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Wecht: Skull blows caused death of Hempfield woman

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Friday, March 8, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Tina Marie Ohler likely was kicked repeatedly in the head and face and stomped in the chest, according to testimony Thursday from the pathologist who performed her autopsy.

Ohler, 40, was killed Nov. 13, 2011, in the Hempfield apartment she shared with her boyfriend, Keith Kruel.

Kruel, 39, is on trial for her murder. Westmoreland County prosecutors contend he brutally beat Ohler as they fought over a bowl of spilled noodles following a night out at local bars.

The prosecution is seeking a first-degree murder conviction against Kruel, which carries a mandatory life prison sentence if he is convicted of that charge.

Dr. Cyril Wecht told jurors that Ohler sustained skull hemorrhages, seven broken ribs and a lacerated liver. The skull injuries caused her death, Wecht said.

“One or more kicks to the face could explain the injuries I described. It would take more than one kick,” Wecht told jurors.

Most of Ohler's injuries — the rib fractures and internal bleeding that resulted from liver lacerations — were treatable, Wecht told jurors. Those injuries were caused by compression of her chest, he said.

“They were consistent with somebody pushing down or stepping or kneeling on somebody,” Wecht said.

According to police, Kruel confessed to slamming Ohler's head off a wall or door jam, then kicking her head like a “football.”

Kruel contended he passed out on a couch after he and Ohler fought. When he awoke the next morning, Kruel found her unresponsive on the floor between their bed and a dresser, wearing only blue jeans and socks, he told police.

Wecht dismissed a defense theory that Ohler's abdominal injuries could have been caused by Kruel's failed resuscitation efforts. Many of ribs were broken from behind, according to Wecht.

Jurors saw photographs of the couple's home and blood that was found on the floor and door jams.

State Police Trooper Brian Kendgia testified there were no obvious signs of struggle in the home, which appeared to have been sanitized. Blood had been cleaned.

Empty Ramen noodle wrappers were found in a kitchen trash can and a “significant amount of noodles” were discovered in a vacuum cleaner bag, Kendgia testified.

Ohler's blood was found on the inside of Kruel's blue jeans, testified Sarah Kinneer, a serologist at the state police crime lab.

Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6293.

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