Fortney: Many of Susan Elko’s knife wounds could have been fatal, murder trial hears

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On a Sunday morning in the fall of 2014, Susan Elko pulled on her knee-high rubber boots and headed out for an hour of fishing with Scott Ferguson.

About 14 minutes after she returned from the Elbow River just a stone’s throw from her southwest Calgary condo, Elko was lying face down on her living room couch in a pool of her own blood, her neck covered in knife wounds.

On Tuesday morning, Crown prosecutor Jonathan Hak takes the jury of seven women and five men on a visual recounting of the final moments of the 39-year-old’s life, including the brutal effects of a knife attack she suffered.

Her former boyfriend, the now 26-year-old Ferguson, is on trial for second-degree murder in the Sept. 14, 2014, slaying.

Some of the images on this day are chilling, showing her first face down on the couch, dressed in jeans and a black top, her rubber boots still on; then, a day later, her petite, lifeless body positioned face up on a steel autopsy table.

When Const. Blain Bodwell arrived on the scene just after noon that day, the fishing poles Elko and Ferguson had used were still propped up near the front door. Moving toward the living room, he came upon a horrible scene: along with Elko’s bloodied body, blood and hair were on the floor, along with blood spatters on the nearby large-screen TV.

Later, the Calgary police officer would put brown paper bags over Elko’s hands, he explains, to “avoid disturbing the hands as much as possible” for evidence retrieval.

Haunting, though, are the images of Elko in the hours before her death, as she passes CCTV cameras in her building looking very much alive, her long black hair not yet caked in blood.

If there was an ominous buildup to what the Crown contends was an act of murder by Ferguson, it’s not evident on the video footage as, first, the pair is seen walking through the building’s garage around 4 a.m., then heading out with their fishing rods about six hours later. When they return, Elko can be seen standing passively against the wall, her head down, as Ferguson gets out his key fob.

Fourteen minutes later, the tall, muscular young man, 23 at the time of the alleged murder, is seen walking out of the building at a brisk pace, his girlfriend of a year likely already dead.

That is the educated assessment of Dr. Bamidele Adeagbo. “This would have cut the spinal cord,” says the expert in forensic pathology of just one of the knife wounds. “The depth is about 11 centimetres . . . it had the potential to be immediately fatal.”

Had she suffered that one stab wound and survived, says the pathologist, Elko would have been a quadriplegic.

Still, the good doctor spends the entire afternoon on the witness stand, painstakingly going through each and every wound on Elko’s neck. From slashes to deep, gaping holes, he slowly explains the effects of each to the jurors.

“It takes blood from your brain and back to your heart,” he explains of the jugular vein. That vein and the carotid arteries, says Dr. Adeagbo, were cut into, along with the windpipe.

Then he describes the importance of the trachea, which allows oxygen to flow. “Maximum penetration of at least nine centimetres,” he says of the wound affecting it, adding that one stab wound alone could also be immediately fatal.

The young woman also had numerous bruises on her body, although Dr. Adeagbo couldn’t determine when those injuries had occurred. He also notes that at the time of her death, Elko had alcohol, cocaine and marijuana in her bloodstream. 

The trial continues Wednesday, with the Crown expected to wrap up its case by the end of the week. 

vfortney@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/valfortney

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