Rudd's medical expert says wife died from 'internal decapitation'

There was another twist Thursday in the already strange saga of Donnie Rudd, a former attorney accused of killing Noreen Kumeta, his 19-year-old bride of just one month, 44 years ago.

The first witness Rudd's attorneys called after Cook County prosecutors rested their case Thursday was Dr. Robert Hurwitz, a 72-year-old radiologist from Las Vegas who says Kumeta died of "internal decapitation" from a Barrington Township car crash as the now-76-year-old Rudd reported in 1973. Hurwitz disputes the findings of forensic pathologists who examined Kumeta's remains after they were exhumed in 2015 and determined she was killed by someone who hit her several times in the head, causing multiple skull fractures and lacerations. Police arrested Rudd later that year.

Thursday afternoon, prosecutor Maria McCarthy attacked Hurwitz's credentials and ability to offer expert testimony about the cause of Kumeta's death since Hurwitz is not a trained pathologist and has never performed an autopsy.

Hurwitz countered that he had performed "virtual autopsies" in recent years, using MRI machines and CT scans on corpses, including several cadavers from the Clark County coroner's office in Nevada, for a study.

The debate over Hurwitz's credentials eventually required Judge Marc Martin to usher the jury and Hurwitz out of the room and hold a conference with lawyers from both sides. McCarthy told Martin that former Clark County Coroner P. Michael Murphy was available that day to rebut Hurwitz's claims, saying the ex-coroner would testify that his office never brought Hurwitz corpses on which to perform "virtual autopsies" and that the office was never involved in any kind of study.

However, Rudd's attorneys argued since Hurwitz was offering his medical opinion only as to the cause of death and not the manner, Hurwitz should be allowed to testify.

Martin sided with Rudd's attorneys and allowed Hurwitz's testimony, citing the state's rules of evidence and noting McCarthy had already rested her case. But at the end of the day, Martin seemed to relax his stance and suggested the jury still might hear Murphy's testimony. Martin issued a gag order during the trial, so neither side could talk about the potential of Murphy's testimony.

Hurwitz said he made his determination of Kumeta's cause of death after viewing a few X-rays of her exhumed body, still photographs from the exhumation autopsy and the condition of neck tendons on the body and reading a couple of pages of 44-year-old emergency room notes.

Meanwhile, during McCarthy's cross examination, the doctor admitted he had never examined a body that's been buried for more than 40 years.

"You have no idea what tendons would look like after being buried for 40 years?" McCarthy asked Hurwitz.

Hurwitz acknowledged the prosecutor was correct.

Earlier in the day, Dr. Mary Case, a longtime forensic pathologist and professor of pathology at St. Louis University, testified that fractures to Kumeta's skull were what caused the woman's death and that the fractures were not consistent with a car crash or from being ejected from the car as Rudd had told police. She also said there's no evidence of internal decapitation, where tendons holding the spine to the base of a person's skull are separated.

Arlington Heights police began looking into Kumeta's death in 2012 as part of an investigation into the 1991 unsolved murder of interior designer Loretta Tabak-Bodtke, a disgruntled client of Rudd's found shot to death in her townhouse.

Rudd remains a suspect in Tabak-Bodtke's murder but has not been charged.

• Staff writer Barbara Vitello contributed to this report.

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