Sangeeta Persaud case could be precedent for independent autopsies

-Williams

The government’s decision to fly in a forensic pathologist for the Sangeeta Persaud exhumation may be a sign that families of victims who suffered “mysterious deaths,” would be allowed to have autopsies done independently, PNCR Vice-Chairman Basil Williams said on Friday.

Williams, when questioned about how his party viewed the decision to bring in the pathologist to exhume Persaud’s body when the government had not done so for many unsolved deaths, described the situation as “discriminatory.” He added, however, that it was also “laudable” in the sense that it would perhaps get to the bottom of what really happened to the 14-year-old-girl.

Minister of Home Affairs Clement Rohee on Thursday cited the administration’s concern about the controversy that erupted following Persaud’s death. The girl, of Canal Number Two, died in hospital hours after an ‘exorcism’ last month.

The first autopsy conducted on Persaud’s body was inconclusive and Rohee subsequently announced the decision to have the exhumation and an autopsy done by an “independent pathologist.” A pathologist from Trinidad performed the second autopsy following the exhumation of the body on Saturday.

Rohee said a second examination was important since the government hoped it would bring closure to the controversy. From a scientific and medical perspective, the minister felt that it would satisfy a wide section of the population.

For years, Williams told at a press conference on Friday, bodies had been turning up “mysteriously dead around the country and the People’s National Congress Reform [PNCR] has always been in the forefront of seeking to have an independent pathologist to do the post-mortems on these bodies.” In many of these cases a second autopsy would have taken the investigations a far way, he said, adding that the government had refused to grant such requests.

All Guyanese have had is an autopsy performed by a government pathologist and they have had to abide by his reports, Williams said. He noted that the practice raised concerns, especially in cases where police or members of the other disciplinary forces were accused of these deaths. The PNCR, the vice chairman said, had presented an amendment to the Coroners Act which sought to allow relatives of these deceased persons to have an independent pathologist conduct the autopsy. Section 37 of the Coroners Act (Chapter 4:03 of the Laws of Guyana), which deals with exhumation, states: “Where the body of any person is buried without any examination or without sufficient examination, a coroner about to hold or holding an inquest or inquiry as to the death of that person may order the body be exhumed.”

Meanwhile, Section 9 of the Act, which deals with the post-mortem examination, states that it will be conducted by the “medical practitioner who is so ordered or required”. No provision is made for a second autopsy to be conducted on the body at the request of the relatives of the deceased.  “We were somewhat taken aback in this particular case [Persaud’s case]… nothing has been done to amend the Coroners Act… and the Minister of Home Affairs is saying that everybody should be happy with a second opinion,” Williams said. “You all know in the media that… bodies that have turned up mysteriously really needed a second opinion to determine how they met their death because it was important to see what projectile is in the body, to know whether the projectile came from which weapon and whether it was a weapon of standard use in the police force or any disciplined force so we are surprised that the second occasion is requested by the Ministry of Home Affairs,” he said.

“We would like this to be a new augury on the part of this government to have several opinions, as the minister termed it, where families request when the members are killed… and that the government facilitates that,” Williams further said.

The deaths of David ‘Biscuit’ Leander and Mark ‘Kerzorkee’ Thomas were among the cases in which the party had urged independent autopsies. Leander’s cause of death was undetermined and had been hinging on the results of toxicology tests. He was admitted to the Georgetown Public Hospital (GPH) on July 16 last year after he was suspected of having been poisoned. He fell into a coma on July 22 and died shortly after. The man, also known as David Zammett, had been charged with the murders of Agricul-ture Minister Satyadeow Sawh, his brother Rajpat Sawh, his sister Phulmattie Persaud and his security guard Curtis Robertson on April 22, 2007 at La Bonne Intention (LBI).

Thomas, one of three alleged members of a ‘death squad,’ died at the GPH on February 1, 2004, weeks after he was rushed to that institution. His death remains a mystery, with many believing that he was murdered so he could not say what he knew about the death squad. Government Pathologist Nehaul Singh also performed an autopsy on Thomas’ body on February 4, 2004, but the result was inconclusive as in the case of Leander.

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