Defense Rests Without Witnesses in Uber Ride Murder Trial
The defense rested without calling any witnesses Monday in the murder trial of a man accused of killing a South Carolina college student who mistakenly got into what she thought was her Uber ride.
The judge sent the jury home for the day, scheduling closing arguments for Nathaniel Rowland's trial for Tuesday morning. He faces up to life in prison if he is convicted of kidnapping and murder in the March 2019 killing of 21-year-old Samantha Josephson.
Prosecutors also rested their case Monday after calling nearly three dozen witnesses. The next-to-last person on the stand was a pathologist who testified there were more than 100 stab wounds on Josephson's body.
There was also so little blood left in her body — 20 milliliters (1.3 tablespoons) when a body typically has at least 4 liters (1 gallon) — that workers at her autopsy struggled to get enough blood for routine testing, said Dr. Thomas Beaver, who conducted the examination of the woman after her death.
Beaver spent an hour methodically detailing the roughly 120 separate stab wounds on Josephson's body. He said he didn't have en exact number because there were so many.
"It gets to a point where it really doesn't add much to the report," said Beaver, a pathologist at the Medical University of South Carolina.
Beaver said almost all of the stab wounds were to Josephson's head, arms, chest and back and several of the wounds would have penetrated into her brain or neck and been fatal. He took 170 photos and 13 X-rays.
"There were a lot of injuries," Beaver said.
Before resting the defense's case, Rowland's lawyer asked the charges be thrown out because prosecutors had a circumstantial case — never showing that Rowland actually killed Josephson or was driving the vehicle when she disappeared.
Circuit Judge Clifton Newman rejected the request, saying there was an avalanche of direct and circumstantial evidence that a jury should consider.
Josephson got into Rowland's car in March 2019 thinking it was her Uber ride back to her house, prosecutors said. The University of South Carolina student from Robbinsville, New Jersey, instead found herself trapped in the back seat because Rowland had the child safety lock on, investigators said.
Prosecutors have taken a methodical approach the entire trial. Before Beaver took the stand, they linked Josephson's blood to areas all over Rowland's Chevrolet Impala, a knife with two blades and cleaning supplies in the trash behind his girlfriend's home and on a sock and bandana owned by Rowland.
The prosecution has introduced a mountain of other scientific evidence, from matching a footprint found on a rear window of Rowland's vehicle to Josephson, to cellphone data showing he was in the area where her body was found some 65 miles (105 kilometers) from where she was last seen in Columbia's Five Points entertainment district.
Another witness said DNA found under Rowland's fingernails matched Josephson's genetic material.
In previous testimony, Rowland's attorneys have pointed out scientists weren't absolutely certain Rowland's DNA was on the knife and his genetic material wasn't in other places it might be expected.
Their questioning has also showed that while Josephson appeared to fight her attacker — she had several stab wounds that went all the way through her hands — none of Rowland's DNA was found on her or under her fingernails and and no visible marks were found on Rowland after his arrest.
Beaver testified he was certain the knife with two blades taken from the trash can of Rowland's girlfriend was used to kill Josephson. But on cross examination, Beaver told a defense attorney that he Googled hundreds of pictures of knives after the autopsy to figure out what could have caused the unique wounds and sent investigators a photo of a different looking weapon.
Josephson's death turned a national spotlight on ride-hailing safety and led to some changes, including more prominent displays of driver's license plates. The trial is being streamed across the country by Court TV.
Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP.