Kiruhura murders and the postmortem examinations

Saturday March 28 2020

 

By Dr Sylvester Onzivua

On August 18, 2013, a doctor examined the bodies of the six persons killed in Kiruhura District on the night of Friday, August 16, 2013.

The doctor was a 40-year-old senior consultant in the paediatrics department of a teaching hospital. He was also attached to the mortuary department on account of the diploma in forensic medicine that he had obtained from the University of Bristol in 2001.

By the time he examined the bodies, he had practiced medicine for 14 years. The doctor told court that part of his responsibilities at work was to examine victims, both living and dead, that were referred to him by the police for forensic examination.

Under cross-examination, he was to further state that he had testified in the courts of law for more than 10 years.

On July 22, 2015, prosecution during the hearing of the criminal case against persons accused of murders, availed to the doctor the postmortem reports of the six cases.

The doctor duly identified and owned the reports as those that he had made, based on his signature and the hospital stamp that they bore. The reports were in respect of DK, an 87-year-old prominent farmer and five of his workers at the farm.

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In his postmortem report, the doctor noted that DK, who was 1.74 metres tall and 87 years old, sustained three deep cuts on his head, one of which was on the right side of the face.

It involved an ear and the cheek bone, another to the back of the head, to the right side and on the side of the head, also on the right side.

The doctor told court that the cause of death was excessive bleeding arising from multiple cuts.
Two of the previous witnesses testified that DK had been hit with a hammer on the head and cut with a machete.

However, the doctor, in his report, did not mention any injuries consistent with or associated with an object such as a hammer. The doctor failed to indicate whether DK or any of the other victims sustained any defense wounds. Defense wounds are injuries a victim of an assault sustains while defending himself or herself.

The other postmortem reports were in respect of the bodies of TK, TE, NB, TN and TA. TK was a male of about 20 years and the major postmortem finding was a deep cut on the side of his neck. Court records did not, however, indicate whether the cut was on the right or left side.

TE was a male of about 50 years and sustained three cuts; one cut was on the forehead, extending to the nose and the jaws, the other cut was in the neck and the third one was on the left side of his face. TK also had a stab wound in the left side of the chest, penetrating and injuring the lungs.

The doctor also reported that NB, a male, was bleeding from the ears and nostrils with evidence of bleeding into the skull and dislocation of the left shoulder joint.

The doctor stated the cause of death as closed head injury. TN was a male of about 20 years and quite tall. His body had a deep cut on the left side of the neck. TA was also a tall male and had a linear cut on the right side of the neck extending to the chin.

With the exception of NB, the doctor attributed the cause of all these deaths to excessive bleeding from the cuts to the head and neck, these victims had sustained.
One of the defense lawyers punched holes in the doctor’s evidence and the procedure of the postmortem examination.

To the lawyer, forensic postmortem examinations play an important part in law enforcement and justice delivery, in as far as establishing the cause of death and the circumstances thereof are concerned. To the lawyer, a postmortem examination can go to the extent of establishing the kind of weapon used in the commission of an offence.

The doctor attempted to disagree with the lawyer when the lawyer put it to him that an important aspect of a postmortem examination is to establish the identity of the deceased.

The lawyer made the doctor read loudly in court what is written on page 10 of Simpson’s Forensic Medicine which states “The dead body must be definitely identified before autopsy; a relative or police officer must confirm the identity to the doctor before the autopsy begins.”

The doctor’s answer was that bodies in the mortuary are identified by name tags although he admitted that there are instances when bodies are wrongly tagged.

In the postmortem reports, it was clearly indicated that the first postmortem examination was conducted at 11:20am; the next one was at 11:35am and the subsequent ones at 11:50am, 12:01pm, 12:10pm and 12:15pm. This meant that the six postmortem examinations were performed within one hour.

It took between five minutes to 15 minutes to perform these postmortem examinations. The doctor had clearly indicated these times against the place for “date and hour of postmortem examination.”

The lawyer then put the doctor to task to explain what kind of postmortem examination he performed on these bodies within the time he had indicated.

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