Malaki suffered fatal blow: pathologist

A specialist in forensic pathology from Australia who conducted the post mortem examination on the late Malaki Jeremiah Tauiliili found the 24-year-old died from a blunt force head injury. 

Dr. Paul Botterill testified on Saturday morning in the ongoing trial on two men being accused of the death of Malaki. 

In his evidence, Dr. Botterill said there was swelling on the deceased's scalp and associated bruising on its right side. 

“In my opinion the cause of death is blunt force head injury…” said the specialist. 

“It was not possible for the autopsy to specifically state which of these events result in the head injury.”

The events that Dr. Botterill was referring to alleged punches on the deceased’s face, his falling on the ground and his being allegedly kicked on or around his head. 

The evidence before the Court alleges that Herman Westerlund punched the deceased causing him to fall on the ground before punching him again while he was still on the floor. 

The prosecution’s witnesses also testified that Westerlund’s co-defendant Suapaina Savai’inaea allegedly kicked the 24-year-old victim on the head with full force while he lay on the ground unconscious.

The men have pleaded not guilty to reckless intent to commit murder on the 24-year-old and an alternative charge of manslaughter. 

Lead prosecutor Silupevaelei Rexona Titi asked the specialist that, given his findings on the cause of death for Malaki, was he able to tell the Court which component of the assault caused the death. 

Dr. Botterill said that he could not.  

“Anyone of those described contacts described - a blow to front of the face, a fall to the ground and another blow whilst he was down or kick - could have resulted in transmission force into the brain causing brain injury,” he explained. 

“Any of those assaults could have resulted in head injury. 

“In terms of likelihood because of the degree of force that was transmitted [and] because of his height and striking the ground that is mostly likely the force that resulted in the greatest amount of potential injury to the brain.”

When pressed to elaborate which force he was referring to, the specialist said the force that is associated with the fall striking the ground. 

He said the alleged kick could have resulted in lesser force, and would be unlikely to have exerted enough force to have resulted in the head injury. 

The pathologist also found that there was no fracture in the skull. 

A radiologist report from Dr. Ming Xian Tong found that there was a mildly displaced fracture of the bones in the head. 

The report from Dr. Tong was put to the pathologist who told the Court that he didn’t see that fracture but explained there could be explanations why. 

Dr. Botterill said the fracture could have been too subtle, or because the fracture was in a deeper part of the scalp. 

However, the pathologist maintained that whether there was a fracture or not had no material influence on the deceased’s cause of death. 

“The force that does the damage to the brain  is transmitted through the skull to the brain itself,” he said. 

“So whilst the presence of the fracture is the mark of severity of injury it’s not the fracture that damages your brain; it’s the transmission of the force that caused the fracture…” 

Dr. Botterill added that the bleeding in the brain is on the right side did not necessarily mean that the force that caused the injury came from the right side. 

In cross examining the witness, Queen’s Counsel Aaron Perkins queried the witness if it was possible that the bleeding and rupturing of bridging veins in the brain could have been caused by any three of the events involving Malaki that night. 

(The alleged punch, fall and kick to the head. )

Dr. Botterill said it was possible that a combination of the three blows caused the fatal rupture. 

The defence counsel asked the specialist what he considered the most likely cause. 

He replied the most likely fatal force would be the fall to the ground. 

However, he said statistically he could not definitively say it was the force that caused the fatal rupture of the bridging vein. 

Moving on the Computerized Tomography (C.T.) scan report, Mr. Perkins asked the witness that knowing that the deceased had allegedly been assaulted by a strike to the head would make him curious to establish whether his skull had been fractured. 

Dr. Botterill said yes it is possible but reiterated there are two reasons why he may not have detected the fracture. 

The Pathologist reiterated that whether there was a fracture or not was not likely to change the cause of death.

The lawyer for Savai’inaea, Leiataualesa Jerry Brunt, did not have any questions for the witness. 

The trial, which is presided over by Justice Mata Keli Tuatagaloa, will continue on Monday.  

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