Autopsy findings examined in death of Bonefish Grill worker

Lee Rodarte charged in 2017 killing of Savannah Gold

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The man charged with murder in the 2017 killing of his on-again, off-again girlfriend was in court Thursday, where the medical examiner who completed the autopsy described his findings.

Lee Rodarte claimed self defense in the death of his co-worker, Savannah Gold, who he worked with at Bonefish Grill in Mandarin. In a motion, he claimed Gold attacked him and he accidentally snapped the 21-year-old's neck while protecting himself.

Rodarte claimed Gold was slapping him and grabbing his neck, when he grabbed her neck "in an effort to break her grip." Rodarte described hearing and feeling a pop in Gold's neck.

On Thursday, the state and the defense focused on the pop, and on an injury Dr. Peter Gillespie found to cartilage in Gold's neck. Gillespie told the court the injury was serious but not life-threatening and could indicate strangulation.

The doctor told the state that a pop would not cause instant death, and that Gold's spinal cord was not severed.

The defense questioned if the cartilage injury could have happened after Gold's death. The medical examiner said he's confident it was a traumatic injury, but couldn't say for sure what caused it.

The medical examiner was not able to determine a cause of death, but called it a "violent homicide." Gold's body was badly burned when it was found.

Thursday's hearing was continued to next week when more witnesses are expected to be called.

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