Autopsy photos take center stage in York County murder trial

by: Greg Suskin Updated:

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YORK COUNTY, S.C. —

Grizzly crime scene and autopsy photos took center stage in a murder trial in York County Tuesday.

The photos showed the body of 82-year-old Pauline Cook, who was found dead in her bathroom at Park Pointe Village Assisted Living in Rock Hill last November.

Her family members and friends in the courtroom turned their heads away as the disturbing images appeared on a big screen so the jury could see them.

Prosecutors said Cook was smothered to death in her bed. Her part-time caregiver, Braquette Walton, is accused of killing her, then trying to cover it up.

Police said Walton dragged Cook's body into the shower, put a shower cap on her head and turned the water on to make it appear Cook had fallen in the shower. Her walker was found the bathroom, and her clothes were neatly laid out.

However, on Tuesday, several Park Pointe Village employees testified that Cook had lived their more than 10 years and had a well-known routine -- she showered in the morning, not late at night when investigators said she died.

It was about 6:30 a.m. when overnight supervisor Linda Roach noticed that Cook had not come out of her room for breakfast, and went to check on her.

"The room was full of water. She was laying there half in and half out of the shower," she said. "I was hysterical."

The day before, Cook had gotten angry after discovering some checks that she claimed were forged. They were written for hundreds of dollars apiece, and had Walton's name on them.

"She was angry, and yelling about someone writing checks on her," said Brittany Martin, another Park Pointe Village staff member.

The center called Rock Hill police, and Cook talked to officers about the forged checks. A report was made, and police started investigating. Officers told Cook not to tell anyone about the forged checks, so they could see what played out.

However, prosecutors said another employee, who was a friend of Walton's, overheard Cook ranting about the checks, called Walton and told her about it.

Prosecutors said that's when Walton decided to sneak into the center unnoticed, and commit the crime.

Walton claims she was only borrowing money from Cook, and had set up a monthly installment plan to pay back the money she owed her. She'd fallen on hard times, and Cook was willing to help her out.

Walton later confessed to killing Cook, but said she didn't mean to. In a third statement to police, after denying any involvement in the death in the first two statements, Walton said the two women struggled after she went to see Cook that night.

She said Cook hit her with the phone while threatening to call police and Walton grabbed her and held her down on the bed. She laid on top of Cook to calm her down and after a while, felt no pulse.

However, on Tuesday, pathologist Rob Thomas told the jury that Cook's death could not have been caused by someone's weight on top of her. Also, he noticed defensive wounds and bruises on her hands and arms, and well as injuries that looked more someone applying strong force to her head and neck.

Defense lawyers said no one saw Walton at Park Pointe Village on Nov. 12, the night Cook died.

Under cross examination, Dr. Thomas admitted some of what he found during the autopsy could've been caused by several medications Cook was taking, and other factors.
However, Thomas said asphyxiation was the cause of Cook's death, and several of her injuries.

The testimony was difficult to hear for Cook's daughter, sister, two brothers, and many friends.
Prosecutors warned them that Tuesday's testimony would be rough, and they could leave the courtroom if they needed to. None of them did.