Dr Valerie Rao testifies in the ongoing George Zimmerman case. *Reuters photo
Dr Valerie Rao testifies in the ongoing George Zimmerman case. *Reuters photo

A forensic expert who was once a familiar face in Bermuda’s courts has just given evidence in the high-profile George Zimmerman trial.

Dr Valerie Rao testified in some of the island’s most notorious murder cases in the last two decades, including the Rebecca Middleton case and murder of the Cooper twins.

Some legal commentators say her medical report on Ms Middleton’s injuries could have played a part in the Court of Appeal’s decision not to allow Kirk Mundy to be charged with murder, as well as Puisne Judge Meerabux’s ruling that Justis Smith had no case to answer in connection with the murder.

Dr Rao’s medical report stated that the teenager had sustained defence wounds to her body and went against the opinion of other forensic experts in the case.

Dr Michael Baden’s report suggested that the absence of defence wounds indicated that there was more than one assailant.

This week Dr Rao took the witness stand in the Zimmerman trial before a packed courtroom in Sandford, Florida.

The case has attracted worldwide publicity.

Zimmerman is accused of the second-degree murder of Trayvon Martin — a charge he denies.

Dr Rao told the court that Mr Zimmerman’s injuries were “very insignificant” and “not life threatening”.

She said that scrapes on the back of his head could have come from just one strike against the sidewalk.

Her testimony cast doubt on Mr Zimmerman’s claim that the teenager struck him repeatedly, banging his head on the pavement, causing him to fear for his life.

For nearly a decade Dr Rao was the ‘go-to’ forensic expert for police in Bermuda.

She routinely flew in from her offices in Dade County, Florida to conduct autopsies and give evidence in murder trials.

The autopsy of Jahmil and Jahmal Cooper in 2005 was done under her direction and Dr Rao gave evidence at the trial of Dennis Robinson and Kenneth Burgess, who were later convicted of the double murder.

The US expert also played a significant role in the 2009 Kellon Hill trial as well as the trial of Andre Hypolite in 2008, who was convicted of murdering Nicholas Dill at his home in 2004.

Dr Rao was often called in to conduct autopsies and prepare reports that were put before the courts relating to death of infants.

She gave evidence in the trial of Karim Shaheed Salahuddin who was convicted after trial of murdering his six-month old daughter, as well as the trial of Paul Darrell who was convicted of the manslaughter of his two-year-old son S’Shun Dill.

In 2005 Salahuddin’s murder conviction was later reduced to a ten-year manslaughter sentence. In 1997 Paul Christian Darrell was jailed for 14 years after being found guilty of the manslaughter of his two-year-old son. n