Peter Renn is a staff attorney at Lambda Legal, a gay rights organization. He successfully argued to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit that Philip Rosati, a man who killed his wife, should be allowed to sue California prison officials for violating his Eighth Amendment through deliberate indifference to his severe gender dysphoria.
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This is what Rosati did to his wife, Franceska :
About 9:00 a.m. on April 20, 1997, Andrew Thomas, Franceska’s 15 year-old son, found his mother dead in her bed in the bedroom she shared with Rosati. When Thomas went to bed shortly after 10:00 p.m. the night before, Rosati and Franceska were arguing. When Thomas awoke on April 20, Rosati was gone. Rosati was with Franceska when she died. Rosati fled out of state, abandoning one of the family’s cars, renting a car which he abandoned in Texas, and making arrangements to access Franceska’s remaining money. When Rosati learned authorities were pursuing him, he returned to California, but was arrested before turning himself in. These facts were undisputed. The prosecution argued Rosati, an admitted drug seller/addict and felon, murdered Franceska for financial gain as the culmination of a failing marriage, fled, and was caught while continuing to try and elude the police. At trial, Rosati testified he discovered Franceska not breathing and without a pulse from self-inflicted heroin ingestion, revived her, fell asleep, awoke to find her dead, and fled, fearing he would be accused of killing her. Rosati claimed he returned to California intending to turn himself in, but was arrested before he could do so.Franceska married Rosati while he was in prison for robbery. After his release, Rosati moved in with Franceska and Thomas. While Rosati was employed, he continued to use heroin regularly, using up much of Franceska’s financial reserves received as an inheritance from her father. The couple argued regularly about Rosati’s heroin addiction. Franceska complained that Rosati hit her two times during these arguments. Once, Franceska took heroin herself to show Rosati the problems associated with living with a drug abuser. Franceska worked regularly. She was depressed, but not suicidal. Thomas’ and Rosati’s relationship became strained. In the weeks before her death, the couple’s relationship deteriorated. Franceska reported she was considering divorce. Rosati quit his job.
Investigators responding to Thomas’ 911 call found Franceska’s nude body on her back in bed, underneath an afghan and on top of a slightly bloody towel. Rigor mortis and unresponsive blood pooling in Franceska’s body indicated she had been dead several hours and had not been moved after death. Franceska’s external genitalia were discolored and bruised. When turned over, Franceska’s body disclosed the initials PR carved lightly into her left buttocks. The tiny amount of blood suggested the initials were carved after Franceska died. Otherwise, Franceska’s body displayed no visible trauma. The bedroom was undisturbed, nothing was missing, the family dog had not barked during the night, and there were no signs of a struggle. Investigators found two extra-strength acetaminophen capsules near the body, and a lighter and cigarette ashes on the bed. Other than one pillow found on a sweatshirt, the bedding was undisturbed. Investigators found an inside-out pair of red sweat pants on the floor at the foot of the bed. Investigators also recovered several rolls of film, some of which contained photos of Franceska both before and after death, Franceska’s diaries, and financial data.
At the time of her death, Franceska stood five feet, five inches tall, weighed 118 pounds, and possessed good health, with no chronic health problems. She had no injection sites or track marks on her arms, negating recent or chronic drug abuse. However, Franceska’s autopsy disclosed a potentially lethal dose of free morphine in her blood. Heroin almost immediately begins to metabolize into free morphine after injection into a living person. Thus, Franceska was alive when the heroin was injected. The coroner found no injection sites during the autopsy, but only looked for them on Franceska’s arms. After the body was cremated, the coroner used autopsy photos to opine that four small red welts on Franceska’s buttocks could have been injection marks. Normally, death caused by a heroin overdose results from slowed metabolism that leads to pulmonary edema, fluid buildup in the lungs from which the person essentially drowns. Franceska had only slight pulmonary edema, inconsistent with death from a heroin overdose.
The coroner opined that Franceska died from asphyxiation caused by compression of her face and neck, most likely caused by suffocation through use of a soft object like a pillow. While there was no definitive evidence of strangulation, strangulation often does not leave visible neck trauma. Franceska also had small abrasions on the right cheek, a bruised tongue, and an internal lip cut, all consistent with asphyxiation by suffocation. Inside her neck, Franceska had significant hemorrhaging to the sternocleidomastoid muscle, also consistent with heavy neck pressure. Franceska’s body bore no signs of attempted resuscitation.
Two defense experts opined that a heroin overdose sometimes causes rapid heart failure, causing rapid death without the normal amount of pulmonary edema, and that Franceska’s other injuries might have been caused by attempted resuscitation.