IN a somewhat surprising move, one of the men accused of the murder of Dr Eddie Koury called the State’s own pathologist to testify in his defence at his trial.
Forensic pathologist Dr Hughvon des Vignes yesterday testified on behalf of Robert Franklyn who is before Justice Malcolm Holdip in the Port of Spain First Criminal Court, charged with Koury’s murder.
Des Vignes conducted the first autopsy on Koury’s body, but was not called as the prosecution’s witness to testify to the cause of death.
In testimony in November, consultant histopathologist Dr Shaheeba Barrow, who conducted a second autopsy on Koury’s headless body testified for the prosecution that, based on her findings, he died as a result of haemorrhage shock, or blood loss, resulting from a stab to the right thigh.
She also said death would have “most likely occurred one to three hours after he was stabbed and the decapitation, taking place after he died.
Barrow also described as “outrageous” the cause-of-death finding of “decapitation” by des Vignes, and not supported by evidence.
Barrow said when she examined the tissue around Koury’s neck area there was no signs of bleeding which meant when his head was cut off, he was already dead.
However yesterday, Des Vignes said he did not consider his findings of Koury dying as a result of injuries to his head and neck area, with stab wounds about the body, including the armpit and right thigh, to be outrageous.
“This man did not die from decapitation but because of injuries to the neck that caused bleeding… Decapitation came after death,” he said. It is not his first time testifying for the defence, he admitted.
In his evidence, he said the wound to the thigh, which was three centimetres long, would not have contributed significantly to death. “I don’t agree such an injury can cause death in two to three hours,” he said. In Koury’s case, des Vignes said a minor artery would have been cut and he identified clotting to the wound.
He also said decapitation comes after death and Koury did not die by decapitation, but injuries to the head and neck area.
“Decapitation came after death,” he said.
According to des Vignes, Koury’s shirt was drenched with blood up to the mid-chest area, while there was also blood stains on the right-side of his trousers’ leg on the thigh area. He also said haemorrhage shock was not a cause of death, but a mode of death and a cut to the neck would cause more bleeding than a cut to the minor artery on the leg.
Des Vignes admitted he did not microscope tests on the tissue samples taken from the neck area because “it would have been a waste of time and resources” because of the decomposition of the body. “No forensic pathologist worth their salt will, 48-hours after death, with decomposition and maggots feeding voraciously… You’d be wasting time and resources and you’d find nothing,” he said.
He also said Koury’s shrunken organs would not have been because of blood loss but because of decomposition.
Des Vignes appeared to have lost his temper when asked by Bhola if he came to his conclusion about the cause of death being as a result of injuries to the head and neck area because he did not see a head and saw blood on the upper part of Koury’s shirt.
“Is that the extent of my evidence? Why are you editing it?” he asked, his voice raising, after which the question was asked of him again and he said “yes.”
Des Vignes opened his evidence by giving his qualifications. He also said he performed some 10,000 post mortems across the Caribbean, including TT, as well as Canada, and has testified in the region as well as in the US. He has also done autopsies on five other decapitation cases, among them Thackoor Boodram.
He conducted Koury’s autopsy on September 24, 2005, some 31 hours after the body was found. He said there was no head and the backbone was completely cut across between the fifth and sixth inter-vertebra.
There was swelling and bloating to the stomach and scrotum and skin discolouration and skin slippage as well as numerous small maggots over the body. Koury’s hands were also bound to the front with black plastic ties. Des Vignes said Barrow’s autopsy was done at the funeral home, and he spoke of the use of embalming liquid which would cause changes to in colouration and texture of tissue.
He also said he was trained in forensic pathology which is different to histopathology since the former helps to determine culpability in unnatural deaths. He also said most of the decomposition cases were sent to the Forensic Science Centre (FSC), while Barrow would conduct her autopsies at the hospital.
Prior to his testimony, Franklyn’s attorney Wayne Sturge opened his defence with an opening statement to the jury.
Sturge said des Vignes was one of the main pathologists at the FSC and, normally, when the State has a Government expert performing an autopsy, that was the witness they would call. “But, in a bizarre turn of events, the State decided to bring Dr Barrow,” he told the jury.
“I have never seen the State abandon its own expert and call someone who isn’t an expert to testify to cause of death. It may boil down to a battle of experts and who you believe,” he said.
He explained the basis of the State’s case against his client was hinged on the principle of joint enterprise, which simply means that there was a plan to rob Koury’s business, Isko Enterprises, and he was stabbed and died. According to Sturge, the case against his client was that because Franklyn’s wife worked at ISKO, an import and export distribution company, in the Macoya industrial estate, she communicated to her husband about the money kept there and about Koury’s whereabouts.
But, he said the State’s theory fell flat where his client was concerned and called Barrow to assist in the theory. According to him, for Franklyn to be liable for Koury’s death, he must have sanctioned the fatal act, pre-planned for it, or agreed with it.
“On Dr Barrow’s account of the mortal injury – the stab wound to the thigh- there is no longer a pound of flesh for a pound of flesh. It has now become one per cent being equal to five men,” he said, adding “On Dr des Vignes’ evidence, it is not five men if the joint enterprise ended and after it did, he was subjected to the chop to his neck. The only way the others are liable is if they were present, spurred it on or agreed to the act being done. “There is no evidence of that. The State is asking you to abandon their own expert – who is good enough for almost all cases except when it is a one per centre…” Surge told the jury.
According to him, if the fatal act did not happen during the robbery or in furtherance of it, then only the person who went on a frolic of their own and administer the fatal wound, would be liable.
“You need a forensic pathologist not a pathologist. If you believe Dr des Vignes, then you can believe (accused) number 5 is not guilty. If you believe Dr des Vignes, then the verdict is not-guilty for Robert Franklyn,” Sturge said.
He also defended des Vignes’ credibility as a forensic pathologist and reminded the jury of a past attempt to impugn him, referring to the noted Brad Boyce case. “But that did not work. The only similarity here to Brad Boyce is skin colour. It seems it is only when it is a certain big shot, you can impugn your own witness,” Sturge said of the prosecution’s decision not to call des Vignes as its own witness.
None of the five men on trial – Shawn James, Caleb Donaldson, Jerome Murray, Terry Moore and Franklyn– opted to testify in their defence, and only Franklyn called one witness.
Koury, the managing director of Isko, was abducted from his office on September 21, 2005. Two days later, his headless corpse was found in central Trinidad
The trial continues on Monday, when the jury will be told when closing addresses by the defence and prosecution will begin.