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Petrick Trial Judge Rules Jurors Can't Hear 'Popcorn' Comment

Posted November 16, 2005

— A Durham judge ruled Wednesday that jurors would not hear comments Robert Petrick made in the courtroom Tuesday before the prosecution presented autopsy photos of his wife's body

A woman testified Wednesday that she heard Petrick, who is defending himself in the trial, say "Are we having popcorn?" as several members of the news media and other court personnel were gathering in the jury box waiting for the photos to be projected on a screen. The jury was not present.

The prosecution wanted the comments presented to the jury, but Petrick argued that the comments would be damaging. Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson agreed with Petrick and decided the jury would not hear the testimony.

Medical Examiner Dr. Thomas Clarke also testified Wednesday that Janine Sutphen's body was so badly decomposed that he could not be certain how she died. It was likely that she was suffocated or strangled to death, he said.

Petrick tried to challenge that theory, asking Clarke about a possible drug overdose.

"If there was another cause of death -- say a drug overdose -- would there be an indication on the body?

"Most people who take drug overdoses aren't able to wrap themselves in multiple layers, put chains on themselves and fall into a lake," Clarke said.

Clarke also told jurors that there were also signs that Sutphen may have been assaulted before she was killed.

The jury was sent home for the day at 12:20 p.m. because a prosecution witness was not available to testify until Thursday.

The prosecution expects to rest its case Thursday after the witness testifies in the morning. Petrick will then present his case.

If convicted of Sutphen's death, Petrick will spend the rest of his life in prison.


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