LANCASTER >> A Common Pleas court jury here could begin deliberating the fate of a Kennett Square man accused of killing his girlfriend in her dormitory room at Millersville University as early as this afternoon.
The panel of 10 men and two women have heard seven days of testimony in Judge R. Totaro’s courtroom about the relationship between Gregoria Orrostieta, and the victim in the case, Karlie A. Hall and the events up to and surrounding the morning of her death. Authorities contend that Hall, a freshman at the school, died after being beaten and strangled by her abusive boyfriend, Orrosteita. His attorneys, to the contrary, insist that Hall died in a physical confrontation with him after re-injuring a fractured eye socket she broke in a fall a few days earlier.
The prosecution is seeking a conviction on charges of first-degree murder, which would be punishable by life in prison without parole. The defense has suggested that he could be found guilty of a lesser charge.
According to published reports, testimony in the case seems to indicate that Orrostieta, 20, of Kennett Square had a tempestuous and jealous relationship with Hall, who he started dating in the spring of 2014. Hall, of Chadds Ford, Delaware County, was a senior at Unionville High School and he was in the same year at nearby Kennett High School.
The prosecution, led by Assistant District Attorney Susan Elizabeth Ellison, presented both live testimony from Hall’s family and friends about Orrostieta’s alleged controlling and sometime violent behavior towards Hall, who was 18 years old when she died. Ellison also put forth Facebook entries that show Hall and Orrsotieta writing about physically abusive behavior he allegedly exhibited.
Hall died in the early morning hours of Feb. 8, 2015 in Room 217 on the second floor of Bard Hall, one of eight dormitories on the 250-acre campus of Millersville, a state-owned university located outside the county seat of Lancaster. It was the first homicide on the school’s campus.
Ellison, a veteran prosecutor of domestic violence cases, said in her opening that an autopsy had determined that she died shortly after 3 a.m. that morning. But she said that Orrostieta, who had come to visit her that weekend at the school to celebrate their 11-month anniversary, did not call 911 to report any problems until 5:20 a.m. When he did, he claimed not to know anything about how she had been injured.
In testimony, Orrostieta was said to have scratched her neck and given her a black eye during her birthday weekend celebration at Millersville in October 2014, According to Hall’s roommate, Tina Flexer, the two fought in the room she shared with Hall in Bard Hall. “They were arguing in the dorm room,” said Flexer. “They were yelling and wrestling,” the roommate continued. “I heard Karlie say, ‘Ouch.’ I ran away because I was scared.”
Flexer testified that Hall did not go to classes the Monday after she was injured because her bruises embarrassed her.
In November 2014, the two exchanged an Facebook dialogue in which Hall complained about Orrostieta’s abuse. The back-and-forth was read to the jury over the objections of the defense team, led by Philadelphia attorney Peter Bowers.
“Are you spending the night with your friends?” Orrostieta wrote. “I need to know if you are sleeping over.”
“I hate you,” Hall responded. “I am not sleeping over.”
Orrostieta, in return, wrote, “Do you not like me?”
“You can’t just hit me like you did yesterday and expect it to be OK,” responded Hall.
The most dramatic dispute of the trial came between forensic pathologists who testified about the cause of hall’s death.
Dr. Wayne Ross of the Lancaster County Coroner’s Office, who conducted an autopsy of Hall following her death, showed the jurors photographs showing the extent of Hall’s injuries.
“Her face, neck and upper chest were purple, which indicated that she had been strangled,” Ross testified. “She was on her back - when she died. She was trying to defend herself as she was being beaten. She was putting her arms up as she was being struck.”
Ross said Hall died at 3 a.m., between five and 15 minutes from when the beating started.
But in response, Bowers called his own expert to rebut Ross’s conclusion. Dr. C. Peter Speth told the panel that Hall had not been strangled, but rather asphyxiated from blood that ran into her lungs after she broke open injured arteries behind her eye during a struggle with Orrostieta. The vessels had been broken in a fall that Hall had on her way home from a party on Jan. 25, 2015
‘Karlie was not strangled,” Speth said. “There were no significant blunt injuries. I cannot find any evidence of strangulation or a skull fracture.”
Speth is a controversial figure in forensic circles. he was convicted in 1997 of witness tampering in an investigation involving a man’s death in a New Jersey Prison, and had his license to practice medicine suspended.