The remains of a young man who died while in police custody were exhumed one year and seven months after he was buried. This was as a result of an inquest (a legal inquiry) into this particular death.
The doctor who carried out the postmortem examination the day the young man died had concluded that the inmate hanged himself. Some people thought otherwise and contested this conclusion and applied to court to investigate this death.
It is not uncommon that a person commits suicide by hanging himself or herself. And so when the body of a young man was found hanging in a police cell, it appeared the suspect had killed himself. The first doctor who examined the body that day also concluded that this was a case of suicide.
Another doctor, however, thought otherwise. The second doctor exhumed the remains of the suspect nearly two years after the alleged suicide but could not establish the cause of death.
The doctor had the opportunity to view the coloured photographs of the deceased taken by a police officer the morning the inmate was discovered dead. The two doctors were called before a coroner to give court their findings and opinions.
The first doctor told court that in his opinion this was a case of death as a result of hanging. And his reason for drawing this conclusion was that the deceased had a sleeve of a jacket tightly tied around the neck.
Under cross examination the doctor admitted that it could not have been possible for him to establish the cause of death in the absence of the sleeve tied around the neck of the deceased.
The coroner with regret found that the doctor’s postmortem report was not accurate as it did not contain a correct position of the death of the inmate.
The coroner observed that the doctor apparently conducted the postmortem examination with only the aim of confirming what the police had stated on the request form for postmortem and thus narrowed his examination to one thing and did explore other possible causes of death.
The second doctor told court that although suicidal hanging is very common, in most instances people who hang themselves do so in isolated places where there are no other persons and may even leave a suicide note.
Many people who commit suicide have a history of depression and more often than not hang themselves with their clothes on. The doctor found the case under inquiry strange because the deceased who had no history of depression hanged himself in a cell where there were other inmates and also removed his clothes before hanging himself.
Both doctors told court that the eyes and the mouth of the deceased were normal. The second doctor further told court that in many cases of suicide by hanging protrusion of the tongue and eyes are seen on the body as a result of the pressure in the neck.
The eyes are sometimes discoloured as a result of congestion of blood.
None of these features were observed on the body of the inmate. The coroner took offence that the first doctor did not take trouble to examine the body of the deceased to determine whether features which are normally present on a body that died as a result of hanging were visible in the instant case.
A former inmate told court that the evening before the inmate’s body was found hanging in the cells, the men who had brought the inmate also brought for them, inmates, one big bottle of soda, water and food. It was the first time someone was bringing for them food.
After eating the food and drinking the water and soda they slipped into slumber until 6am only to find their colleague’s body hanging loosely on an iron bar of the door. The inmates told court that the deceased was very weak when he was brought in and had wounds all over his body.
The coroner found the second doctor’s report reliable even when the report did not state what caused the death of the inmate. To the coroner the second doctor’s report was able to point to a number of factors which clearly would be relied upon together with other evidence court had received to rule out suicide or hanging as the possible cause of death.
It was, therefore, the finding of the coroner that the deceased died of unnatural causes. In other words, the death of the inmate was classified as a homicide and a recommendation was made to the police to find out the perpetrators of the death of the inmate.