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April 4, 1998

Doctors Rebut Accuser in Internet Torture Trial


NEW YORK -- Defense experts testified Friday that there was virtually no medical evidence to support a woman's claim that she was tortured by Oliver Jovanovic, a Columbia University graduate student whom she met on the Internet.

Prosecutors have charged Jovanovic with kidnapping and torturing the woman, a Barnard College student. Jovanovic, a doctoral candidate in molecular biology, has been accused of tying the woman to a futon frame, biting her repeatedly, and striking and sexually abusing her with a large stick. Prosecutors have said Jovanovic carried out the attack over 20 hours on Nov. 21 and 22, 1996.

But doctors called by the defense testified Friday that they found no evidence of bite marks or of bruises that would have resulted from a beating with a nightstick or similar object. One of the doctors testified that several of the marks that the woman identified as bruises were not bruises at all, but normal skin coloration.

The defense witness, Dr. Barbara Wolf, said there were no bruises or cuts that would have resulted from bites. In her statements to the police, as well as in her testimony, the woman has accused Jovanovic of biting her breasts until they bled.

"To a degree of medical certainty, none of these bruises are pattern bruises consistent with a bite mark," Dr. Wolf said, referring to photographs taken of the woman a few days after the incident.

Dr. Wolf also said there was no evidence of any cuts or scarring that would have followed bleeding bite wounds.

But the prosecution has presented witnesses, including friends of the woman, who have said they saw bruises on her after the alleged incident.

On cross-examination, a prosecutor, Gail Heatherly, asked Dr. Wolf whether it was possible that Jovanovic inflicted an injury with his mouth, but without using his teeth. The doctor said she assumed that when the woman said she had been bitten, she meant that her assailant had used teeth.

Dr. Wolf, a forensic pathologist for the Albany County Coroner's office, said there was also no evidence that the woman was struck or sodomized with a nightstick. She said such an attack would have left characteristic injuries, but none were reflected in the medical records or visible in photographs taken after the incident.

The woman has also accused Jovanovic of burning her with hot candle wax. In her direct testimony, she said that Jovanovic placed an ice cube on her skin to prevent a mark from forming after each burn. But Dr. Wolf testified that applying ice to the skin would not prevent a burn mark from forming.

"That may ease the pain, but if there is a burn, that is not going to make the mark go away," she said.

Dr. Wolf's testimony echoed that of another defense witness, Dr. Alexander Kuehl, a former vice president of the City Health and Hospitals Corporation. A defense lawyer, Jack Litman, called Dr. Wolf to testify after Ms. Heatherly questioned Kuehl's experience in forensic medicine.

Dr. Wolf also serves on the medical review boards for the State's Corrections Department and Mental Health Department. She also was appointed by Gov. George Pataki to gather forensic evidence after TWA Flight 800 crashed off Long Island.

Dr. Wolf is one of the last witnesses that the defense is expected to call. The case, which is being heard in State Supreme Court in Manhattan, may go to the jury next week.

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