A Fraser Valley woman found dead beneath a mattress in a Kamloops hotel room in 2016 could have died as a result of either “significant” blunt-force trauma or “severe” asphyxiation, a judge has been told.
Debra Novacluse, 52, was discovered by staff at the Super 8 Motel in Aberdeen on Aug. 27, 2016. David Miller, now 69, was arrested days later in Ontario and is now standing trial in B.C. Supreme Court in Kamloops on one count of first-degree murder.
In an interview with police after his arrest, Miller admitted to having caused Novacluse’s death, but said it was either accidental or as a result of rough sex gone too far.
Testifying in court on Wednesday, forensic pathologist Lisa Steele, who performed Novacluse’s autopsy, described a multitude of injuries, two of which could have been fatal on their own.
Steele said Novacluse’s face and head were bruised and swollen, as was her neck and chest. She also had injuries to her genitals consistent with an object having been forced inside her, court heard.
According to Steele, the injuries to Novacluse’s neck and throat were perhaps the most severe. She said she found a fractured ring of cartilage near Novacluse’s voice box, something she had never previously seen in a career of examining dead bodies.
“This is extensive or severe pressure on the throat,” Steele said, noting the injuries were likely caused by two hands. “This is a nine to 10 out of 10. This is severe damage.”
Steele also described bruising and abrasions over Novacluse’s back, arms and legs. She said the damage to the deceased’s face was consistent with having been punched multiple times.
Crown prosecutor Neil Wiberg asked Steele for her opinion on the cause of Novacluse’s death. Steele said there was evidence of extensive head trauma and severe asphyxiation.
“There’s no way to determine which of these processes would have resulted individually in her death,” Steele said. “It could be either injury or it could be a combination of both. It’s possible that the asphyxia on its own may have been the ultimate cause of death, but again, the blunt-force injuries to her head, particularly, would have been significant. I think it’s better to include all of this as a package.”
In his cross-examination of Steele, defence lawyer Jim Heller suggested there was no way to know how Novacluse was killed.
“It’s not exactly clear what killed Ms. Novacluse,” he said.
“It’s the injuries that killed her,” Steele replied. “Do I know exactly which one? No. But it’s the injuries that caused her death.”
Miller and Novacluse were visiting Kamloops from Abbotsford.
Prosecutors have alleged Miller beat Novacluse to death, then took her truck and drove it to Alberta, abandoning the vehicle in Airdrie before catching a flight from Calgary to Ontario.
Court has heard Miller discarded Novacluse’s belongings while driving from Kamloops to Calgary, near Sicamous and in Revelstoke. A police officer found her purse in a ditch near Sicamous.
Steele is the Crown’s final witness in a trial that has been ongoing for nearly a month.
Defence lawyer Jim Heller has not indicated whether Miller will call evidence.
The trial is scheduled to conclude later this month.