It’s possible that Kara Steger was smothered, medical examiner says.
In this Sept. 19 file photo, Kira Steger's parents Jay Steger and Marcie Steger, center left and right, wait for an elevator before heading to the courtroom for the start of the murder trial of Jeffrey Trevino, Kira's husband, at the Ramsey County Courthouse in St. Paul.
Marcie Steger turned away from the projection screen as several autopsy photos of her daughter were presented in court Wednesday morning, the fifth day of testimony in the murder trial of her son-in-law, Jeffery Trevino.
The Ramsey County medical examiner, Dr. Michael McGee, testified that Steger’s daughter Kira was killed by homicidal violence and that she could have been smothered by someone’s hand or a pillow.
Trevino, 39, faces two counts of second-degree murder in Ramsey County District Court for allegedly killing Kira Steger, 30. She was last seen alive on Feb. 21, and her body was recovered on May 8 from the Mississippi River.
The condition of Steger’s body and her stomach contents could help attorneys narrow or widen the window of time of death.
But McGee’s testimony revealed that there was no clear answer, giving the prosecution and defense little advantage over the other.
McGee testified that the skin on Steger’s palms and hands had sloughed off and that other skin loss also occurred. He said that her body was in a state of “advanced decomposition” but that it was in relatively good condition.
“You can tell she’s been in the water for a while,” said McGee.
Under cross-examination by Trevino’s attorney, John Conard, McGee testified that Steger’s body could have been in the water for a couple of weeks to a couple of months. He testified that there were no signs of restraints or fish activity on the body, nor had it snagged on anything.
Prosecutors are trying to pinpoint Steger’s time of death to between 12 a.m. and 2 a.m. on Feb. 22, based on food that was found in her stomach.
She and Trevino had a date night at the Mall of America on Feb. 21, and she had texted the man she was having an affair with at 11:44 p.m.
She ate sushi, which tests show remained in her stomach, Assistant Ramsey County Attorney Andrew Johnson told jurors last week.
Prosecutors say Trevino killed Steger because she was having an affair with a co-worker and wanted a divorce. Conard believes there are too many holes in the prosecution’s forensic evidence.
McGee testified that digestion times can vary and, as Conard asserted in his opening statements, that the rest of Steger’s digestive tract was clean. That could indicate a more complete digestion, McGee testified, even if some food is left in the stomach.
Conard’s theory widens the window of time that Steger could have been killed and accommodates Trevino’s account to police that Steger left the house between 8:30 and 9 a.m. on Feb. 22.
Under cross-examination by Conard, McGee testified that he did not find other parts of her meal, which included lamb meatballs. (He said he found fish and nuts from the meatballs, but not lamb meat.)
McGee testified that Steger was cut with a sharp instrument above her left eyebrow, likely when she was alive. The cut was about 1½ inches long and about a centimeter deep. It cut to the bone, he said, and would have bled “profusely.”
According to McGee, Steger also suffered these injuries: a V-shaped tear under her nose and above her upper lip; hemorrhaging on the inside of her upper lip, and an injury to the inside of her lower lip that indicated it had been pushed into her teeth. The injuries indicate that she could have been smothered, possibly by someone’s hand, McGee said.
The teeth were intact, and there did not appear to be signs of a strong blow to her face or head, he said.
In addition, Steger’s left index finger was cleanly broken between the knuckle and the lower finger joint. “The fracture is complete,” McGee said, adding that it likely occurred during a struggle.
A woman with Trevino’s family cried audibly early in McGee’s testimony and walked out. Marcie Steger left after Assistant Ramsey County Attorney Richard Dusterhoft asked McGee whether Steger could have been smothered with a pillow.
“Yes,” McGee said.
Steger’s grandfather, Norman Kelch, found a bloody pillow and pillow case, sports bra, T-shirt and bath sponge in a plastic bag at Keller Lake on March 16.
McKenzie Anderson, a DNA scientist with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA), testified Wednesday that several spots of suspected blood from the couple’s master bedroom, home and inside Steger’s car trunk matched Steger’s DNA.
Steger was a “single-source” DNA contributor for several pieces of evidence, including stains from the master bedroom, carpet fibers from the bristles of a carpet cleaner, a smudge under the bedroom doorknob and the pillow case, Anderson said.
Anderson said Steger’s DNA was found on a box spring in the bedroom that had about 150 small spots of suspected blood spatter.
Steven Swenson, a BCA scientist and blood spatter expert, testified that those stains likely came from a source that was located lower than the top of the box spring.
Attorneys clashed at the end of the day over transcripts that prosecutors had prepared of two police interviews with Trevino.
Dusterhoft gave copies to Conard on Wednesday morning, but Conard said he should’ve received them sooner. Dusterhoft said that he received copies from county secretaries about a month ago and that they are only on hand to refresh the memory of a retired St. Paul police sergeant who is supposed to testify.
The audio recordings of the interviews and the transcripts will not be admitted in court as evidence, Dusterhoft said.
District Judge Leonardo Castro asked both sides to review the audio and transcripts Thursday morning.
Testimony will resume at 1 p.m. Thursday with Conard’s cross-examination of Anderson.
Chao Xiong • 612-270-4708