Medical testimony dominates trial in tot’s death
They were simple answers from forensic pathologist Dr. John Fernandes, but they went straight to the heart of how the Crown sees its case against Brian Matthews.
Matthews stands charged with manslaughter in the death of his grandson, 13-month-old Kody Smart of Thorold.
Fernandes spent the morning telling the court about the autopsy he performed on Kody and the injuries he found.
Crown attorney Cheryl Gzit then asked if it was possible for Kody to have suffered his lethal injuries if he fell from a seated position.
“No,” Fernandes replied.
She then asked if it was possible for Kody to have suffered lethal injuries if he fell from a standing position.
“No,” Fernandes replied. Fernandes then said that in the absence of a clear account of what happened to Kody, the only scientific explanation for Kody’s massive brain injuries was a rapid acceleration and deceleration of his head combined with some force trauma, which is consistent with shaking a child.
Fernandes’ testimony marked the end of the Crown’s case, which is being heard by Judge Joseph Nadel without a jury in an Ontario Court of Justice courtroom in St. Catharines.
Kody was pronounced dead at McMaster Children’s Hospital on July 26, 2015, after doctors decided to remove him from lifesupport.
Matthews has maintained all along that one of the family dogs — a well-muscled Labrador bull mastiff cross named Duke — jumped into Kody and caused what proved to be a fatal head injury.
Matthews was arrested and charged by Niagara Regional Police in November of 2015 following a lengthy investigation.
Emergency crews were called to Matthews’ home on Thorold Townline Road on July 25, 2015, in response to a 911 call for a child in medical distress.
Paramedics took Kody to St. Catharines hospital before he was transferred to McMaster Children’s Hospital in Hamilton by air ambulance.
The trial began last Monday and is expected to take about two weeks.
Matthews’ lawyer Peter Barr said the defence would begin its case today, although he wasn’t sure if he would call an expert medical witness he has lined up.
He told Nadel it was a decision he would make overnight, after reviewing the Crown’s case against his client.
Tuesday morning, Fernandes said Kody’s injuries formed what pathologists referred to as the “triad” of symptoms of a baby that had been shaken — and possibly slammed into a hard surface.
The three symptoms include brain swelling, bleeding under the dural-matter (membrane) of the brain and bleeding in the retinas.
Fernandes didn’t use the term “shaken baby syndrome.” It is terminology that is considered outdated.
Experts now refer to it as abusive head trauma, which includes injuries to the skull, brain and spine.
Under cross-examination from Kimberley Vanderlee, one of the lawyers defending Matthews, Fernandes told the court he prepared his autopsy report without knowing that Matthews had told police the dog had slammed into Kody while jumping the couch. Matthews said Kody had a seizure and became unresponsive after appearing all right at first.
Vanderlee asked Fernandes if an 80-pound dog leaping on a couch could “deliver enough energy” to cause the injuries to the child’s brain.
“It is possible,” Fernandes said. Fernandes said he found numerous bruises on Kody’s body, but many were the result of “medical intervention” as doctors and paramedics tried to save Kody’s life.
Three of the bruises couldn’t be explained that way. They included a bruise on his cheek, bruising near his spinal column on his neck, and bruising on the tips of his shoulders.
Fernandes agreed with Vanderlee that all of them could have been caused by a fall of fewer than three feet.