Jennifer Klapper's death last August in a Carlsbad motel room confounded investigators and doctors for weeks--and little wonder, according to testimony Tuesday in a Vista courtroom.
"I found something I didn't expect to find," testified Dr. Leena Jariwala, a San Diego County deputy medical examiner who performed the autopsy on Klapper's body after her death Aug. 16.
Klapper, Jariwala said, died of chloroform intoxication--an overdose of the drug that once was used as anesthesia. Attorneys on both sides in the case say they never before had heard of a homicide through the use of chloroform anywhere in the nation.
"I had been puzzled by this case since Day One," said Jariwala, whose investigation into Klapper's death lasted weeks and included a battery of toxicology tests.
Jariwala said she was mystified because there was no damage to Klapper's heart, lungs, brain or any other organ that could explain how the 20-year-old woman from Cincinnati died while on vacation here, and her system was thought to be free of drugs--until, finally, the chloroform results came back.
Jariwala and a toxicology expert for the county testified Tuesday that they were so amazed to find a person dead of chloroform poisoning that they researched textbooks, conferred with colleagues around the country and sent samples of her blood to an independent Los Angeles laboratory to confirm the results.
The San Diego County district attorney's office alleges that Klapper died after her supposedly platonic traveling companion, Dr. Samuel Dubria, knocked her out with chloroform at the All-Star Inn in Carlsbad, in order to have sex with her. Instead, he used too much chloroform, killing her, prosecutors contend.
Even now, authorities can't be sure how the chloroform got into her system, and whether she died of a heart attack caused by an accelerated heartbeat or respiratory distress after the chloroform depressed her central nervous system. Chloroform can cause either.
The couple, who had known each other about 10 months after having met at a hospital, were driving from Glendale, where Dubria's family lives, to Tijuana, and stopped in Carlsbad for the night.
A preliminary hearing to determine whether there is enough evidence to force Dubria to stand trial opened Tuesday before Vista Municipal Judge Donald Rudloff.
If the prosecution can convince a jury that Klapper was killed in the commission of a rape, Dubria automatically would be convicted of first-degree murder.
Rudloff knocked the prosecutor for a loop Tuesday, ruling irrelevant the question of whether Klapper had agreed to accompany the 28-year-old New Jersey physician only if it would be sex-free.
Rudloff said that, even if there were such a promise of fidelity, it was irrelevant. "People do change their minds from time to time," the judge said.
But Deputy Dist. Atty Tim Casserly continued to argue the point. "The defense is going to argue that she consensually had sex with him, in order to knock out the rape count," Casserly argued. "But she told her boyfriend back home (in a telephone call just hours before her death), 'I can't wait to see you. I love you.'
"And, within hours, she comes out dead, he (Dubria) comes out alive, and she has sperm in her, and he admits he had sex with her for the first time."
Dubria previously told investigators that he found Klapper unconscious during the night.
Carlsbad paramedics testified that, when they arrived at the motel that night, Dubria was trying to give Klapper cardiopulmonary resuscitation. And an investigator for the medical examiner's office testified that, when she viewed Klapper's body at the hospital, her face was scratched and her pants were on inside out.
During the daylong hearing, Dubria rested his chin on his hand and listened intently to the medical testimony. His mother, Lourdes Dubria, sat in the first row of the courtroom, jammed with more than 25 Dubria family members and friends, and at times read from a piece of paper with the title, "Prayer for International Healing."
The preliminary hearing is expected to conclude today.