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Medical examiner testifies to cause of death

Photo by Heather Middleton

Photo by Heather Middleton

By Kathy Jefcoats

kjefcoats@news-daily.com

A Jonesboro woman was tied to her bedposts, with her head wrapped in about seven layers of an Ace bandage, before her house was set on fire, and she was left to breathe in noxious fumes and die, a state medical examiner testified Wednesday.

Geneva Strickland, 68, was found bound to her bedpost when firefighters arrived at her blazing Fayetteville Road home about 11 p.m., on Oct. 31, 2007. Police charged her handyman, Timothy Alan Booth, 44, with murder and other felonies in connection with her death.

Police said Booth, who has a lifelong criminal history, broke into her home with the intent to steal large amounts of cash he thought Strickland would normally have on hand.

Prosecutors told jurors before testimony started in the case Wednesday that Booth's DNA was found inside a blue latex glove tangled in the Ace bandage, and that a hair found on a black mask dropped in Strickland's yard, also contained Booth's DNA.

A bicyclist got a good enough look at a man leaving Strickland's home before the fire broke out, and provided a sketch to police, prosecutors said. That sketch, they said, matches a photo of Booth.

The first witness was Dr. Jacqueline Martin, of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation Crime Lab, who performed the autopsy on the body. Jurors saw photos of the body as it was found in the home, and then before the autopsy. Martin said Strickland died from the combination of carbon monoxide poisoning from the fire, being in a restrained position, and having the Ace bandage wrapped around her face and head.

Prosecutor Katie Powers had Martin demonstrate on a styrofoam head how the bandage was wrapped, including the placement of the blue latex glove.

Firefighter, Lt. Michael Cheek, testified to finding the body about 3 a.m., buried under debris that had fallen from the attic during the fire. He said the fire was "very hot" and it took three to four hours to extinguish it. He said all the drawers from the bedroom dresser had been pulled out and were strewn across the room. He also testified to finding empty and live shell casings on top of the bed, where Strickland's body was tied.

Clayton County Fire Emergency Services Battalion Chief Jacque Feilke testified to finding the black mask on Strickland's lawn, the night of the fire. Feilke said she set it aside, thinking it belonged to a firefighter. Defense attorney Darrell B. Reynolds intimated through his cross-examination of Feilke that the mask was contaminated through simple transfer, because Booth worked at the property.

Testimony will continue today with prosecutors expecting to call the bicyclist, who is deaf, who allegedly saw Booth leaving Strickland's home the night of the fire. An interpreter has been brought in to facilitate her testimony.

One of the jurors had to be replaced with an alternate before ever being seated, tearfully telling Superior Court Judge Al Collier that she could not serve.

The juror sat through two days of questioning by state prosecutors, and the defense attorney, before being selected for the trial, but she backed out.

Collier met with the emotional woman and the attorneys in his chambers before excusing her from service, and seating the only alternate. He then told the impaneled 12 to be careful for the duration of the trial.

"We need all of you to decide this case," said Collier. "So be careful, don't fall and break a leg. Drive safely."

The woman did not give a reason why she was suddenly overcome with emotion over being selected for jury duty. However, her change of heart came the day after the nation was stunned by the not guilty verdicts in the Florida case involving a woman accused of killing her child.