Forensic pathologist Marcus Nashelsky took the stand late this morning, walking the court through a series of photos from the nine-hour autopsy that showed extreme damage to the body of 10-year-old Jetseta Gage, the Cedar Rapids girl Bentley is accused of kidnapping, raping and killing.
Authorities say Bentley, 38, of Brandon, abducted Gage on March 24, 2005, from her home, then drove her to the deserted Johnson County mobile home where he raped and killed her. She died of asphyxiation, court records show.
Authorities arrested Bentley, a convicted sex offender, at the mobile home the day after the girl's disappearance. He faces two mandatory life prison sentences if convicted on the kidnapping and murder charges.
The most horrific autopsy photos — about half of the 10 displayed — showed severe bleeding from and damage to Jetseta’s buttocks and genitals. Jetseta’s mother and grandmother left the courtroom shortly after the testimony began.
Nashelsky said Jetseta’s head was covered in a plastic garment bag, wrapped around her face and neck with three revolutions of tape. Her body was covered with minor bruises on her head, face, abdomen, left shoulder, back, arms and legs.
“The number and recent appearance (of the bruises) would be consistent with some sort of altercation before death,” Nashelsky said. He emphasized during his testimony that the bruises were both very recent and occurred before Jetseta died.
The emphasis that the injuries weren’t post-mortem might have been in a response to a bizarre exhibit entered into evidence earlier this morning by the defense.
During cross examination of Johnson County Sheriff Capt. Dave Henderson, the defense presented a book that was seized from Bentley’s home in Brandon. The book, “The Necromantic Ritual Book” by Leilah Wendell, details several rituals of necromancy, the practice of using corpses to raise the spirit of the dead, or the corpse itself. Online reviews of the book say that its purpose is to connect one with the “Angel of Death, Azreal.”
Henderson confirmed that the book was indeed taken from Bentley’s residence. At the time the book was mentioned, family members of Bentley’s alleged victim, 10-year-old Jetseta Gage, began murmuring to each other and shaking their heads.
How the practice of necromancy plays into Bentley’s defense, however, remains unclear. During a break from this morning’s testimony, Bentley attorney Peter Persaud said only that the topic would come up again during closing arguments.
In testimony on Thursday, there was one brief mention of a possible supernatural element to the case, when the defense asked Robin Walker — a friend of Bentley who tipped off police that he might be hiding in the abandoned trailer — whether she recalled Bentley mentioning “three bodies.”
Walker confirmed that at the time she showed the abandoned trailer to Bentley some time before the abduction, Bentley did mention that he “sensed” there were three bodies on the property. Walker dismissed the comments at the time, she said.
In other testimony, Henderson said he noted fresh blood on Bentley’s clothes in a sheriff’s department interview room after Bentley had been taken into custody. Police confiscated Bentley’s clothes as evidence.
Henderson also said that authorities identified Jetseta’s body with a school ID card that had her thumbprint on it.
So far, the prosecution has called 18 of 19 witnesses — five of whom took the stand this morning.