The murder trial of Nyangasi

What you need to know:

  • And so in the murder trial of Appollo Dalton Nyangasi, the onetime chairperson of the Medical Workers Union, prosecution relied on the evidence of, amongst others, Fiona Aguram to prove this particular ingredient.

One of the ingredients of murder that the prosecution must prove beyond reasonable doubt in a case, is that death in question was unlawful.

And so in the murder trial of Appollo Dalton Nyangasi, the onetime chairperson of the Medical Workers Union, prosecution relied on the evidence of, amongst others, Fiona Aguram to prove this particular ingredient.

Witness account

Aguram told court that on July 24, 2012 at daybreak she heard a loud bang on the metallic door of the house she was sharing with her cousins and her aunt, Christine Dambio Nyangasi. Outside the house she heard Nyangasi cursing, shouting and hurling insults at his wife Christine and this forced them to open the door. Nyangasi is said to have told his wife she would be dead by midday.

Shortly after the door was opened Christine moved out to use the toilet which was outside the house as Aguram proceeded outside to light a charcoal stove. Nyangasi followed his wife to the toilet and shortly after Aguram heard a scream which made her rush to the toilet.

Nyangasi caught 

In the toilet she found Christine lying down and Nyangasi had his hands around her neck, strangling her as Christine was struggling to free her neck of Nyangasi’s hand. As soon as Nyangasi saw Aguram he loosened his grip on Christine’s neck and rushed away. Aguram noted two wounds on Christine’s head and foam coming out of her mouth as she (Christine) was gasping for breath. She also noticed that Christine had soiled herself.

Postmortem

Aguram decided to lift Christine to a vehicle to take her for treatment but she was declared dead on arrival. The body was then taken for a postmortem examination.

The postmortem examination was carried out on July 24 2010, the same day of death. At the postmortem examination the pathologist noted two fresh wounds on the head of the deceased and also injuries on the right and left arms.

The pathologist examined the neck of the deceased but did not find any injuries on the neck. And neither did the pathologist find any other obvious internal injuries to account for the death of the deceased.

Cause of death

The cause of death could therefore not be conclusively stated from the physical examination of the body.

Tissues samples from the body were removed for forensic examination and for a histological examination under the microscope.

The most significant finding was that the lungs of the deceased were congested with fluid. The pathologist erroneously concluded that that the cause of death was a bronchopneumonia. On the death certificate the pathologist recorded the conditions directly leading to death as cardiac arrest, trauma and a resolving pneumonia.

The doctor explained to court that abnormalities in nervous system can cause the heart to stop and one of the factors that can lead to this is pressure on the neck, including manual strangulation. The pathologist further told court that the deceased had pneumonia but this could not have been directly responsible for her death. Patients who die of pneumonia are quite ill prior to death and this was not the case here.

To the doctor the only explanation of the death of Christine was a sudden event that led to the stopping of her heart.

Report challenged

The lawyer representing Nyangasi challenged this conclusion stating that the death of Christine Dambio Nyangasi was not unlawful but was due to natural causes.

The lawyer submitted that the pathologist found the victim’s right lung on the lower lobe was affected by pneumonia which was severe and that there was abnormal fluid collection in the lung tissue. A professor of pathology, who testified as a defense witness, told court that from the postmortem report and the medical certificate of cause of death Christine died of natural causes.

The lawyer also submitted that in the alternative an abnormal breathing technique while passing stool could have triggered off the stopping of the heart of the deceased as she was attempting to pass stool. To the lawyer,  the evidence of this was when the deceased was noted to have soiled herself and was breathing abnormally. 

Opinion evidence

The evidence of the two pathologists was termed by court as opinion evidence. One of the pathologists carried out the postmortem examination while the other, a professor of pathology, testified for the defence. The admission of the opinions of experts is an exception to the general rule that evidence of opinion is not admissible. The function of expert evidence is to assist the court by providing information which is outside the experience and knowledge of a judge. It is for the judge to attach what weight to that opinion evidence.

It is the practice that if there is nothing to contradict the expert’s evidence, the judge should accept it. Where two or more expert witnesses give evidence for opposing sides, the judge should convict the accused if he or she is satisfied beyond reasonable doubt to accept the expert evidence adduced by the prosecution and reject that evidence adduced by the defence if the later opinion is not correct.

To court and in law a person is deemed to have caused the death of another person if by some unlawful act or omission he or she hastened the death of a person suffering from any disease or injury which apart from such act or omission would have caused death. The postmortem examination on the body of Christine showed that her lungs were diseased and therefore she had a prior health condition.

The question to court was whether the disease would have caused death at that material time. The pathologist was adamant that the disease would not have caused death but for the pressure on the neck. To court the act of strangulation accelerated the death of Christine even though the sickness she had could have killed her without treatment.

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