For some, the name Debra Kakatsch might sound familiar and for others you wouldn’t know who she is because even though she had an important job in Manitowoc County, she wasn’t used for the biggest murder in Manitowoc’s history.
Debra Kakatsch was the coroner for Manitowoc County but yet her services weren’t used when LE supposedly found Teresa Halbach’s remains on Steven Avery’s property. In fact, no coroner or a member of the forensic team was allowed on site. They were barred from the crime scene. And that’s not all!
Below, Redditor Nexious wrote in detail about Debra Kakatsch and how important she would have been for this whole case but yet for some strange reasons she wasn’t allowed at the crime scene nor was she allowed to testify at the trial.
On March 8, 2007, long-time Manitowoc County Coroner and former chief deputy Debra Kakatsch was called to the stand by Strang. After brief introductory remarks, the state objected to her testimony and a hearing commenced outside the presence of the jury.
The defense argued that her testimony was pertinent in showing that the recovery and assessment of the bones was flawed as she and her colleagues were prohibited from entering the scene. This was an unprecedented and highly unusual move and one that went against state statutes and the lawful duties of the coroner.
The prosecution contended that she was barred from entering due to the perceived “conflict of interest” of her being a Manitowoc official–this despite the fact that she had no direct or indirect affiliation with any Avery litigation, unlike the majority of Manitowoc officials who continued working overtime on the case and entering his property repeatedly. They also cited inadequate foresight of her as a witness and lack of discovery as to why she shouldn’t be allowed on the stand.
The judge sided with the prosecution, claiming that he didn’t see any “probative value” in letting her testify and that it had “much more potential to mislead the jury.” The judge further proclaimed that he couldn’t see how, if she had investigated the crime scene, this would had made the investigation “any less biased” than without her services.
Below is a summary of these circumstances (taken chiefly from the Day 19 trial transcript):
- Chief deputy from 1991-1992 and county coroner from 1993-2007.
- Previous experience and licenses in nursing, chemotherapy, emergency room and intensive care.
- Had specialized coroner-related training on anthropology, autopsies and DNA analysis.
- Certified as a forensic nurse, with additional certifications in Homeland Security (American College of Forensic Examiners).
- Member of the Wisconsin Coroners Medical Examiners Association, Forensic Nurses Association, Homicide Investigators Association (former).
- Specializes in Wisconsin death investigations including homicides and found bodies.
- Her specific daily duty is to determine the manner of death and issue death certificates.
The Teresa Halbach Case
- Kakatsch learned of the suspected human bones from watching television.
- This type of death, by state statute, should had triggered the coroner’s involvement.
- Her deputy coroners contacted her to ask about the case after seeing it on television.
- She immediately contacted a fellow forensic anthropologist and forensic pathologist and advised them they’ve got work to do at the scene as part of a death investigation.
- After 2-3 calls to Mark Wiegert Nov. 9 wondering why she hadn’t been called to the scene yet, he said he would have to check, then said her services weren’t needed.
- Days after the bone discovery/removal, Dan Fischer (County Executive of Manitowoc County) also told her not to push being involved as there was a conflict of interest.
- Kakatsch disagreed with Fischer’s stance; it was highly unusual to get a call from the County Executive at all.
- Later she received another call from Steven Rollins (Manitowoc County Corporation Counsel) to likewise advise that she should not be involved because of this purported conflict of interest.
- Kakatsch observed this strong resistance by various officials when attempting to investigate the bones and protested by explaining how she had no involvement what-so-ever in the civil lawsuit or other Avery litigation, nor did her office as a whole (no deposition, no interviews by either side, nothing).
- Kakatsch was ultimately not allowed to enter the scene to assess the apparent human remains and manner of death.
- Dr. Doug Kelly (forensic pathologist) and Patrick Schoebel (forensic anthropologist) also did not report to the scene.
- Kakatsch, in an act of good faith, then contacted Mike Klaeser (Calumet County Medical Examiner) to have him fulfill the bare obligations of the coroner since she was told not to.
- Mike Klaeser is the one who eventually signed the death certificate etc. Mike never testified in court about his involvement, but did appear on Nancy Grace’s show post-MaM in protest of the series (“I think the right people are behind bars.“)
- They received no advanced knowledge of her testimony.
- She said she wasn’t aware that she would be called as a witness as of January 19, 2007.
- They did not receive any discovery documents relating to her testimony.
- Manitowoc counsel “wanted to remove all Manitowoc County officials” from the investigation to avoid any appearance of “conflict of interest.” According to Gahn, this was “a prudent, wise move on their part” to prevent involvement of the Manitowoc coroner.
- Gahn speculated that she was, perhaps, “some disgruntled Manitowoc County employee who didn’t like that decision.“
- They don’t see any relevance at all to her testimony in connection with the case.
- The probative value of her testimony would be so low it’d be outweighed by prejudice it may cause and would be a waste of time to the jury.
- Her name was always on their witness list, timely filed.
- They never had any documents from Kakatsch to hand over, thus no discovery.
- She is not an expert witness, but merely a fact-based witness.
- The prosecution could had interviewed her just as the defense did.
- Sure, it would had been prudent to remove all Manitowoc County officials from the investigation, but obviously that wasn’t done at all with the Sheriff’s Department.
- Unlike the Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Department, Kakatsch nor anyone in the coroner’s office had any prior involvement in the Avery civil case, nor had any responsibilities for the 1985 crime.
- Her office alone, among the Manitowoc County law enforcement offices, was walled off entirely from performing legal and lawful duties in connection with the discovery of human remains.
- Her testimony goes directly to the investigative bias of preferring involvement of certain Manitowoc officials and not other Manitowoc officials, even when they had state statutory duties to perform.
- If there was any 904.03 concern, it’d be that of the prosecution turning to a Milwaukee County Medical Examiner a year after Halbach’s death, who had no involvement at the scene, to determine manner of death and examine the bone fragments (rather than appointing the local official who’s job it is to do just that at the time of the discovery).
- The testimony goes directly to the issue of consistency and inconsistency that show a particular bias; the jury is entitled to see it and rule upon it themselves.
- There’s also probative value in showing that a forensic anthropologist could had been there at the scene and involved in the recovery, had the law officers followed the usual lawful routine of notifying the county coroner upon discovery of suspected human remains.
- This may have relevance in relation to a turf war, but no probative value in this case.
- Presenting this testimony has much more potential to mislead the jury.
- I don’t see how anything the coroner would have done would have contributed to a less biased investigation in this matter.
- I’ve already given the defense quite a bit of latitude by allowing reference to the civil lawsuit and Lenk/Colborn.
- The court has (already) granted the defendants adequate means to make the point as it relates to bias.
- This witness has nothing to do with the Sheriff’s Department.
- I fail to see any measurable probative value and the state’s objection is well taken.
- If the reason that the coroner was told to stay off the case was because of fear of a conflict, the probative value of such evidence is very great.
- I’m worried about creating confusion for the jury by allowing it; the court has allowed the defense to present a great deal of evidence with regard to the bias issue.
- To further involve the coroner is too dangerous to confuse issues when weight against the probative value.
- I am not going to allow her testimony.
Isn’t this shit mind boggling? Seriously?! WTF was/is going on over in Manitowoc? Unbelievable. It’s not just a couple people, it’s almost everybody who works for their government body.
Judge Willis is another creep who pretty much tied the defenses hands behind their back and put a stop to a lot of their defense strategies. He did everything he could to ensure the prosecution had a favorable trial. I’m sure his day will be coming too. He can go to hell.
I sure hope Debra is talking to Kathleen Zellner because I think she knows a lot about this case and a couple others that can prove how corrupt Manitowoc really is. I’m betting she has some information that will help bring them down. We have about 2 months until Zellner submits her briefing and then we should know if Debra supplied any information.