion to dismiss the case that this showed Goode was not alive when that material was inserted.
Assistant District Attorney Janet Albertson said that’s an issue for the jury to decide. State Supreme Court Justice John Collins agreed and declined to dismiss the case.
During cross-examination by Albertson, Wetli conceded that some forcible rapes leave no genital injuries, and he could not rule out that one happened in this case.
But Wetli told Lewis the presence of semen is also consistent with consensual sex and there’s no way to determine if it got there at the time Goode was being stabbed 43 times.
Wetli also said during questioning by Lewis that he did not believe the attack on Goode ended where her body was found in the woods, about three-fourths of a mile from her bloody, abandoned BMW.
Prosecutors have suggested she died in the woods, with Taylor stabbing her 17 times in the back of the head while she lay face down on the ground.
“My opinion is that she was already deceased when she was placed at the scene,” Wetli said. “There was a noticeable lack of blood at the scene.”
If she’d been taken there while alive and stabbed there, he said he’d have expected to see a blood trail, signs of a struggle and blood at the scene, but none was found.
During questioning by Albertson, Wetli said rain in the five days between her death and the discovery of her body might lessen the amount of blood there, “but it would not destroy it.”