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Trial and Tribulations, Part Two

This is the conclusion of Joanne Cordova's story. For part one, see www. westword.com.

Amy Johnson and her fiance, Jason Sosebe, left their home shortly after six on the morning of May 17, 1997, heading down Old Hughesville Road toward Highway 119. As their truck rounded a corner, they saw a blue minivan with Wyoming plates parked on the wrong side of the road, at a pulloff in front of an old miner's cabin that stood at the Missouri Falls trailhead.

Johnson spotted a man dragging a red sleeping bag past the vehicle and up the path that ran beside the cabin. Odd. It looked like a person was lying on the bag. A person with bare legs, which was really odd, because it was still cold outside.

"Jason, stop!" she yelled.
She told her fiance what she'd seen. At first he didn't believe her. But when Johnson insisted, Sosebe turned the truck around.

They'd only passed the cabin a minute before, but as they drove back up the hill, the minivan came roaring toward them. "There's no way he could have put that person back in the van that fast," Johnson said. She tried to get a good look at the driver but saw only a dark figure through the tinted windows.

Sosebe concentrated on the license plate and got a partial number as the van swept past. Then he backed up to see which way the van turned when it reached the highway: It ran the stop sign at the bottom of the hill and headed north on 119.

The couple drove back to the cabin. From the turnoff, they could see part of the red sleeping bag poking out from behind a tree partway up the trail. Johnson jumped out of the truck and hurried up the path.

A young woman lay face-down on the bag, her head toward the stream and her feet toward the trail. She was wearing a white T-shirt and a pair of white socks but otherwise was nude from the waist down. Wet, bright blood showed around her head and between her legs, but she was still alive. Her breath gurgled.

Sosebe tried to call out on his cell phone but couldn't get a signal. He ran back to the truck so he could drive to a neighbor's and call for help.

Johnson stayed behind. She placed her own jacket over the young woman's exposed body. "It's going to be okay," she told her. "Help is on the way." The woman's only response was a moan.

Gilpin County sheriff Bruce Hartman lived just fifteen minutes from the cabin; he was the first to arrive, and he put out the call for medical assistance. A BOLO--police parlance for "Be on the lookout"--was also issued for a dark-blue minivan with Wyoming license plates.

Paramedics arrived and carefully examined the woman. They had no idea who she was; she had no identification on her. But they could see that she was bleeding extensively from a head wound on the back left side of her skull, above and behind her ear. She was also bleeding from her vagina.

There was so much blood that it had completely soaked through the sleeping bag and into the ground. When they lifted the woman from the bag, one paramedic spotted several coins in the pool of blood beneath her pelvis. Strange, because she had no pockets from which the coins could have fallen.

The woman was airlifted to St. Anthony's Hospital, where she was handed over to the hospital's trauma team. A CAT scan revealed that the blow to her head had been so severe that it had fractured her skull in a line that went almost straight down from the point of impact and then back through the base. Massive bleeding was putting an enormous amount of pressure on her brain.

Two top trauma surgeons were called to deal with Jane Doe's wounds. Neurosurgeon Stuart Levy and OB/GYN specialist Harvey Cohen operated simultaneously, at opposite ends of the woman.

The first thing Levy noted was a three-inch "stellate," or starlike, laceration on her head. A stellate cut has several branches that run from a central point and usually results from blunt trauma that splits the skin, as opposed to the single, straight line that a weapon like a knife causes. But the laceration was the least of Jane Doe's problems.

After Levy removed a triangular section of bone from her skull and cut the dura, the tough elastic membrane that covers the brain, blood squirted out and down his gown. The brain itself swelled out of the hole, like a mushroom, protruding several inches beyond the skull.

Levy knew then that it was probably hopeless, but he kept working to stop the bleeding and relieve the pressure. Besides the injury directly under the laceration, the so-called coup, he found a contra-coup injury on the opposite side of her head, caused when the brain bounced off the skull.

Although Cohen had an easier job, he was greatly disturbed by what he found. A three-inch cut--an "incision," he would call it, as straight and clean as if made by a surgeon's scalpel--had been made in a lateral wall of the woman's vagina. The cut had gone deep into the muscle and sliced an artery, which accounted for much of the woman's blood loss.

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