Frances Ann Donohue
Frances Ann Donohue (York County Prison)

Dr. Neal Haskell doesn't know what went wrong with the "maggot motel," but the occupants were "DOA," he said.

Haskell, one of the founders of forensic entomology, was in York County to testify Friday as an expert witness at the murder trial of William and Frances Donohue.

The Airville couple, formerly from Maryland, is accused of neglecting the medical and health needs of Bernadette Leiben, William's 87-year-old mother. Leiben died in the Donohues' home May 20, 2004.

Frances Donohue called 911 to report her mother had "passed peacefully." That was not the scene prosecutor Tim Barker described in his opening statement Tuesday in the York County Judicial Center.

He said Leiben died "a painful death that took days, possibly weeks."

Barker and the commonwealth say the Donohues ignored Leiben's needs, allowing small bedsores to become open festering wounds and deep necrotic patches of dead tissue that were feasted on by maggots.

Infection from those sores and the massive ulcerations that were the result of Leiben's being left to lie in her own waste finally killed the woman, Barker said.

Barker called Haskell to determine, if he could tell, by the larva stage of the maggots, how long Leiben had been neglected.

Haskell last testified in York in December 2005 at the murder trial of Damien Schlager, a married Lancaster man who killed his girlfriend and dumped her body in the area of Funkhouser Quarry.

In a strange twist, Haskell initially was suggested for the Schlager trial by deputy prosecutor Scott McCabe, who later left the district attorney's office and now is working for the firm defending William Donohue.

On Friday, Haskell -- a professor at Saint Joseph's College in Rensselaer, Ind., and the author of "Entomology & Death: A Procedural Guide" -- instructed the Donohue jury on "The Life Cycle of the Blowfly.

William- Donohue
William- Donohue (York County Prison)

Haskell's testimony -- which came after several hours of dry testimony on bank records and which was expected to be gruesome -- was punctuated with humor.

"A lot of people don't know that maggots are kid flies," he said. "A mother blowfly can smell a dead organism, something we couldn't smell if we were standing right next to it, a mile and a half away.

"She spends a little time flying around determining, 'Is this where I want to put my kids?'"

Haskell said blowfly larva -- in this case, the green bottle fly -- feed on carrion, the rotting flesh of any vertebrate.

Houseflies, which he also found evidence of in the autopsy samples sent to him by state police, are attracted to garbage, including urine and feces.

"I was able to determine when the mother fly came by and deposited her eggs," Haskell testified.

Haskell placed the minimum dates for the blowflies' egg-laying between May 14 and 17, or three to six days before Leiben died.

He also placed the minimum dates for the houseflies' egg-laying between May 5 through 8, or 12 to 15 days before her death.

He said he relied on the preserved autopsy specimens he received rather than the live ones, packed with beef liver as a food source, which unexpectedly arrived dead.

Of the blowflies, he said: "The male and the female have sex. The female goes off and lays her eggs. The male goes and does whatever he does, gets hit by a car or a flyswatter.

"When the little teeny tiny maggots hatch out, they will go straight to the food source."

In this case, the food source was Leiben's rotting flesh and muscle tissue on her heels, left knee and upper right arm.

Haskell said he used his expertise of more than 20 years in the field and the ambient temperatures around Airville in the days before May 20, 2004, to reach his conclusions.

Neither Thomas L. Kearney III, Frances Donohue's attorney, nor Rick Robinson, who is defending William Donohue, challenged Haskell's findings.

Both attorneys have argued their clients' treatment of Leiben might have been neglectful but was not intentional and so does not rise to the level of murder.


The victim: Bernadette Leiben, 87, formerly of Baltimore died May 20, 2004, in a home in Airville that she shared with her son and daughter-in-law. An autopsy determined the bedridden woman died of multiple infections brought on by neglect.

The accused: Leiben's son, William J. Donohue, 73, and daughter-in-law, Frances Ann Donohue, 62, were arrested March 14, 2007, and charged with murder and conspiracy.

The trial: Dr. Neal Haskell, one of the founders of forensic entomology who has aided police investigations worldwide, testified Friday that maggots collected at autopsy showed Leiben's wounds had not been treated for days, if not weeks, before her death. He also said the hatched pupa of a housefly suggested there was urine and/or feces around Leiben's body.