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Medical Examiner: ‘Not much could be done’ for Courtney Griffin

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TWC News: Medical Examiner: ‘Not much could be done’ for Courtney Griffin
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Click the video above to see the police interview with Gabrielle Nestande at the State Capitol.

Testimony turned even more grim Friday as witness accounts transitioned from details of Gabrielle Nestande’s night of partying--including footage of her socializing on Rainey Street--to the jury getting a deeper look at what the prosecution says was the consequence of Nestande’s decision to get behind the wheel in the early morning hours of May 27, 2011.

Friday was fourth day of testimony in the hit-and-run trial for the 25-year-old legislative aid, who is charged with manslaughter, intoxication manslaughter and failure to stop and render aid in the hit-and-run death of 30-year-old Courtney Griffin. Prosecutors say Nestande struck Griffin with her black BMW in the Tarrytown neighborhood when she was trying to drive home after drinking at Clive Bar on Rainey Street.

Just before court broke for the weekend, family and friends of the Griffin's left the courtroom for a second time when Travis County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. David Dolinak took the stand. Dolinak performed an autopsy on Griffin the same day she was discovered in a driveway off Exposition Boulevard.

Dr. Dolinak walked the jury through graphic photos of Griffin’s body both at the crime scene and inside his office. Gasps, sighs and whimpering filled the courtroom during his testimony as he spoke to the severity of the injuries Griffin sustained.

Nestande herself did not look at any of the photos, and instead kept her head down, dabbing tears out of her eyes with a tissue. At one point, she was completely doubled over with her face toward the ground.

The medical examiner determined Griffin died from blunt force injuries, consistent with being struck by a motor vehicle. He said the impact was so severe, Griffin was most likely instantly unconscious, only breathing for two to three more minutes after the crash.

"This was not a survivable injury," Dolinak said. "I don't really believe much could have been done for her."

Before Dolinak's grim testimony, Griffin family members and friends had left the room during the time Sgt. Michael McCarter was on the stand. McCarter guided the jury through a video he shot of the crime scene, on the driveway where Griffin's body was found. Her body was next to a crushed bush. Near that bush--in the bicycle lane--was Griffin’s shoe and a bright orange cone which marked where her wallet was found. Her other shoe was found underneath the bush, and branches from the same plant were found underneath her body.

McCarter, an accident reconstruction expert, said he believed the impact of the collision knocked Griffin out of the bicycle lane, through the bush and onto a nearby driveway. The owner of the home connected to that driveway found Griffin's body shortly before 5 a.m.

Nestande kept her head down while the video played.

There were no obvious skid marks or other markings on Exposition, McCarter said.

McCarter also testified to discovering Nestande’s vehicle at her boyfriend’s apartment on Windsor Road, just blocks from Griffin’s body. He said when he observed clothing fiber, skin tissue and other evidence of an accident he was “certain” he’d found the vehicle related to the crash. There were broken headlights that matched plastic fragments found at the scene, and the clothing fiber was the same color as the shirt Griffin was wearing at the time of her death.

The sergeant said he questioned Nestande’s boyfriend, William Marchbanks, who was home at the time. He described him as “apprehensive,” and not forthcoming with details. He did tell McCarter the BMW belonged to Gabrielle Nestande, who was working at the Capitol at the time.

McCarter said Marchbanks told him that they were drinking at Clive Bar the night before, but Nestande did not “appear to be intoxicated.”

McCarter then called DPS officers at the Capitol and asked them to detain Nestande until he arrived. He found her in the office of Rep. Wayne Christian, where she worked. She was not under arrest at that time, but Nestande did record an interview with him about what happened the night before, and that video was played for the jury Friday.

In the video, Nestande is wearing a black dress and has a brief, friendly exchange with McCarter, but begins to cry as the conversation moves forward.

When he asks about the previous night Nestande says, "I'm not really supposed to say anything until I have a lawyer. That is what I have been told. I mean, I was really scared so. And I was exhausted."

McCarter asks why she is scared to which Nestande answers, "I mean, I've never been in a situation like this. I mean, meeting with police."

Before McCarter took the stand, Houston resident McStephen Dadzie testified to seeing Nestande and Marchbanks at Clive Bar the night before the incident. He was with sisters Mary Helen and Rachel Trippet, who testified Thursday.

Dadzie's testimony was much the same as the sisters'--they knew Nestande and Marchbanks because they all attended Baylor University, and they met by chance at Clive Bar.

Dadzie said Nestande was obviously drunk at Clive, at one time leaving her passport unattended at the bar. He said Nestande showed obvious signs of a lack of coordination, and leaned onto him when they embraced to say hello.

Dadzie drank two shots of liquor with Marchbanks, and surveillance video showed that Nestande joined them on one of those rounds. That video was played before the court for a second time Friday. It showed Nestande drinking her entire shot, and swaying back-and-forth with Marchbanks. While the state said this was indicative of her intoxication, the defense argued Nestande is a social, outgoing person who was having fun with her friends at the time.

Then, like the Trippet sisters, Dadzie said they saw Nestande stumbling across the street with Marchbanks when leaving Clive. The three commented on her behavior as they sat at their table, one even saying she looked "sloppy."

"She looks drunk and probably wouldn't feel so great tomorrow," Dadzie said in his official statement to the district attorney’s office, given more than a year after the accident.

Dadzie said he regrets not telling prosecutors earlier about the incident. He learned about Griffin's death the next day when he got a text from a friend.

"It was a substantial moment,” Dadzie said. “A lot of shock."

The court also heard from two mechanics in South Austin during Friday morning testimony. Assistant District Attorney Allison Wetzel reviewed phone records which implied Nestande called the mechanics shortly after waking up the morning of the accident.

Court resumes Monday at 9 a.m. Stay tuned to YNN.com for our up-to-the-minute updates from courtroom.

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