Medical expert testifies in murder trial

Steve Garrison
stgarrison@daily-times.com
Lionel Lee Francis

AZTEC — Jurors in the murder trial for Lionel Francis heard expert testimony Wednesday regarding the factors that led to the 2013 death of Francis' girlfriend, Shai Burbank.

Dr. Heather Sumner Jarrell testified Wednesday that Burbank died as a result of blunt force trauma, but said that she had an "extremely high" blood-alcohol content, which may have hastened her death.

Police found Burbank, 32, on Nov. 11, 2013, beaten and lifeless in the apartment she shared with Francis and their two children at 2901 Parque De Oeste. Francis, 35, was also at the apartment covered in blood and police took him into custody. He told police in a statement that Burbank attacked him during a drunken argument the night prior and he responded by pummeling her into unconsciousness.

Francis found the woman dead in the morning and contacted 911.

Francis' attorney, Matthew Cockman, argued in his opening statements that Burbank may have died as a result of alcohol poisoning and questioned Jarrell on Wednesday regarding Burbank's blood-alcohol content.

According to Jarrell, a toxicology report indicated that Burbank had a 0.35 blood-alcohol content at the time of her death, but that number may have risen as high as 0.42 at some point during the night.

Lionel Francis, center, speaks with his attorneys during his murder trial on Monday in Aztec. Francis is accused of killing his girlfriend in November 2013.

However, Jarrell could not say whether that was a fatal amount of alcohol.

"It is high, but for someone who has a tolerance for alcohol, it may not be lethal," Jarrell said.

She agreed with a previous medical investigator's determination that Burbank died as a result of blunt force trauma.

Jarrell said that 20 of Burbank's 24 ribs were fractured and some of those fractured ribs appeared to have punctured her lungs. There were also multiple lacerations on Burbank's liver, which only could have come from blunt force trauma, according to Jarrell.

Jarrell said there was also some evidence that Burbank was choked and she could not rule out strangulation as a possible cause of death.

Francis was arraigned in district court in December 2013 on charges of second-degree murder, evidence tampering, child abuse and battery on a household member. He was previously convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence charges in 2009 and 2013.

The jury heard testimony from police and a crime scene investigator on Monday. The recording of Francis' statements to police were played for the jury on Tuesday.

Attorneys are expected to deliver closing statements to jurors today.

Steve Garrison covers crime and courts for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644.