Expert says murder suspect does not have brain damage

He rebuts defense, says Wolter capable of forming intent

By Paris Achen, Columbian courts reporter

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A neuropsychologist testified Monday in Clark County Superior Court that murder defendant Dennis Wolter doesn't have brain damage that would have impaired his ability to premeditate the May 2011 murder of his girlfriend, Kori Fredericksen.

Michael S. Daniel, a clinical neuropsychologist and faculty at Oregon's Pacific University, took the stand Monday to rebut three defense experts who testified last week that Wolter was unable to premeditate the murder because of brain damage caused by fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.

Daniel's cross-examination continues today. The prosecution also is expected to present two other rebuttal witnesses today. Closing arguments may follow.

Wolter, 46, is accused of stabbing Fredericksen more than 70 times inside his home at 1205 W. 39th St. in Vancouver. He's charged with aggravated first-degree murder, which requires prosecutors to prove premeditation and intent.

Wolter's attorney, Therese Lavallee, has based his defense on fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, as well as a traumatic brain injury Wolter suffered at age 18. She said resulting brain damage from both conditions interfere with his ability to form intent.

Daniel on Monday acknowledged that Wolter has a learning disability that could have been caused by fetal alcohol syndrome.

However, the neuropsychologist testified that Wolter shows no significant brain dysfunction that would prevent him from living a normal adult life. Wolter's life history shows his ability to control his behavior, Daniel said.

For instance, Wolter showed a pattern of violating the law and abusing alcohol and drugs from at least age 19 until age 35, Daniel said. The defendant then decided to change his life, Daniel said. During the following nine-year period, he maintained full-time employment and followed the law. That shows intent, Daniel said.

Other examples of Wolter's ability to form intent included his decision to dump Fredericksen's body down a ravine along Southeast Evergreen Highway between Camas and Vancouver and to come up with another plausible excuse -- a wounded dog -- for blood found on his clothes and in his vehicle after the murder, Daniel said.

In 2002, psychiatrist David Johnson diagnosed Wolter with antisocial personality disorder, which is defined by a pattern of deceit, manipulation and disregard for the feelings of others. Daniel said Wolter's criminal history is consistent with that diagnosis, though Daniel's psychological test results didn't show antisocial leanings.

To reach his conclusion, Daniel said, he performed multiple psychological evaluations of Wolter's brain functions and a review of 5,750 pages of school, medical and psychological records on the defendant.

On cross-examination, Lavallee questioned Daniel's qualifications to diagnose or recognize symptoms of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. Asked how many hours he'd spent studying the disorder in the classroom during his graduate studies, Daniel said he'd spent only three to four hours on the topic in the classroom. However, he said, he had encountered patients with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder through his clinical practice.

He admitted that only a medical doctor, such as a psychiatrist, can diagnose fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, but that diagnosis relies on psychological tests by psychologists.

Early on May 26, 2011, Wolter was pulled over for speeding on Evergreen Highway in Camas. Wolter and his blue Dodge pickup were covered in Fredericksen's blood. A domestic violence no-contact order for Wolter to stay away from Fredericksen was on the front driver's seat.

Fredericksen's body was found the same day about a mile away.

According to previous testimony, Wolter told the officers that the blood came from his dog, Charlie. He said that a vehicle struck the dog during a game of fetch, and that he had transported the dog in his truck to a veterinarians's office, where the dog had to be euthanized.

Police later found five blood-stained knives, a trail and pools of blood, and Fredericksen's bloody, perforated sweater at Wolter's home.