By Babajide Okeowo
A Chief Pathologist with the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH), Dr. Sunday Soyemi, has told the Coroner Inquest into the controversial death of Sylvester Oromoni Jr, that a blackish substance was found in the boy’s intestine during autopsy.
While answering questions on Tuesday under cross-examination from Counsel to the Oromoni family, Femi Falana (SAN), Dr Soyemi, however, testified that no test was carried out to determine what the blackish substance was.
The below conversation took place between Mr. Falana and the Pathologist below:
Falana: You did say that when you were opening up the body, you found a blackish substance in the intestine of the deceased?
That’s correct, said the pathologist.
Falana: Did you send the black substance to a toxicologist? To which the pathologist replied No.
Falana: Don’t you think the blackish substance should have been taken to a toxicology laboratory in view of the allegation that the boy was poisoned?
Again, the pathologist replied No. This prompted Mr Falana to ask, “What is the blackish substance?”
Pathologist: It could be anything. It could be faecal stool matter mixed with embalming fluid.
Falana: It could be anything, we don’t know. Yet without conducting a test, you dismissed the conclusion of the pathologist in Warri who came to the conclusion that the deceased died of acute lung injury arising from chemical intoxication?
Pathologist: I took samples of the esophagus and the stomach to the laboratory and looked at it under the microscope and they were essentially normal.
Falana: What laboratory did you use? LASUTH or one outside?
Pathologist: I didn’t take it to a toxicologist laboratory. LASUTH has no toxicology laboratory.
Falana: LASUTH has no facilities for testing for poison, when such tests are needed, it is sent abroad.
Pathologist: That’s correct.
Toxicology, according to the English dictionary, is the branch of pharmacology that deals with the nature, effect, detection and treatment of poisons and poisoning.
In response to further questions from the Counsel to the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Bernard Onigah, the Pathologist gave reasons why a toxicologist test was not carried out.
Pathologist: In conducting toxicology, I need to take blood, urine and the vitreous fluid in the eyes, all of which will be sent to the laboratory for testing. I also need gastric content in the stomach. All these were not available at the second autopsy.
When asked why they were not available, the pathologist said, “the stomach had been opened by the first pathologist and nothing was found. The blood, urine and eye fluid had been sucked out during embalming and put in the Formalin, the embalming fluid.
The lawyer then asked, “Are you telling the court that it is impossible to take samples for toxicology as at the time the body was brought to you for an autopsy?”
The pathologist replied, “that’s correct”.
Counsel to Dowen College, Anthony Kpokpo asked the pathologist the impact a noxious substance, chemical or poison introduced through the mouth will have on the esophagus or the stomach.
The pathologist replied, “I’ll expect to see a bruising of the lining of the stomach and the esophagus.”
Kpokpo: Did you see any bruising in the lining of the deceased’s stomach or oesophagus?
The cross-examination also dwelled on the cause of death with the pathologist insisting that the late Sylvester, died of Septicemia.
Septicaemia is when bacteria enter the bloodstream, and causes blood poisoning which triggers sepsis
While being led in evidence by the Director of Public Prosecution, DPP Lagos, Dr. Jide Martins, the pathologist testified on his findings during the autopsy. He said the findings indicated a generalised infection of the body.
“It was an infection of the lungs, the deceased also had an infection of the liver, the kidneys, infection of the right arm, the soft tissue of the muscles covering the bone below the ankle. The summary of these is that he had a generalised infection.”
Dr. Soyemi said, “This could have been treated. What could have been used in treating it was a massive dose of antibiotics, intravenous fluid and blood transfusion.”
He added that based on his finding, the illness could have been properly managed if the boy was taken for proper treatment. It was not a terminal case at all, the doctor stated.
The doctor however noted that the medical condition could lead to death if not properly treated, adding that the “mortality rate is high.”
Mr Falana asked, “can massaging of the body and an injury lead to infection?”
The doctor replied no.
The senior lawyer again asked, “If there’s an injury and it has been massaged repeatedly, can it lead to the removal of the skin or part of the skin?”
The doctor replied in the affirmative.
The senior advocate asked, “Are you aware that the ankle injury of the deceased was subjected to massaging in the sickbay of Dowen College on the 21st, 22nd & 23rd?
Dr. Soyemi said, “Not aware.”
The pathologist also spoke to some “sensitive photographs” of the autopsy report which were shown in court to describe the procedure and methods of the post mortem.
One of the pictures showed the deceased with his name tag, another showed an incision made in the chest area.
A few others showed vertical marks on the chin (post mortem injury), “a recent external circular injury on the right ankle,” reddening on the lower part of the two legs (this shows that the embalming fluid did not get to that part of his body), the white brain shows that there is not enough blood in the body.
“Prior to the conduct of autopsy, I did a total body radiograph to rule out any skeletal injury, that is, fracture, none was found. And the radiologist confirmed there was no fracture,” he said.
He faulted the initial pathologist in Warri describing his autopsy as a botched autopsy.
In the first autopsy carried out in Delta State, the pathologist, Clement Vhirterhire said the 12 years old died from “acute lung injury due to chemical intoxication.”
“Before I started the autopsy, the doctor who conducted the first autopsy was in attendance and was in attendance throughout. So, I observed that the autopsy was not properly done. All that was not properly done are documented in my statement,” Dr. Soyemi said.
“For example, at the first autopsy, the pathologist never opened the oesophagus; the oesophagus is the food pipe. He also did not open the trachea; it is the air path through which we breathe.
“These are vital things that he should not have missed out.
“He concluded his report as chemical intoxication. For one to be intoxicated with chemicals, that chemical has to pass through the oesophagus, which is the food path. If one has not opened the food path, he cannot talk about chemical intoxication.
Mr Femi Falana, however, noted that the pathologist should not be allowed to comment on the first autopsy because it was not tendered as evidence in the inquest.
But the DPP, Dr. Martins, said that the witness should be allowed to comment on it because he is an expert and the coroner inquest is a fact-finding exercise.
“He is an expert witness and he holds a duty to the court and he understands the issues that are relevant to the determination of this inquest,” Mr Martins said.
When the coroner appeared to allow the comments, it led to a heated exchange between him and Mr Falana.
The coroner said, “This is not a regular court. You are already casting aspersions on the court and my person. I allowed all parties to speak, I listened to everybody, the rules of evidence do not apply.”
“You say this at your convenience,” Mr Falana responded.
Reacting, the coroner said he took exception to the statement adding that “If you have a problem with me personally sitting on this inquest, the avenues are there. I’m not a tyrant, I fear nobody; I owe my duty to God. Learned silk is saying I do that at my convenience. Take that back.”
Mr Falana however said he had no cause to question the coroner’s integrity.
“Your lordship, if I have created the impression that I question your integrity, I take it back.”
The coroner also apologised for raising his voice at the learned silk.
He ruled that he would take any comment that would assist in the fact-finding. He, however, asked the DPP to limit his questions to the evidence tendered in court.
On media reports of the post mortem proceedings, Mr. Femi Falana asked the pathologist Dr Soyemi if he had authorized one of his colleagues, Dr. Nwigwe Chikodili Isabella, to speak on Arise TV about the findings of the autopsy.
The pathologist said that he did not give any such authorization. He also testified that this was not normal practice and admitted that he was embarrassed when the report was being discussed on TV.
“I was embarrassed because she didn’t perform the autopsy, she observed all through and it’s not the normal practice even if you have done the autopsy,” he said.
Magistrate Mikhail Kadiri has adjourned further proceedings till Monday.