(Ninth of ten articles about the Kent Heitholt murder with a primary focus on interpreting the physical and other evidence at the crime scene. The reconstruction in this article seeks to provide a sequence of the attack and strangulation that accounts for the found evidence on the pavement, vehicle, and victim. The reconstruction would likely be modified and enhanced with an opportunity to review and analyze the full police and autopsy files.)
When examining the crime scene and known injuries to the victim, several questions arise about the assault and strangulation. Among these are:
1. Where and how did the assault begin?
2. What was the assault weapon?
3. How do we explain both the blood spray on the inside of the driver door and driver compartment with some assault strike markings to the outside of the driver door?
4. How do several materials get spread out under the car but not beside the car?
5. How do several materials including the eye glasses get in the car seat but none wind up on the floorboard of the car?
6. How does one of the eye glass lens gets separated and wind up under the car?
7. What was the empty notebook cover doing in the driver seat and did that belong to the notebook computer that Mike Boyd was using?
8. Why didn’t Kent Heitholt escape early on by one of several means such as vaulting headfirst into the car, crawling under the rear of the vehicle, or moving toward the Tribune building?
9. How did the tall and large Heitholt manage to make such strong head swiping contact with the left rear wheel cover which was just a few inches off the ground?
10. When and how did Heitholt fall hard enough to the pavement to induce a strong bleeding scrape to his right knee?
11. How and when did the pavement shoe scrubbing markings occur?
12. At what point in the life and death struggle did the belt buckle break as it could have broken in the effort to remove the belt or early during the strangulation effort?
This reconstruction will offer a plausible sequence of events aimed at addressing most of the above questions.
In working up a reconstruction, one works both backward and forward at times to develop a plausible scenario. As previously discussed, we can work backwards with the blood evidence on the pavement to reach a point when the victim’s head makes strong wiping contact with the left rear wheel cover. At that point, the assaulter pummels the already bleeding Heitholt with a series of blows until he decides to end the attack with the assault weapon.
In looking for a starting point for the assault, we are drawn to the driver’s door and the items found in the driver’s seat and on the pavement under the Maxima. We also know from trial testimony that some amount of blood spray was found to the inside of the driver door and driver compartment.
The assault strike markings to the outside of the driver door also need explaining as well. The blood spray and documents winding up on the driver seat occur with an open driver door while the assault strike markings to the outside of the driver door occur with a closed door.
Heitholt was a large and overweight man and also 48 years old. Once he was on his knees, all fours, or prostrate on the ground, he would likely have great difficulty in getting back onto his feet while under constant assault. The numerous assault strike marks to the side of the Maxima infer that Heitholt was either on his knees, all fours, or prostrate on the pavement during those assault strikes. Obviously one would expect that several other assault strikes weren’t made so close to the Maxima as to leave any marking. Heitholt could have been on his feet during those assault strikes.
Two starting scenarios were considered. One was specific to a conflict and brief struggle erupting between Heitholt and Mike Boyd outside the Maxima such that several materials and other items wound up on the pavement near and under the car. Among those materials were Heitholts damaged eyeglasses and his cell phone. Then while Heitholt was on his knees retrieving the easily reached materials and placing some in his car, he was suddenly struck from behind by a rectangular object wielded by Boyd.
The other starting scenario was generic in that it would appear to feasible work for any supposed attacker. It presumes that Heitholt was at the driver door about to place some materials into the car when suddenly hit from behind by an attacker.
The Boyd specific conflict appears to more easily answer how the assorted materials managed to wind up on the driver seat and none on the floorboard. It also more easily answers how the materials on the pavement wind up under the vehicle but not beside the vehicle. It also better facilitates the beginning of the attack with the assault weapon as Heitholt presents a much easier and more inviting target when on his knees than stooped over or bent forward as presumed in the generic starting scenario.
However, this scenario presumes a major conflict between Boyd and Heitholt that escalates out of control in the parking lot. Any evidence or testimony of a major conflict between the two has not been found and reviewed at this time. Also, to date no crime scene evidence has been developed that connects Boyd to the assault and strangulation. For those reasons the generic starting scenario was selected for the reconstruction that follows:
Reconstruction of the Assault and Strangulation
At some time between 2:12 and 2:20 AM, Columbia Tribune Sports Editor, Kent Heitholt, approaches the driver door of his vehicle. In his hands are several paper and magazine items along with a cell phone. He places the items in his right hand and with the other, removes his keys from his pocket and opens the driver door lock to his car. Then he opens the driver door.
With the driver door open and his left hand on the door, Heitholt is about to reach in and place several of his hand carried items into the car when he is violently struck from behind on the head with a rectangular blunt metal object wielded by an attacker.
An attacker has somehow been able to approach Heitholt from behind and deliver a stunning blow to his head without being detected in time to react and protect himself. The initial hard blow to the head causes Heitholt’s right forehead and eyeglasses to hit the door jamb and this induces his right eye lens to fall onto the pavement.
A dazed and confused Heitholt falls hard onto his knees as the magazines and other materials in his hands fall from his grasp. Most fall to the ground while some fall into the driver seat including his glasses without the right lens. The driver door closes as Heitholt’s knees hit the pavement.
The assaulter repeats the blows to Heitholt’s head as fast as he can with the result that his head begins bleeding. A stunned and dazed Heitholt raises his hands to his head as quickly as he can for protection so that he can try to understand what is happening. Having his hands buffer his head from the brunt of the blows helps him gather his thoughts. Meanwhile, the assaulter by now realizes the blunt metal object is a better weapon when turned on edge so he has begun doing so.
Being on his knees under constant assault has Heitholt, a large overweight man, unable to get up. So he tries to reopen the driver door to gain leverage to get up. He manages to get the door open but the assaulter rains down blows on his head and hands making him unable to use both hands to try and get off the ground. By now he is bleeding from his hands and head and the blows induce spray and drops of blood onto the inside of the car door and other nearby locations inside the vehicle.
Heitholt has a missed opportunity here with the door open to escape the brunt of the attack by thrusting his head inside the car and exposing only his lower body to the assault blows. Instead Heitholt opts to go on the offensive. Unable to get up onto his feet, Heitholt changes tactics and tries to lunge toward his attacker and tackle him while staying next to the side of the vehicle to try and use it as a partial shield from the blows.
The assaulter avoids several tackling attempts and strikes Heitholt whenever he removes one or both hands from protecting his head. Finally Heitholt lunges into the assaulter and manages to grab both legs and causes him to fall backward alongside the left rear body panel (also called left quarterpanel).
An angered Heitholt now throws some punches at his assaulter right after causing him to fall to the ground. Heitholt soon struggles to get up onto his feet but the assaulter is much quicker to get on his feet and he resumes pummeling Heitholt about the head. Once again on the defensive, Heitholt tries to fend him off with his hands while his sports shoes make scrubbing markings on the pavement at the driver door in his efforts to avoid the pummeling blows. The struggling movement of his legs and shoes causes some of the dropped items to be kicked well under his car.
Finally Heitholt firmly grabs hold of the blunt assault weapon with both hands and both struggle for control of it. Grabbing the assault weapon enables Heitholt to get up on his feet and the struggle over the weapon continues as both men move several feet out from the driver side of the car. Being on his feet gives Heitholt a prime opportunity to escape but he has become extremely angry and now feels he is about to gain control of the situation and prevail over his attacker.
However, the more agile assaulter manages to suddenly twist Heitholt about through their mutual grip of the assault weapon such that he loses his balance and begins falling hard toward the left rear wheel. Heitholt’s right knee initially lands hard on the pavement inducing a major abrasion that readily bleeds. His by now bleeding hands next hit the pavement as he tries to brace his fall toward the wheel. The hands leave splashing marks to either side of the left rear wheel. Almost at the same time, his bleeding head slams into the wheel rim and cover with his body stretched out on the pavement largely on his stomach.
Heitholt’s head hitting the wheel rim and cover amounts to a knockout blow and he can now barely raise his hands to protect himself as the assaulter immediately resumes pummeling him with the blunt weapon. After a rain of blows, Heitholt ceases all resistance and an exhausted assaulter stops his attack. The assaulter catches his breath while watching Heitholt for a few moments and then decides to go ahead and kill Heitholt by strangling him with his own belt.
Heitholt is now fully collapsed on the pavement partially on his right side with his legs crumpled under him but somewhat outward from the left rear wheel. Heitholt’s head and hands continue bleeding in this locale with a large puddle of blood accumulating near the left rear wheel.
After a brief pause, the assaulter lays his weapon down on the pavement and then reaches over and unbuckles Heitholt’s belt. Then he grabs the buckle end and pulls hard upward in an effort to remove the belt. This effort rips open a couple of the buckle loops on the left side of his pants before the belt finally separates from the pants. By now the large puddle of blood outside the left rear tire has begun running northeast following the slope of the pavement.
Next the assaulter runs one end of the belt around Heitholt’s bloodied neck and then loops the open end of the belt through the buckle. The assaulter then pulls the open belt end upward with as much force as he can muster in an effort to strangle Heitholt. The semiconscious Heitholt responds to the strangling effort by twisting and rotating about on the pavement in an effort to resist. The assaulter has to reposition several times to maintain the strangling action.
After thrashing about for 30 seconds or more, Heitholt loses all consciousness and ceases moving about. The assaulter holds the strangulation for another 30 seconds until the buckle finally tears apart from the belt. By this time Heitholt’s legs have swung under the rear of his vehicle and his upper torso is lying on its left side with his face down. The movement of Heitholt body and legs through the portions of the pooled blood and runoff has resulted in a wiping action.
The assaulter-turned-killer secures the belt and his weapon, possibly also takes the victim’s watch and keys, and then leaves the scene of the crime.
Heitholt’s exhausted heart continues beating for only a brief minute or so before stopping.
After violently murdering Kent Heitholt, the assaulter-turned-killer has the victim’s blood on his hands with blood spatter on his arms and likely his face and upper body as well as perhaps his pants. The killer is also likely breathing heavily from all the exertion needed to carry out the brutal beating and strangulation on the large victim. The killer may have scratches and bruises and some scrapes on his arms and legs from his murderous actions. The killer may have had some blood on his shoe soles but may not have stepped into any substantial amount of blood in carrying out the beating and strangulation and post murder actions.
Based on an estimate of the time for the sum of individual actions, the beating and strangulation event likely took a minimum of about five plus minutes to complete beginning with the movement to gain access to strike the first blow and the movement to leave the immediate zone of the murder.
Part 10 of the series will be posted tomorrow 2/28/14
You can view the series of articles here.