Friday, March 11th, 2011
Defense claims accident
By Margie Wuebker
LIMA - Defense attorneys in the aggravated murder trial of Dr. Mark Wangler on Thursday began to paint their version of what happened the night his wife, Kathy Wangler, died at their Lima home.
They say her death was caused by accidental carbon monoxide poisoning, while prosecution claims the 55-year-old Lima anesthesiologist killed his wife Sept. 4, 2006, by pumping emissions from an internal combustion engine into their home's ventilation system.
The defense called Roger Wabeke, an environmental toxicologist who has investigated more than 1,000 cases of carbon monoxide including 33 fatalities, to the stand at the Allen County Common Pleas Court for day six of the jury trial. Wabeke testified that the source of the toxic substance in this case was indeed the natural gas water heater in the basement.
"The closest source of carbon monoxide was the gas water heater directly below her bedroom, which was two floors up," Wabeke said.
He maintains the appliance did not have adequate ventilation, citing its location in an enclosure or cubbyhole covered with a wooden panel that did not have recommended vents to ensure adequate fresh air to the burner for proper combustion, he added.
Wabeke also cited other deficiencies he noted at the Wangler home during an inspection last June. They included an exhaust pipe that failed to clear the outside of the second story and a vent cap that literally trapped deadly carbon monoxide and forced it back into the interior ductwork.
The absence of cold air return vents, coupled with the other factors, created a "carbon monoxide death trap" in the bedroom where Kathy Wangler, a Celina native, lay sleeping on a full-size air mattress not far from a heating/air conditioning vent, according to Wabeke.
The environmental toxicologist scoffed at testimony from prosecution witness Dr. James Schauer of the University of Wisconsin State Hygiene Lab, who studied photographs of soot patterns on the upstairs bedroom wall and determined them to be days or weeks old.
"That's preposterous. Nobody can do that," Wabeke told jurors.
Test results showed Kathy Wangler had nearly a 70 percent concentration of carbon monoxide level in her blood. Her husband, a Fort Recovery native, was sleeping in a downstairs bedroom with an open window, fan running and towel positioned under the door. He had a 13 percent level.
Under questioning from lead defense counsel Christopher McDowell, Wabeke admitted it is not uncommon for one person to survive with a different carbon monoxide level and another die if they are in different rooms.
As for earlier testimony regarding Kathy Wangler's body temperature being two degrees lower than normal upon arrival at a hospital emergency room, Wabeke said such cooling was to be expected. During the course of carbon monoxide poisoning, he noted the body channels blood to three oxygen-dependent areas - the brain, the heart and the retinas - and away from peripheral areas.
The witness had just started to talk about testing done on candles in relation to soot and carbon monoxide tracers when Judge Richard K. Warren recessed the trial for the day. Wabeke conducted such tests after learning about the family's affinity for burning candles, adding reports indicated three garbage bags filled with candles were dumped when Wangler moved from the home in the months following his wife's death.
Aaron and Nathan Wangler, the couple's adult sons, testified regarding their father's emotional state as well as the soot stains they claimed had been present at the home for years. Aaron, the younger of the two, portrayed his parents' marriage as a happy, loving relationship and denied sharing feelings regarding his father's involvement in the death with a local bartender.
Under cross examination from assistant prosecutor Jana Emerick, Nathan Wangler admitted his parents had "some issues that everyone goes through."
Both men pointed out their father shared his philosophy on what transpired 4 1/2 years ago at least 20 times and that his story never wavered.
Nathan Wangler, now a stockbroker, recalls his father coming to him and asking for his blessing prior to marrying a second time. The anesthesiologist and a local psychologist exchanged wedding vows about 14 months after Kathy Wangler's death.
Emerick broached the subject of money, with the older son testifying his father and stay-at-home mother paid all college bills. He also agreed that his father has charge of a $600,000 trust fund from a life insurance policy on Kathy Wangler's life. Nathan said he got half the money and used it for his wedding.
The subject of money also came up during testimony from Laura Stephens, who performed a quality control audit of the Wisconsin lab that conducted tests for the prosecution on the source of the carbon monoxide. Stephens found numerous inconsistencies with the lab results.
Stephens works for Shrader Laboratories in Michigan, which was being paid by Wangler for her work. Prosecution witnesses from the Wisconsin lab earlier indicated they were receiving no compensation other than their regular salary.
Prior to the defense beginning its case, the prosecution called its 26th and final witness Thursday morning. Dr. David Davis, a retired orthopedic surgeon who formerly worked with Wangler. He testified regarding a conversation with Wangler about marital problems.
"Hell, get a divorce," Davis claims he told his associate. Wangler reportedly replied, "I don't believe in divorce."
Wangler remains free on a $1 million bond pending the outcome of the trial, which began Feb. 28 with jury selection.