And a deep bruise to her right temple, he said, suggested that she was knocked unconscious before her assailant inflicted the final lethal cut - a deep slashing wound to her throat that killed her almost immediately.
"I would say she died . . . probably in less than a minute," Sathyavagiswaran said, describing the "massive blood flow" that would have
sent her into shock and quickly reduced her blood pressure to zero.
The coroner's testimony offered the strongest support yet for a prosecution theory that O.J. Simpson acted alone in the June 12 murders of his ex-wife and her waiter friend, Ronald Lyle Goldman.
Defense lawyers have argued that Simpson would have been incapable of overpowering the two younger, physically fit victims in the cramped courtyard outside Nicole Simpson's condominium.
But prosecutors contend that if Nicole Simpson was surprised and quickly incapacitated, as Sathyavagiswaran suggested, a lone assailant could have then turned his attention to Goldman, whose myriad wounds suggest that he fought desperately for his life.
Under questioning from prosecutor Brian Kelberg, the coroner even suggested that Simpson could have knocked his ex-wife unconscious, fought with Goldman, and then returned to slit her throat while she was still down.
No blood was found on the knuckles of Nicole Simpson's left hand, Sathyavagiswaran said, suggesting that her hand was already resting on the ground when blood gushed from her fatal neck wound and pooled around her body.
SIMPSON AVERTS HIS EYES
Simpson, listening to Sathyavagiswaran 's graphic testimony, struggled to maintain his composure, sighing deeply, rocking in his seat and averting his eyes.
Courtroom cameras, forbidden to record the autopsy photographs, often settled on Simpson, prompting a complaint by defense lawyer Johnnie Cochran Jr.
"This is a very emotional time for him, and to have the camera on him every second is quite unfair," Cochran told the judge after the lunch recess, saying that a number of people had called his office to complain about the camera's fixation on his client.
Judge Lance Ito said he would "trust the good taste and judgment" of directors at Court TV, who control the camera, to be sensitive to Cochran's concerns.
And the judge, who seemed even testier than usual, admonished several spectators for violating his strict rule against gum chewing and other courtroom disruptions. After first saying he planned to eject six people for the duration of the trial, Ito backed off. But he displayed a courtroom surveillance video of one offender eating a mint, saying sternly, "Fair warning."
While Sathyavagiswaran offered strong support for the prosecution case, he also exposed its biggest weakness. The coroner's conclusions will face a stiff challenge from defense experts, two of whom stood in the wings with notepads yesterday, solemnly recordingSathyavagiswaran's every postulation.
ERRORS OF A PATHOLOGIST
And even before the defense attack begins, Sathyavagiswaran is struggling to explain the errors of an underling, pathologist Irwin Golden, who, by prosecutors' count, made 30 mistakes in his autopsies of the victims.
Golden's name arose time and again yesterday as Sathyavagiswaran frankly acknowledged the sloppy work, which included overlooking stab wounds on Nicole Simpson's hands and head and failing to document a brain contusion that Sathyavagiswaran said could have knocked her unconscious.
But Sathyavagiswaran steadfastly insisted that none of Golden's errors undermined his conclusions about how the victims died - "the big picture," as he called it repeatedly.
Kelberg and the coroner were forced to confront Golden's errors so often that they developed a shorthand for dealing with them: "These were mistakes?" . . . "Yes." . . . "Any of them significant for the reasons you've described?" . . . "No."
Defense lawyer Robert Shapiro joked that Kelberg's presentation was sounding like "a very effective cross-examination of the incompetency of Dr. Golden."
"If he wants to challenge the competency of Dr. Golden, that's his privilege," Shapiro said. ". . . I thought he did that quite effectively."