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Murder victim died in "savage assault"

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WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAU) - Breanna Schneller's killer stabbed her more two dozen times to her neck, back, chest and wrist, a forensic pathologist testified Thursday.

Dr. Robert Corliss told jurors at the trial of the Wausau man charged in the high school senior's murder that the 18-year-old died from complex homicidal violence. Corliss said Schneller was alive when she was attacked because the wounds caused bleeding that can only happen when vital organs are still operating. He said all of the wounds contributed to her death.

"This appears to be a very savage assault," Corliss testified, adding that Schneller suffered 14 wounds to the back of her neck and so many overlapping wounds to the front of her neck that he could not count them.

Many of the wounds indicate that Schneller was in a defensive posture, Corliss said. The assault happened very quickly and Schneller likely died within a minute or two of sustaining the injuries.

The killer stabbed Schneller in her face so hard with a knife that the blade tip got stuck in her sinus cavity. The killer then used the broken knife to stab Schneller in her chest.

Corliss pointed out specific wounds to jurors on autopsy pictures that can be described as grisly. The testimony and pictures were so overwhelming that Schneller's mother ran out of the courtroom sobbing in tears.

Jurors watched an edited recording of the interview police conducted with accused killer Raul Ponce-Rocha four days after the murder.

Investigators pointed out three inconsistencies in Ponce-Rocha's story about his actions the day of the murder, including:

-A trip Ponce-Rocha took to pick up a co-worker in the same apartment complex where Schneller lived. Ponce-Rocha said the trip took 20 minutes. But surveillance video from the Mexican restaurant where he worked showed that he was gone for nearly 40 minutes.

-The clothes Ponce-Rocha wore. Ponce-Rocha said he showed up to work wearing a white cook's uniform when the same video showed him wearing a brown hooded sweatshirt.

-Taking garbage out to the Dumpster. Ponce-Rocha said the last time he had gone to the Dumpster was five days before the murder. But video showed him putting something in the garbage the afternoon of the murder.

“There's too many inconsistencies in what you're saying for us to feel comfortable that you're not involved in this in some fashion,” Lieutenant Bill Kolb said in the interview.

Ponce-Rocha appeared cooperative throughout the interview. He agreed to let police take his fingerprints, pictures of his hands and a DNA sample. He also gave police the clothes he wore to the interview and permission to search his bedroom for a brown hooded sweatshirt he wore the day of the murder.

The taped interview may be the only evidence that jurors hear directly from Ponce-Rocha if he does not take the stand in his own defense.

Schneller's fiance testified that Ponce-Rocha visited his apartment twice before the murder but never had any physical contact with Schneller. Sebastian Ramirez said Ponce-Rocha came into his bedroom during one of the visits but never touched an iron.

Prosecutors used Ramirez's testimony to build their case that Ponce-Rocha killed Schneller. Deputy district attorney Theresa Wetzsteon said during her opening statement Wednesday that the state crime lab found Ponce-Rocha's DNA evidence on the iron handle and under Schneller's fingernail. Investigators also found one of Schneller's hairs on Ponce-Rocha's sweatshirt, Wetzsteon said.

Police Detective Cord Buckner will continue testifying Friday morning. Prosecutors also plan to call Kolb and Ponce-Rocha's mother to the stand. Ponce-Rocha's father has been subpoenaed and may be called to testify.

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