NEW PORT RICHEY — Prosecutors have said Theodore Peck was beaten to death in his Hudson home by Andre "Remy" Jackson, who is on trial this week for second-degree murder. But a key witness on Thursday said Peck's cocaine use was just as plausible a reason for his death.
Dr. Daniel Buffington, a drug information specialist hired by the defense, said he came to that conclusion after reading the autopsy report of medical examiner Dr. Jon Thogmartin. The medical examiner found Peck suffered blunt force trauma, though his heart, lungs and liver were all damaged from years of substance abuse.
"Clinically we call that the perfect storm," Buffington said about how the drug could have killed Peck.
According to testimony, Peck owed Jackson $1,000 in drug money, and Jackson beat Peck with his fists the morning of May 24, 2011. Peck, 53, died that day at Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point. Jackson, 35, could face life in prison if convicted.
Thogmartin, the medical examiner who conducted the autopsy, said Peck was in terrible health.
"He was a mess," Thogmartin said. "He had a heart that was humongous. He had really bad coronary atherosclerosis. He probably had prolonged hypertension. His lungs were just awful: Bullous emphysema. His liver was cirrhotic, probably from hepatitis C."
Thogmartin said Peck was also a chronic IV drug user.
"Most all his head trauma was on the outside of the head," Thogmartin said. "His brain was all right, and his skull was all right. (He had a) purple face. Contused ears. Busted lips. Bruises around the eyes."
Peck's spleen was so large, Thogmartin said, that it was especially vulnerable to injury. Part of it was mashed, he said. There was also cocaine and a Valium-like drug found in his system.
Still, he challenged Buffington's theory that cocaine use caused Peck's death.
"It could reasonably help, and it could reasonably hurt," Thogmartin said. "But it's not going to probably help, or probably hurt, and that's why I didn't put it as a cause of death."
The assertion, Thogmartin said, that a man using cocaine every day for years would suddenly die from cocaine on the same day he received a beating, is highly unlikely. He said there's a clear difference between theory and practice, and to base opinions on theory is not how forensic pathology works.
In his cross-examination, defense attorney Hans Grieble asked about Peck's health in relation to the trauma sustained, and specifically his head.
"The head injury alone would not be necessarily fatal," Thogmartin said. "All I can say is the beating to the head did not damage the brain or cause bleeding."
Assistant state attorney Chris Sprowls asked about death without the beating.
"Based on all the evidence," he asked, "would Theodore Peck have died had he not received blunt force trauma?"
Thogmartin said no.
The trial is expected to conclude today.