People v. Keegan

by Bruce McEwen, September 20, 2017

Prosecutor Tim Stoen’s opening statement deftly described supporting testimony that has led to the indictment of Dr. Peter Keegan, Ukiah, for the murder of his wife, Susan Keegan in November of 2010.

Keegan

The Criminal Grand Jury was convened in the mostly abandoned Willits Courthouse to avoid attention that might be attracted to the testimony if it were heard in Ukiah. The defense was not represented although Keegan himself testified.

We have managed to obtain the entire criminal grand jury report that led to the murder indictment of the well-known Ukiah doctor for the murder of his wife, Susan. More than 700 pages, it is posted on our website in six sections as scanned images.

The rules of the Grand Jury indictment, Stoen explained, require that 12 members be convinced they would convict on the charges after hearing the testimony of the prosecution's witnesses.

Which this jury did, and Dr. Keegan has been charged with murder, but has been given more than a month to enter a plea. He is represented by Chris Andrian of Santa Rosa.

Stoen then distributed Exhibit No. 1, the Grand Jury Packet containing 1. The proposed indictment; 2. The witness list; 3. The list of exhibits; 4. Jury instructions.

He explained that his opening statement was not evidence, only the testimony and exhibits were evidence, and that his opening statement was a map to show the jurors where he expected the evidence to lead them.

Stoen then read the Johnson Rule, that the Grand Jury was not requested to hear defense evidence, but when one of the jurors had reason to believe any defense evidence would explain the charges, it shall order the evidence to be provided.

(There were only three instances where this happened — which I'll get back to, eventually: 1. the "secret journal," 2. the shared computer Dr. Keegan took to a Lake County Private Investigator 3. A letter.)

When the time came, that is after all the evidence had been presented, the jurors no longer wanted to see these things, because the testimony of the witnesses had already satisfied their curiosity about them — for instance, Investigators Kevin Bailey and Andy Alvarado, had been so thoroughly vetted on the contents of the "secret journal" that the jurors had no more questions on the subject. It was Mrs. Keegan’s diaries she’d written years before relations between the Keegans went murderously wrong.

The mention of suicide as a possible explanation for his wife’s death was in a note from the doctor he’d left on Oni LaGioia's porch along with a copy of the AVA. The note said Dr. Keegan had read a "secret journal" and based his suicide theory on that. But the DA's Investigators, Kevin Bailey and Andy Alvarado, as mentioned, read these journals and found nothing in them to support the suicide theory.

Stoen’s Opening Statement

Prosecutor Tim Stoen’s opening statement to the criminal grand jury impaneled to hear the charges against Dr. Keegan, admitted that the initial investigation by law enforcement was flawed; the first responders, rather than invoke standard crime scene protocols, had simply taken the doctor’s word for it that he’d found Mrs. Keegan dead on her bathroom floor at approximately. 7:30 AM the morning November 11th 2010 and had called 911. Ukiah Fire Department Battalion Chief Jay Beristianos was the first person to arrive on the scene.

Stoen conceded that law enforcement had made no effort to search the Keegan's South Ukiah home for a possible weapon, and no effort had been made to obtain or seize any records at the home. The home was not treated as a possible crime scene.

The police, initially, simply took the doctor's explanation that his wife of thirty-two years had apparently fallen in her bathroom, hit her head, and died.

Dr. Keegan said he’d last seen his wife alive the morning of November 10th as she departed to visit a friend in Santa Rosa. It was known that in October of 2010 Dr. Keegan had filed for dissolution of his 32-year marriage to Susan Keegan. During this time Dr. Keegan took a computer he shared with his wife to a P.I. in Lake County, Mike Harmann, and asked Harmann to search it for deleted emails, to basically hack into Mrs. Keegan's email accounts. Mr. Harmann testified that he advised Dr. Keegan this was illegal, and he would not do it. Harmann had had to refuse Keegan several times. Harmann said Keegan also wanted spywear installed on the computer because he thought his wife was cheating on him.

Keegan bicycled to his wife’s long-time friend, Oni LaGioia’s Ukiah home to complain about his wife’s alleged "addiction to Vicodin and whisky.” Fellow thespian and retired Sheriff’s Department officer, Gary Hudson, testified to the Grand Jury that he never saw any indication whatsoever that Mrs. Keegan was a heavy drinker or addicted to drugs.

Ms. LaGioia testified that Dr. Keegan, on this visit to her home, was “highly agitated, angry, and manic.” She also said she was afraid of him.

On October 26, 2010, Susan Keegan had emailed Ukiah attorney Norm Rosen asking him to “file the papers, get the temporary spousal support started for me.” Rosen calculated that Dr. Keegan would have to pay his wife $2210 monthly in spousal support. On November 4th Dr. Keegan emailed Rosen saying he was unwilling to pay legally mandated spousal support.

On November 10th, around 5 o’clock in the afternoon, Mrs. Keegan drove from her Ukiah home to Santa Rosa to visit her friend Mary Pierce where she had one scotch on the rocks and then appetizers and a dinner while the evening was spent going over the details of the pending divorce. Mrs. Keegan left the Pierce home for Ukiah around 9:00.Dr. Keegan said he went to bed at 10:00 PM., about the time Mrs. Keegan would have arrived home.

November 11th at 8:25 Deputy Jacquelyn Rainwater of the MCSO coroner unit arrived at the Keegan home. Dr. Keegan tells Deputy Rainwater he last saw his wife alive around 5:00 PM the day before when she left for Santa Rosa. He went to bed around 10:00 PM and never heard her come in – they’d been sleeping in separate bedrooms. He said their sex life was poor and they were in the process of divorce; yes, they’d had arguments, “but nothing physically assaultive.” He said he hadn’t moved the body and wanted a copy of the autopsy report because he was “nervous about what the outcome might be.”

Deputy Rainwater examined the back of the decedent’s head, found a four-inch long and three-inch wide laceration, which the deputy concluded was consistent with a fall and Mrs. Keegan's head striking the edge of a vanity. Deputy Rainwater would testify that it seemed to her that Mrs. Keegan’s body had been moved and that much of the blood that ordinarily accompanies a serious head wound had been cleaned up.

The same day his wife was found dead, Dr. Keegan called Ms. LaGioia to inform her of the death, and told her “The boys want to have a memorial service, but I don’t give a fuck.” The referenced ‘boys’ are the Keegans’ two grown sons.

Deputy Rainwater had gone to the autopsy at Eversole Mortuary where Dr. Jason Trent told her the injuries were consistent with ground-level fall (no mention of the vanity striking the head on the way down) and therefore it was not a suspicious death.

On November 16th Dr. Keegan had created a Facebook page soliciting women for “friendship.”

On Nov. 21st Dr. Keegan called Mary Pierce and asked her to write an obituary.

It was reported that Dr. Keegan did not want his wife’s ashes – and yet, later we find him scooping them out into plastic bags, a bit for you, some for you, and here’s yours…! This grim anecdote would not be allowed in court, especially the comment that it “amounted to a callous and cold lack of solemnity.”

Nov. 22nd Linda Puls, Susan’s sister, came for the ashes. She was given a few scoops in a plastic bag, and later in the night, a plastic bag of ashes was left hanging on Oni LaGioia’s door knob.

From Dec. 16th through Jan. 7th Dr. Keegan sent a series of emails to Karyn Feiden , Susan’s cousin, alleging Susan’s addictions and drinking.

In early January Sgt. Scott Poma, MCSO Chief Deputy Coroner reviewed photos of the dead woman and interviewed Dr. Trent. Poma noted that the swelling on the dead woman’s hands and wrists, and the position of her arms, indicated that Mrs. Keegan had tried to defend herself against a physical assault. Sgt. Poma asked for a second opinion, and Trent suggested an old friend in Maine, Michale J. Ferenc – Alameda County’s forensic pathologist.

Nearly a year after her death, Nov. 9th, 2011, the toxicology report arrived. There were a number of drugs in Susan’s system, including the pain-killer hydrocodone, and her blood alcohol level was 0.16. Dr. Trent’s necropsy report concluded the cause of death to be acute craniocerebral trauma from a fall due to hydrocodone and ethanol toxicity.

Feb. 4th Kay Belschner of the Dept. of Justice labs in Eureka conducted an on-scene investigation and concluded there were two possible scenarios of events. But in neither one was it possible that the decedent’s head had struck the vanity. In Ms. Belschner’s opinion “another person” was involved in Susan’s death.

Feb. 11th Dr. Keegan responded to an article in the AVA summarizing the reasons that  he was probably guilty of murder: “I can’t wait to see what imaginative fun you have with me next week. Things like truth and facts have always been the AVA’s weak point.” (Whatever our sins, they don’t yet include murder.)

Feb. 28th Dr. Keegan appeared on the porch of Oni LaGioia’s residence where he dropped off a copy of the AVA along with a note in reference to a “secret journal” that would “prove” Susan’s death was a suicide. The note referred to “the scandalous AVA article you contributed to.” Ms. LaGioia said she was afraid for her safety.

The November 21st memorial service for Mrs. Keegan was held at the Methodist Church, Ukiah. It was reported that Dr. Keegan did not sit with his sons, and showed no remorse – in trial this will not only draw an objection, but probably be stricken from the record. (Other witnesses said the Keegans sat together.)

April 2nd Dr. Ferenc sent Sgt. Poma his report, stating that the lividity in Susan’s wrists and hands could represent the body having been moved, but was “not particularly suggestive of defensive injuries or restraint injuries.” He concluded he did “not find it convincing that this lady was the victim of an assault.”

Later in April the DA’s office requested a review of the case by forensic pathologist Jay Chapman, MD, the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office’s Chief Medical Examiner. Chief Investigator Kevin Bailey and lieutenant Andrew Alvarado viewed Mrs. Keegan's “secret journals,” and found nothing to suggest that she was suicidal. As noted, those journals were written many years prior to the break-up of the Keegans’ marriage.

On April 20th Dr. Chapman sent the DA a letter stating, “after reviewing the autopsy report it’s my opinion that the injuries observed on the body are assaultive [in nature], and could not have reasonably been produced by any accidental means.”

On April 27th Dr. Trent submitted a supplement to his necropsy report stating, “Cause of death: aspiration of vomitus due to blunt force trauma to the head with ethanol and hydrocodone toxcicity.”

3 Responses to People v. Keegan

  1. michael turner Reply

    September 21, 2017 at 3:12 am

    This is a summary of previous reports. What was new to me from the transcripts was Keegan’s testimony. He said he was testifying against his attorney’s advice because he had a bad medical prognosis and wanted to have his say on the record before he died. Pretty dramatic, very sad, stuff. The real trial here appears to lie in the court of public opinion.

  2. Joe Hansem Reply

    September 21, 2017 at 5:52 am

    The key to the prosecution’s case is the testimony of Dr. Chapman, formerly the chief pathologist for the State of Oklahoma who held a similar position with Sonoma County for a number of years and who has been practicing medicine for over fifty years.

    Dr. Chapman opined that the decedent’s injuries were not consistent with accidental death but were the result of blunt force trauma from being struck with blunt instrument by another, in other words an assault. He reviewed his findings with Dr. Trent, who had initially considered the injuries to have been accidental in their cause, convincing Dr. Trent that he had been mistaken and that the decedent was the victim of a homicide. What the third doctor from Maine, who also thought it was an accident, now thinks is not known.

    Notably, both Dr. Chapman and Dr. Trent concluded that Susan Keegan was intoxicated on alcohol and hydrocodone, heavily so. While this in no way gets Peter Keegan off the hook, it raises questions about the credibility of a couple friends of hers who adamantly insist she was a sober person, but Peter in his testimony states that they knew better and that in fact they were her enablers in that regard, having himself written scrips to them for her.

    Based on a perusal of the transcript, I think the most probable scenario consistent with this evidence is that she came back causing a drunken commotion, words of an insulting and provocative nature were exchanged and he flipped out and hit her. I believe him when he says he loved his wife as do his sons and don’t think he planned for this to happen. But depending on what other experts say and whether the defendant lives long enough, whether a conviction can come out of this is problematical. While the findings of two experts that the cause of death was homicide is a major gain for the prosecution, the uncontravertible finding of Susan’s being high and drunk to the point that Dr. Trent called it toxic is a fact that can only help the defense in this case.

  3. Papa Sancho Reply

    September 26, 2017 at 10:33 am

    Well, what you can really discern from this article is that DA Shyster will play musical pathologists until he gets the results HE wants to see. Same with trials. Look forward to at least 2 re-filings after Pete is acquitted. “Conviction rate is a prosecutors Life blood” says Dave the Wave. Shouldn’t that statement be amended to read “JUSTICE is a prosecutors Life blood”

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