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A top official with the Santa Clara County medical examiner’s office testified today in Superior Court that an autopsy preformed on a woman allegedly murdered in 1983 reported no signs trauma but he admitted someone could have suffocated her to death. Dr. Joseph O’Hara, the lead examiner of the county coroner’s office, said during a pre-trial hearing for accused murderer Christopher Holland that an autopsy done on the body of Tara Marowski in 1983 revealed no evidence of traumatic injury or sexual assault. It was the second day of witness testimony in a preliminary examination to determine if there is sufficient evidence to try Holland in the 29-year-old former cold case, reopened by the district attorney’s office last year following results of DNA tests that prosecutors allege link Holland to the murder.
On April 23, 1983, Marowski, 21, of San Jose, was found lying nude in the backseat of her car parked by a street in an unincorporated area just outside the Campbell city limits five days after she was seen leaving with two men from the now-closed New Cork Cocktail Lounge at 1422 Saratoga Ave. Howard DeSart, a retired lieutenant with the sheriff’s department who investigated Marowski’s death in 1983, said in testimony for the prosecution today that some clothing had been piled on top of her unclad body and that her bra and t-shirt had been pulled up around her neck. O’Hara, called as the first defense witness by public defender Michael Ogul, reviewed the findings of an autopsy performed on Marowski by the late Dr. Angelo Ozoa, who in 1983 was a pathologist for the county coroner’s office and later served as its chief medical examiner. Ozoa reported finding no signs of strangulation, such as hemorrhaging, no injuries, sperm cells or other indications of sexual abuse on the body and described Marowski’s demise as a “non-traumatic death,” O’Hara said.
Ogul asked O’Hara that since Marowski had been using “upper” drugs such as cocaine and “crank,” a form of methamphetamine used in the 1980s, in the days prior to her death, if it was possible she may have died from a sudden cardiac arrest from intoxication. O’Hara replied that Marowski’s cocaine use may have caused her to suffer a spasm in her coronary artery, shutting down her heart and resulting in immediate death. He also concurred with Ogul’s suggestion that she could have died from a cardiac arrhythmia, an unexpected fatal heart attack suffered each year by thousands of people under age 40. The medical examiner said that based on Ozoa’s autopsy report and photographs, “a violent altercation did not occur,” but then the doctor added without prompting that “there was no fight, or someone smothered her with a plastic bag while she was passed out.”
Under cross examination by Deputy District Attorney David Boyd, O’Hara speculated that Marowski could have been killed by someone smothering her without leaving physical trauma or injuries to the body, and it could have happened if she had been unconscious after drinking alcohol. O’Hara allowed that the decomposition of Marowski’s body after laying in the car for five days could have masked evidence of death by asphyxiation, including petechial hemorrhaging in the eyes, as well as evidence of sexual assault.
On a redirect by Ogul, O’Hara admitted that there was nothing in Ozoa’s findings about possible smothering or manual strangulation. Holland, 57, also has been charged in the 1983 murder of 17-year-old Cynthia Munoz, who was killed several months after Marowski died. A preliminary hearing for that case in 2007 also included DNA results used as evidence. Boyd is prosecuting both murder cases and has said he intends to combine the two cases for trial. The district attorney’s office has added special circumstances to the murder charges in both cases, alleging that Holland raped both women before killing them, Boyd said. The preliminary examination is likely to end on Friday, Boyd said.