Autopsy reports still a challenge in delivering justice in murder crimes

Autopsy limitations present a challenge in delivering justice. Net photo.

When one dies mysteriously, convention has it that the body undergoes an autopsy to ascertain the cause of the death.

Last year, prosecution processed 539 murder cases of which they submitted 412 to court, with a conviction rate that stands above 80 per cent.

The spokesman of the National Public Prosecution Authority (NPPA), Faustin Nkusi, said it is important for a murder case to have a good autopsy report.

Rwanda Medical and Dental Council (RMDC) said there was need for experts in examining dead bodies (forensic pathologists) who are not available in the country.

Their absence means that sometimes the murderer will be set free or someone innocent will be pinned for the death because of limitations in autopsy, a fact that has raised issues, especially in murder cases.

Prof Emmanuel Rudakemwa, the Chairman at RMDC, said contradictions over autopsy reports have seen the council summoned to court several times to explain the authenticity of reports made by medics.

He stressed that it was important for an autopsy to be carried out by a forensic pathologist but added that, in the absence of one, hospitals improvise with a doctor of their choice.

“So many doctors in Rwanda carry out autopsies, I also used to. But the question is about the value of the autopsy because an autopsy carried out by a random doctor cannot have the same value as one carried out by a forensic pathologist,” he said.

On the morning of July 8, 2015, residents of Nyakabimba Village, Nyagasenyi Cell, Gahara Sector in Kirehe District, Eastern Province were shocked to learn that a fellow resident Adelphine Nyiranzabandora had died mysteriously.

The husband, Jean Bosco Hategekimana, who was with the deceased in their home during the night in which she died was arrested and the body taken to Kirehe Hospital for an autopsy.

After gathering evidence and testimonies, the police handed over the file, including the autopsy report, to the prosecution who subsequently filed a case at Ngoma Intermediate Court.

Hategekimana confirmed he was with his wife the night she died but denied killing her, saying that he was also shocked to find her dead in the morning.

The prosecution had some other elements of evidence, including testimonies, but the court relied mostly on the autopsy report.

The report said that there was no evidence of what caused the death as there were no body injuries.

No laboratory examinations of her blood or digestive samples had been taken for check-up for possible intoxication either.

Subsequently, December 30, 2015, the court acquitted Hategekimana for lack of evidence.

Such cases are not uncommon where autopsies do not give clear evidence of what was behind the death of victims for courts to deliver justice.

In the absence of other evidence (apart from autopsy reports) a suspect can easily be set free or wrongly convicted.

Drake Mugisha was handed a life sentence by Nyarugenge Intermediate Court after finding that he was in the house when his wife Maggie Mutesi, a famous Kigali pastor and founder of Heavens Gates Ministries, was strangled.

Mugisha is challenging the life sentence in the High Court in Kigali.

His lawyers told court that the autopsy report that led to his conviction was not done by pathologists.