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Pathologist: Lemcke shooting a homicide

GLENWOOD -- More than five years after she was fatally shot, the official death certificate filed in Swift County for Nichole Riley-Lemcke lists the manner of her death as "undetermined."

Dr. Kelly Mills, medical pathologist with Ramsey County, has this opinion on the manner of death: "Homicide." She testified Tuesday in Pope County in the murder trial of Andrew Lemcke, 35. He is charged with first-degree premeditated murder and second-degree intentional murder in the Sept. 12, 2004, shooting of his 26-year-old wife.

The defendant maintains the shooting in their home was an accident. He has told authorities that his wife came into the living room where he was sleeping with a .40 caliber handgun and fired a shot while expressing fears about former boyfriends. He attempted to wrestle the gun from her and it discharged as they fell onto the couch.

Mills testified she had told a grand jury in 2005 that she could not rule out Lemcke's version of events because of the proximity of both the gun and the defendant to the victim at the time of the shooting. But she told the jury yesterday that the evidence collected during the autopsy she performed on Riley-Lemcke and physical evidence collected at the house leads her to the opinion that the death was a homicide.

The handgun was discharged at "close contact," or within a millimeter or two if not directly touching the underside of Nichole Lemcke's chin. The wound site shows that the gun sight on the top of the barrel was oriented toward the top of the chin and the handle pointed downward toward the chest. Mills called this an "atypical" position if Riley-Lemcke was holding the gun.

The pathologist also testified that the trajectory of the bullet was straight upward through the head of the victim, exiting at the top of her skull. In cases of accidental shootings or suicides the bullet trajectory is more commonly angled or at "bizarre" trajectories, she testified.

The fact the barrel and bullet were right under the middle of the chin also does not fit with the usual scenario for an accidental shooting, she told the jury. "That is a vulnerable place and not one that is exposed very easily."

"It does not fit the picture of an accidental gunshot wound," she said.

Mills said Riley-Lemcke would have been immediately incapacitated by the gunshot wound. The bullet tore through her brain and that damage ultimately led to asphyxiation and blood loss.

Riley-Lemcke had a blood-alcohol level of 0.057 at the time of her death, below the legal limit for driving, according to testimony. Toxicology tests found no signs of any other drugs in her system.

There was evidence Riley-Lemcke had sex before her death, according to testimony. The prosecution argues Lemcke knew his wife was having an affair and had been with her lover shortly before returning home that morning.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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