Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Murder Within the Walls

A Bite to the Death

Up until the forensic odontologists appeared on the witness stand, defense attorneys realized there was no direct link between their client and the murder of Correction Officer Payant. Witnesses had placed Smith and the victim together just before the crime occurred but the actual time of the murder was still not firmly established. Additionally, no fingerprints were recovered at the crime scene, which was thought to be the rear of the chaplain's office. Prosecutors knew that the bite mark evidence was the most crucial portion of their case. Marilee Wilson, the woman so brutally slaughtered in the City of Schenectady in 1977, was about to have justice done. Bite marks that she suffered during her savage assault were ruled admissible in the Smith trial, despite defense efforts to have them excluded. The source of these bite marks was not in dispute since they had already been examined and determined to be from the teeth of Lemuel Smith. And Smith had once confessed to the Wilson murder, thereby offering even further proof that those bite marks, in fact, belonged to him.

Dr. Lowell Levine
Dr. Lowell Levine (Corbis)

Dr. Lowell Levine, the forensic odontologist who had once worked on the Wilson case, was called to the stand and gave the results of his comparison analysis between the bite marks found on Payant's breast and the Wilson injuries.

"Did there come a time when you made a scientific comparison between the bite mark on the Marilee Wilson case and the bite mark that you found on the Donna Payant photography?" asked the prosecutor.

"Yes sir," Dr. Levine replied, "It is my opinion that the two bite marks were made by the same set of teeth." Although Kunstler tried to raise doubts about Dr. Levine's conclusion, he was unyielding. It was Smith's bite; of that he was sure.

On April 7, 1983, prosecutors called Dr. Neal Riesner to the stand.  "Although I was hired originally by the defense," he said in an interview recently, "they had no idea that I might be testifying. You should have seen the look on Mr. Kunstler's face, when he saw me."  However, after a lengthy in-chambers discussion about the limitations of Dr. Riesner's testimony, it was decided that he could not mention his previous involvement with the defense team.

He was asked if he had examined the two photographs of bite marks in the case and did he arrive at an "opinion, to a reasonable degree of medical dental certainty?"

"Yes, I did," Dr. Riesner replied, "they were both caused by the same—they were the same in origin with a reasonable certainty."

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