Many of James’ friends and family were present throughout the trial and were both surprised and confused at a particular aspect of the prosecution case…the cause of death. The cause of death was given as ‘blunt force head trauma’ through being knocked unconscious and choking on blood stemming from a nose bleed.
It may, therefore, come as a surprise that the deceased had no injury to the brain and no fractures to the face, skull. In fact, there were, no life threatening injuries any more serious than bruises. The conclusion was reached due to nothing other than the bruises on the face and blood found in the airway at post mortem.
Can a bruise without other complicating factors really be fatal? Can a bruise be a cause of death with no serious underlying injuries? Many people experience bruises to the face but do not die…generally not unless there is some injury to the brain. But in this case there was no injury to the brain whatsoever.
Perhaps if there was no other possible explanation then it may be understandable that this conclusion had been reached. But the deceased suffered from various ailments including obesity, diabetes, hypertension, coronary artery disease and an enlarged heart. On the night in question, not only had he drank large amounts of alcohol, but he had also been taking cocaine.
In fact the pathological findings were possibly more consistent with a cardiac related death with the exertion of a struggle precipitating such an event. So why was this not mentioned?
Since it is accepted by the prosecution that the deceased was the initial aggressor, this alternative would mean that James was not legally culpable for the death. In fact James was only legally culpable if the prosecution could establish that James had kicked the deceased after the altercation was over and that this had significantly contributed to death. One would therefore question how this was established with no underlying injuries underneath the bruises to establish the precise role of individual injuries.
This area leaves many questions and areas of doubt:
- Why wasn’t the Crown’s pathologist given the neuropathology report demonstrating that there was no injury to the brain? The conclusion of the deceased having been ‘knocked out’ was not supported by any pathological finding. It was mere speculation.
- The paramedics gave CPR to the deceased and stated that his airway was clear. So how can a conclusion of choking due to blood found in the airway at post mortem stand if the blood was not there at the time of death?
- If choking was accepted then it was clearly preventable. The rolling of the deceased onto his back, especially when he had a nose bleed, could have caused choking or positional asphyxia.
- Why wasn’t the Crown’s pathologist given the forensic patterning report?
- The pathologist stated that there had been approximately three blows to the head and face. The patterning expert identified pavement marks on the front and left side of the face and a shoe mark on the right. So in the absence of an explanation of the role of individual injuries, how can it be proven that a kick contributed to death in the presence of other injuries?
- The jury were on occasions told by both the judge and prosecuting counsel that all of the injuries were consistent with kicks when this is clearly not true.
- Why did the Crown pathologist’s statement that the pattern of these injuries had the hallmark of kicks (despite the patterning expert clearly contradicting this) go unchallenged? The forensic evidence when combined with the pathology was consistent with the defence case. There was only one injury identified as a kick.
- Why did the Crown’s pathologist only give an opinion on the role of all of the injuries collectively rather than the role of specific injuries which is what should have been required to satisfy the prosecution case?
- Did any physical injury even contribute to death?
- Why wasn’t the Crown’s pathologist asked the same question the jury were expected to answer…”Did, a kick significantly contribute to death”?
- There was no evidence given on the critical issue of whether a kick did contribute to death.
- There is clearly no factual link between a kick and death.
- Why did the defence not obtain a defence pathology report and let the pathology go uncontested? The defence ‘informally spoke’ to a defence pathologist rather than obtaining a report.
- Why wasn’t the Crown’s pathologist cross-examined and challenged on these issues?
- Why wasn’t the Crown’s pathologist given the medical records?
- Why were the medical records not disclosed until after the trial?
- The jury were not made aware of the deceased’s pre-existing medical conditions. Hypertension, alcohol and drugs all exacerbate bleeding yet the jury were not told this and no mention was made of the effect the deceased’s pre-existing medical conditions would have on bruising and swelling.