For the first time, a prosecutor hinted Wednesday at possible motives why Sam Kastanis would kill his wife and three children.
Kent Morgan asked Atlanta, Ga., medical examiner Joseph Burton if he was familiar with post-traumatic stress disorder, a condition suffered by many combat veterans. Morgan said members of Kastanis' unit were decorated with the Bronze Star while serving in the Army.Morgan also asked Burton if he was aware that Kastanis was contemplating his family's financial status the morning of the deaths, after having made arrangements to purchase a new home the night before.
The prosecutor referred to "financial difficulties" the family had suffered and mentioned that Kastanis, who had been married before, was facing a second divorce at his wife's request. He also asked if he knew about life insurance on the children.
"He admitted he was under stress," Burton said of Kastanis, who is charged with killing his wife and three children. "Certainly, Margaret's (mental) condition would put him under stress."
But the defense witness, whose testimony disputed the majority of the state's case, said Morgan's implications were simply speculation.
"Would you base a decision on speculation?" asked defense attorney Ron Yengich.
"Not if a man's life hanged on it, no sir," Burton replied.
Yengich also told the six-man, six-woman jury that Kastanis repaired radios in the Army and later told reporters his client did not serve in combat.
Despite hours of cross-examination Wednesday, Burton strongly stuck to his belief that there is no evidence to show Sam Kastanis killed his wife and three children. He said his two-day Salt Lake City visit has convinced him more than ever that Margaret Kastanis killed the children and then herself.
Morgan also made reference to "affect disorder," which Burton described as "a condition where people don't outwardly react to stimuli in ways other people would." One police officer observed that it seemed Kastanis was acting as if he was trying to cry the morning his family died, but couldn't. Another witness said it seemed unusual that Kastanis was not reacting to the stress of the deaths.
But Burton emphasized that everyone reacts differently to stress and said neither Kastanis nor anyone else should be judged because they're not crying or reacting as others expect them to.
Burton said there are "wagon-loads of evidence" to show that Margaret Kastanis was mentally ill. Among other drugs, she had been prescribed Prednisone, a steroid used for allergy problems and known to sometimes cause psychotic episodes.
A lab test could not detect the drug in Margaret Kastanis' body.
Burton also testified that he saw no evidence of "staging" at the crime scene. While the knife and hammer used in the killings were located parallel to each other next to Margaret's body, he said he believes a first-arriving officer or paramedic may have moved them into that position.
He said it is possible the two men who first spotted the bodies in the basement may have remembered seeing the weapons differently because they were looking from different perspectives.
"I'm not saying anyone is lying," Burton said, but added that the truth may never be known.
Burton also continued to question the findings of blood-spatter expert Rod Englert, the state's star witness. "I disagree with probably 80 percent of what Mr. Englert said happened at the scene because it's not based on scientific facts," he said.
Another witness, Richard H. Fox, testified Wednesday and Thursday about a hair found in Margaret Kastanis' hand that an expert earlier testified had been pulled from her husband's head.
Fox - a Ventura, Calif., private consulting criminologist hired by the defense, said that while the hair could have come from Sam Kastanis' head, it could have also come from the head of his 9-year-old son, Clinton.