Patterson trial testimony centers on cause of death

EDINBURG — In the wake of his wife’s death in late October 2014, Martin Knell Sr. spent the next month mulling over his will.

At least that’s the story attorney Oscar Gomez’s meeting notes tell.

Gomez kept notes of his interactions with Knell, the 96-year-old man he described as “quirky” and extroverted, and who often scheduled appointments or showed up unannounced to discuss his estate and will. The attorney described this behavior as Knell “vacillating” over the structure of such affairs.

These notes were the focus of the prosecution and defense’s questions on Friday, when the third week of the Monica Melissa Patterson capital murder trial came to an end.

Patterson, 50, is charged with Knell’s January 2015 murder to gain control of his estate.

“Generally, he was indecisive as to what he really wanted — regarding the house, his estate, his property, everything,” Gomez said in his testimony. “He was struggling with who he really wanted (executor of the will) to be.”

Knell expressed during an Oct. 9, 2014, meeting that he wanted Patterson to be executrix of his will, with Gomez as her successor, according to the witness’s testimony.

On Nov. 3 of the same year, Knell said he wanted his house and a property lot to go to his pastor, only to change his mind a few days later on Nov. 10, when he instead chose to leave the home to his son.

During a Nov. 10 meeting, he also inquired about Gomez being executor of the will.

“(Knell) struggled with what he felt was right and what wasn’t,” Gomez said.

But Gomez added he couldn’t finish helping Knell with his will since he realized he had a conflict of interest, given that another partner at the firm was helping Patterson on a civil matter.

In contrast, the defense used the meeting notes to provide insight into Knell’s state of mind.

Gomez had noted that Knell said he was upset about his wife’s passing and wanted to stay at Comfort House, the nonprofit hospice center where Patterson was administrator at the time, and wanted her to care for him.

Gomez also noted that Knell mentioned he was angry at his son for not allowing him to see his wife at Comfort House and for putting him in a behavioral health center for three days for evaluation.

This last note — based on information Knell relayed to Gomez — contradicted witness testimony from earlier in the trial, when jurors learned that an investigator with the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office intake division had sent Knell to Tropical Texas Behavioral Health to undergo a mental health evaluation.

This occurred after Knell became visibly upset after the investigator informed him of why he wasn’t able to visit the hospice in the days after his wife was first admitted as a patient.

Two witnesses have also testified that Knell had bipolar disorder, a detail the prosecution hasn’t fully explored through the witnesses they’ve called to the stand. A letter from a psychologist included in Gomez’s documented work with Knell also revealed that the then 95-year-old had been diagnosed with “adjustment disorder with depressed mood” following his wife’s death.

During Gomez’s testimony, prosecutor Joseph Orendain asked the witness to explain the difference between a do-not-resuscitate order (DNR) and a directive to physician.

DNR orders indicate that a person does not wish to receive CPR should their heart stop beating or they stop breathing, whereas a directive to physician specifies whether someone wants to receive treatment to prolong their life if they have an incurable or irreversible disease.

Knell filled out a directive to physician in December 2014 with attorney Mark Talbot, a meeting Patterson arranged.

On Friday, jurors also heard from a firefighter, paramedic and EMT who treated Knell on the morning of Jan. 28, 2015, after responding to a heart attack reported by his housekeeper. Knell was found lying on his back on the floor next to his dining room table. He did not have a pulse or heartbeat.

These witnesses testified that Patterson arrived at his home while they were performing CPR and showed the paramedic what, as Orendain put it, “you thought was a DNR.”

The paramedic, who said he was under the impression that Patterson was a family member, ceased all treatment of Knell because the form had “the proper signatures.” Rather than taking him to a hospital, the emergency responders waited for a justice of the peace to arrive and pronounced him dead.

“You have no evidence that Mr. Knell died from anything other than cardiac arrest,” defense attorney O. Rene Flores asked the firefighter, to which Orendain objected for speculation.

Flores rephrased his question, asking, “You found circumstances consistent with a cardiac arrest,” to which the firefighter responded in the affirmative.

“Do you understand that the single-most common cause of death in Western society today is cardiac arrest?” Flores asked the EMT, a question Orendain also objected to due to speculation.

In previous witness testimony, Flores underscored that Knell suffered from heart disease.

“What you saw, what you observed were indeed consistent with cardiac arrest, would you agree?” Flores asked the paramedic, who confirmed as much.

Friday set up future testimony from the pathologist who performed the autopsy of Knell’s body, as the prosecution alleges that Knell died not from cardiac arrest, but from asphyxiation with a plastic bag or unknown item.