A single word in an autopsy report that derailed a murder trial in February barely played a role in testimony Thursday during the second trial of Noah Gaston, who is accused in the shooting death of his wife three years ago.

The state’s chief medical examiner took the stand to describe his autopsy of Alicia Gaston, who died when her husband shot her in their home on Jan. 14, 2016. Noah Gaston has said he believed his 34-year-old wife was an intruder, but prosecutors have argued that he intended to kill her, or at least knew he was shooting at his wife. A grand jury indicted Gaston on charges of murder and manslaughter.

Ethel Ross, a Maine State Police detective, listens to a question from Assistant Attorney General Paul Rucha on Thursday, the second day of Noah Gaston’s trial on murder and manslaughter charges. Gaston admits shooting his wife, Alicia Gaston, in January 2016, but says he mistook her for an intruder. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

But when the case went to trial earlier this year, Dr. Mark Flomenbaum told the prosecutor on the morning of his testimony that he needed to change a phrase in his autopsy report. The judge declared a mistrial.

When Flomenbaum did finally testify Thursday afternoon during Noah Gaston’s second trial, the wording change of nine months prior was not mentioned at all. What had been described as a “change of opinion” in court documents became a one-word tweak that rated only a brief exchange during cross-examination.

Flomenbaum had just testified that the direction of the gunshot wound to Alicia Gaston’s abdomen was front to back, right to left and slightly downward. The wound path was one piece of information used by investigators to estimate how close the Gastons were to each other on the stairwell where the shooting took place.

“At one point in your report, you wrote ‘very slightly downward,’ but that wasn’t your conclusion, correct?” defense attorney James Mason asked.


“Correct,” Flomenbaum answered. “I corrected that later. The final summary indicated downward, slightly downward.”

Mason continued his cross-examination to discuss the angle of the wound path.

During the first trial, Flomenbaum told Assistant Attorney General Meg Elam in preparation for testimony that the angle could be as much as 45 degrees. In her motion to oppose the mistrial, Elam wrote that his description was “never before expressed with the specificity of degrees.” She alerted the defense attorneys and the judge to this “newly worded description.” In the defense motion for the mistrial, the attorneys then argued Flomenbaum “changed his mind about a critical part of his opinion.”

On Thursday afternoon, Flomenbaum testified the angle could be as much as 45 degrees, but that his opinion was that it would most likely be 30 degrees.

“That’s as if she was standing at attention, perfectly upright, it would be about 30 degrees in my opinion,” the chief medical examiner said.

Mason then moved on to ask about abrasions from the shotgun pellets, a graze wound and soot on Alicia Gaston’s hand, and other details. Elam later asked Flomenbaum again whether it had always been his opinion that the wound was in a downward direction.


“Absolutely,” Flomenbaum said.

Gaston kept his head down on the table during most of Flomenbaum’s testimony, while the attorneys and the chief medical examiner discussed autopsy photographs in a clinical manner. In the photos of her grazed hand, a metallic wedding band was still on her ring finger.

The jury also heard from one of the church friends who picked Noah Gaston up at the police station on the day of the shooting. Troy Crabtree said Gaston told them he shot his wife because he thought she was an intruder, then added that was the only story he could tell if he wanted to see his children again.

Crabtree said another man in the car asked Gaston if there was another story.

“He said, ‘No, that’s what happened,'” Crabtree said.

The second day of the trial ended with a nearly three-hour video of the interview Maine State Police conducted with Gaston on the day of the shooting.

On the screen, Gaston sat in his flannel pajama pants and answered questions about his relationship with his wife, the family’s financial stresses and the days leading up to the shooting. When he described trying to stop the bleeding from her wound, he bent over with his head in his hands and began to breathe heavily.

In the courtroom, Gaston also put his head down and began to cry.

Related Headlines

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: