By Antoinnette Borbon
A well-known forensic neuropathologist who testified in two separate Yolo County Trials is portrayed by actor Will Smith in the soon to be released movie, Concussion.
The movie portrays a doctor who discovers a disease stemming from repetitive head injury, most commonly found in football players and other athletes.
The story is about his discovery of the disease and the battle that followed to get huge corporations like the National Football League to acknowledge its existence.
Dr. Omalu testifies in court about 60-70 times a year. He has little faith in the accuracy of CT scans and MRIs, but rather prefers sophisticated neuronal tests which can zoom in on the brain a thousand times better. Testings he performs are done postmortem and are invasive.
OMALU TESTIFIES IN MINGS CASE
Dr. Omalu first testified in the state’s case against James Elron Mings.
Mings was charged with premeditated murder after the coroner found a sock and gauze stuffed down the throat of Kevin Seery.
Seery had been asking friends to help him end his life. Autopsy reports revealed Seery died of asphyxiation.
James Mings confessed to putting a chokehold on Seery after his friend, Kevin Seery, pleaded with Mings to help end his suffering. However, Mings testified that he had no knowledge about a sock found in the throat of Seery.
According to Deputy District Attorney Martha Holzapfel, James Mings premeditated the homicide, stuffing a sock and gauze down the throat of Seery in order to be sure he would die. Thus, they charged him with first degree murder.
During the trial, Deputy Public Defender Dan Hutchinson asked Dr. Omalu to describe his examination of Seery’s body.
Dr. Omalu, recognized at the trial as a well-known expert in forensic neurology and pathology, explained to jurors how brain stock tissue can determine a more specific cause of death.
In testimony, he explained that test results revealed evidence that Seery was still alive after Mings’ chokehold.
Omalu stated, “There was vomit on the front of the Seery’s shorts.” It indicated Seery had aspirated food down into the lungs which could not have happened postmortem.
He stated that Seery had to be alive at least five to ten minutes after the chokehold by Mings because the brain stock revealed his heart was still pumping before he gagged.
Dr. Omalu testified to finding abrasions and blunt force trauma to the neck, indicative of more than one chokehold on Seery, contributing to his death.
Mr. Hutchinson, in a powerful closing argument, concluded that the evidence proved Mings’ attempt had been futile.
Hutchinson’s argument involved another man who was present during the evening Seery died. It raised enough reasonable doubt, coupled with the expert testimony of Dr. Omalu.
Jurors came back with a conviction on attempted second degree murder, and acquitted on first degree murder charges.
STONE TRIAL TESTIMONY BY DR. OMALU
In the state’s case against Quentin Stone, a man who was charged in the death of his two-month-old infant, it was the prosecution who hired Dr. Omalu to conduct a forensic neuropathology examination.
In his lengthy testimony, Omalu gave a detailed description of injuries found during the autopsy. The infant had sustained severe brain hemorrhages in both brain hemispheres, orbital injuries and a squeezing-type fracture of the ribs.
The doctor explained to jurors that injuries found during his examination did not come from a fall but a severe trauma to the brain.
Dr. Omalu stated, “As a neuropathologist, we use differential diagnosis, meaning, we assume the person has all diseases and then begin a process of elimination.”
He found multiple contusions in the brain and congenic swelling, indicating the brain trauma was caused by force.
He explained the type of bleeding found on the brain was “non-accidental, bilateral with dorsal hemorrhaging.” Angular rotational acceleration-deceleration took place, he stated. “Axonal damage, which indicates the infant’s neck rotated during trauma, was present.
Dr. Omalu also found a yellowish-discoloration in dural (brain) matter indicating more than one bleeding event or more than one episode of traumatic head injury.
In his examination of the infant’s eyes, he found retinal detachment for which he stated “we can rule out any other causes other than traumatic head injury.”
Omalu asserted, “A fall almost always causes a unilateral bleeding, Samuel (baby) had bi-lateral bleeding, bleeding in between the halves of the brain and blood on top of the corpus callosum. These injuries indicate severe trauma,” he explained.
The defense argued vehemently against his findings, countering his examination with their own experts.
But it didn’t thwart prosecutors and, once again, Dr. Omalu took the stand as the state’s rebuttal witness.
Dr. Omalu briefly described again the specific indicators of severe trauma. He asserted that “the injuries could not have come from a fall but only a severe traumatic force to the brain.”
However, in conclusion, jurors acquitted Stone of all charges.
Dr. Omalu’s expertise is continuously requested today. His dramatic story portrayed by actor Will Smith may prove to be very interesting.