Witness’ chilling tale of finding victim’s dead body

Posted: May 04, 2012

SABINA ROSE O’Donnell was wearing only a pair of beige socks, her eyes were partially open and a swarm of flies flew from her mouth when Christina Sirochman found her in a grassy lot shortly before 10 a.m. on June 2, 2010.

Sirochman, who came upon the young woman’s remains while walking her dog, told a jury Wednesday that she called out to the woman and bent to touch her to see if she was alive.

“It was just like touching a piece of glass,” an emotional Sirochman recalled.

She was one of three witnesses who testified about having found personal items belonging to either O’Donnell or her alleged attacker in and around the lot behind the 4th Street and Girard Avenue apartment house, where the victim lived.The items, including a man’s dirty T-shirt and the victim’s purse, were found hours after the 20-year-old Northern Liberties waitress was slain.

Sirochman said she went home to call police but quickly returned to the lot. “That was somebody’s child and I didn’t want her to be alone,” a weeping Sirochman testified. Relatives of the victim also cried while seated in the second row.

The defendant, Donte Johnson, 20, appeared to show no emotion on the second day of his murder trial in Common Pleas Court.

Johnson, a ninth-grade dropout from 11th Street in North Philadelphia, is accused of stalking O’Donnell for the borrowed pink-and-gray bicycle she was riding home after a night out with friends.

After arriving at the front of her apartment building, Johnson grabbed O’Donnell and dragged her 120 feet to the back of the building, where he raped and killed her, Assistant District Attorney Richard Sax told the jury Tuesday.

If convicted of first-degree murder, Johnson would receive a mandatory life-without-parole prison sentence.

Defense attorneys Lee Mandell and Gary Server told the jury that the DNA evidence linking Johnson to the crime and his alleged confession will be challenged during the trial, which is expected to last through next week.

On Wednesday, jurors also heard from Assistant Medical Examiner Edwin Lieberman, who performed O’Donnell’s autopsy. He determined that she had been strangled with her bra. “It was one of the tightest ligatures I’ve seen in a very long time,” Lieberman said.

When Sax asked how long it would take to succumb to strangulation, the doctor’s reply caused some people in the courtroom to gasp: 30 seconds to render someone unconscious and three to five minutes of continuous pressure to the neck to cause death. n

Contact Mensah M. Dean at 215-568-8278 or deanm@phillynews.com.

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