Exorcism drowning unique (New Zealand)

stuff.co.nz, 7 May 2007

A Wellington pathologist excluded all other possible causes to find Wainuiomata woman Janet Moses died of drowning in October 2007, the High Court at Wellington was told today.

Wellington pathologist John Rutherford said Ms Moses had a blood-tinged “frothy fluid” in her airways and nostrils, caused when water entering the airways mixed with mucus, and symptoms of drowning in her lungs, including damage to air sacs.

The Crown alleges Ms Moses drowned during a makutu or Maori exorcism ceremony on October 12, 2007 when water was forced in her mouth and eyes to flush out a “demon”.

Dr Rutherford said he found numerous bruises, scratches and abrasions on Ms Moses’ body when he conducted an autopsy the day after her death.

A number of the bruises were blue and consistent with grip marks, while she had yellow bruising to her eyelids, and pressure applied to her eyelids had caused bruising to the whites of her eyes.

There were also nine puncture marks to her face , similar to “when people are stabbed with forks”, but he was unable say specifically what object had caused the puncture marks.

Defence counsel Greg King asked Dr Rutherford if he could predict the time the eyelid bruises were inflicted, based on their colour.

Dr Rutherford said some studies had shown yellow bruising would have taken place 18 hours or more before turning that colour (or in this case, death, when bruising stopped developing), but the colour of bruising was a poor indicator of time.

Earlier, Ms Moses’ general practitioner Hans Snoek told the court he was called to a Wainuiomata house by police on October 12 2007 to confirm Ms Moses’ death.

He observed she had eye injuries consistent with head trauma or infection, with both upper eyelids having bright red bruising.

Another defence counsel, Steve Winter, asked Dr Rutherford if it were possible Ms Moses could have died of meningitis, rather than drowning.

Dr Rutherford said Ms Moses had shown no symptoms of meningitis, including a rash or pus in the brain, and he had eliminated all other possible causes before finding she died of drowning.

He said he was “able to exclude [meningitis] beyond my reasonable doubt”.

Mr Winter had earlier asked Mr Snoek if he had found Ms Moses to have lockjaw during his initial examination of her, but he said he had not checked for this, only to confirm death.

Dr Rutherford noted he had conducted more than 5000 autopsies but never seen a death from drowning without submersion in water, such as in this case.

A death from drowning would usually take between two and three minutes if the person was submerged in water, but some near-drowning survivors could die hours or days later as a result.

The trial of nine people accused of manslaughter was delayed this morning when a juror was discharged.

The reasons for the discharge were reserved until at least next week by Judge Simon France.

The nine accused, who have all pleaded not guilty, are John Tahana Rawiri, 49, Georgina Aroha Rawiri, 50, Tanginoa Apanui, 42, Hall Jones Wharepapa, 46, Angela Orupe, 36, Gaylene Tangiohororere Kepa, 44, Aroha Gwendoline Wharepapa, 48, Alfred Hughes Kepa, 48, and Glenys Lynette Wright, 52.

A man and woman who have denied wilful cruelty towards a 14-year-old girl who allegedly suffered severe eye injuries during the makutu have permanent name suppression.

NZPA

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