Defense Challenges Forensic Pathologist in Dorsey Case


YoloCourt-12by Samantha Brill, Mariel Barbadillo and Ryan Gonzales

The morning of October 14, 2016, brought the resumption of the case of the People v. Darnell Dorsey, Judge Paul Richardson presiding. Pursuant to Cal. Penal Code sections 273a and 273ab, Mr. Dorsey is being charged with assaulting and causing fatal injury to his girlfriend’s 20-month-old child, Cameron Morrison, in January of 2014. Deputy Public Defenders Martha Sequeira and Joseph Gocke represent Darnell Dorsey, while Deputy District Attorney Michelle Serafin represents the People.

Continuing with his testimony, Dr. Ikechi Ogan, the forensic pathologist who performed Cameron’s autopsy, was cross-examined by Mr. Gocke.

Mr. Gocke started the morning off by questioning Dr. Ogan about how he learned of Cameron’s case before beginning the autopsy. Dr. Ogan responded by stating that he was caught up to speed on Cameron’s case through law enforcement, however, their conversations were not recorded. After the autopsy, it took him 11 months to finish his reports because he was waiting for tests to be returned.

Dr. Ogan then went on to explain that, during the autopsy of  Cameron’s lung cavity, he found the cavity to be free of any excess fluid. However, the lungs did have evidence of ammonia in the form of creamy material and pus.

The defense continued questioning about how much preparation and research Dr. Ogan did prior to the autopsy. Dr. Ogan explained that he did not review the CT scans that were done on Cameron, he only reviewed the comments that the radiologists made on the scans, which consistently emphasized brain swelling.

Mr. Gocke then went on to inquire about a series of photos taken of bruising on Cameron’s body, Defense’s Exhibits 593, 597, 596, 601, and 600. Dr. Ogan marked directly onto the photos where he believed the bruising was a result of trauma inflicted onto Cameron. He also commented that the bruising with pink discoloration, particularly around the ear, could be livor mortis, also known as hypostasis, a pooling of blood postmortem.

There were no damages to the disks of Cameron’s neck or to the top of his vertebra, and no injuries to the joints of the muscles in his neck.

After examining these photos, Mr. Gocke asked Dr. Ogan if he recalled how many cases he was working on simultaneously with Cameron’s case, but Dr. Ogan could not recall.

Dr. Ogan went on to explain his conclusions from Cameron’s autopsy, but he first explained that he started this case with an open mind to any possible cause of Cameron’s injuries. He then explained that his opinion was the injuries that were shown on Cameron’s torso were in the same place that would have resulted from someone grabbing him. He also said that the injuries were caused by blunt force or rotational trauma.

Forensic Pathologist Completes Testimony

By Mariel Barbadillo

After the morning recess, Mr. Gocke continued the defense’s cross-examination of Dr. Ogan.

Mr. Gocke mentioned that PBS Frontline and ProPublica had criticized Dr. Ogan’s place of employment, Forensic Medical Group (FMG), for taking on heavy caseloads. Due to a national shortage of forensic pathologists, FMG was responsible for cases from over 10 California counties, which led to a backlog in reports.

The firm also faced criticism because a faulty report had resulted in false murder allegations that put an innocent man behind bars. The firm later overturned the findings that led to the allegations and the suspect was released after two years in prison.

During redirect examination, Dr. Ogan revealed that the events which led to the false allegations resulted from mistakes made by an employee with a history of substance abuse. FMG let that employee go.

Dr. Ogan had taken 11 months to complete his report for Cameron’s case, and the defense had applied pressure to have the report completed in time for trial. The doctor claimed he took his time in order to be comprehensive and thorough. He was waiting on the results from a variety of tests, some of which were mandated to rule out congenital disease, metabolic diseases and vitamin deficiencies, among other health issues.

Ms. Serafin questioned whether the pneumonia in Cameron’s lungs could have continued to grow after his death. Dr. Ogan said that pneumonia stops progressing once the individual dies. However, there is a possibility of bacterial overgrowth after death.

She then asked Dr. Ogan how he was able to distinguish the bruising on Cameron’s body from livor mortis, the pooling of blood in the lower portions of a corpse that can result in skin discoloration. Dr. Ogan said that, during the autopsy, he cut under Cameron’s skin and confirmed that some of the discoloration he observed on Cameron’s back were bruises.

Ms. Serafin mentioned that Cameron had rib fractures which were “fresh, healing, and healed.” The witness said the state of Cameron’s ribs indicated that his injuries could not be attributed to one event. He said it is possible Cameron could have fallen and broken one or two ribs, but the multiplicity of his injuries indicate there were other factors and other incidents.

Some injuries seemed to have occurred at different times, such as the rib fractures, but other injuries seemed to be “acute” or fresh.

Ms. Serafin also asked if children with bone disease have abnormal healing, which Dr. Ogan confirmed. From what Dr. Ogan observed, Cameron’s ribs seemed to be healing normally.

The prosecution then compiled a list of injuries, in addition to rib fractures, that Dr. Ogan discovered during Cameron’s autopsy. External injuries included bruising behind Cameron’s left ear, right cheek, chest, and back. Internal injuries included multiple scalp bruises, subdural hematoma, subarachnoid hemorrhaging, brain swelling, liver lacerations, and lung contusions. Dr. Ogan also observed optic nerve and retinal hemorrhaging.

Multiple reports Dr. Ogan reviewed showed swelling in Cameron’s brain. However, brain swelling alone was not responsible for the subdural hematoma (bleeding between the brain and dura mater) also observed in Cameron’s brain.

Mr. Gocke cross-examined the witness again, this time bringing up a 2014 California Grand Jury investigation of FMG. The investigation discovered the firm had backlogged reports due to heavy caseload. They were not providing reports on time, and employees were sometimes even getting paid for reports that had not yet been turned in. Dr. Ogan said he was not aware of the investigation, though he was working at FMG at the time of the investigation.

The defense noted that, despite taking 11 months to thoroughly complete his report, Dr. Ogan made no mention of cardiac arrest or the mucus plugs in Cameron’s airways.

Mr. Gocke discussed with the witness how the size of a child’s head is generally larger in proportion to the body, likely to put a strain on the neck. Yet, despite hypothesizing that Cameron’s scalp contusions must have resulted from strong blunt force to his head, Dr. Ogan did not find any evidence of neck or spinal injury.

Dr. Ogan then confirmed that sternum injuries and rib fractures can result from cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

Ex-Girlfriend of Darnell Dorsey Testifies

By: Ryan Gonzales

During the afternoon session of People v. Dorsey, the prosecution and defense conducted a strenuous examination of a possible abusive relationship between the People’s character witness, “BA” (the ex-girlfriend of Darnell Dorsey), and Mr. Darnell Dorsey, who is accused of fatally injuring toddler Cameron Morrison.

“He would restrain me,” stated BA when Deputy District Attorney Michelle Serafin asked if Darnell Dorsey was ever physically abusive during their relationship, which started in December 2010. BA testified there had been incidents where Mr. Dorsey acted aggressively when they began to argue.

BA recounted three incidents, one occurring after a doctor’s appointment at Sutter Davis Hospital and two other incidents that transpired at her residence in 2011. When Ms. Serafin inquired about BA’s hospital visit, BA testified that she was two months pregnant and went in for her first ultrasound. Furthermore, BA testified that she believed in the possibility that Mr. Dorsey was the father of her child.

After the appointment, BA went out to the parking lot of Sutter Hospital to meet Mr. Dorsey, who decided to pick her up to show emotional support. However, BA only found herself getting involved in a fierce argument with Mr. Dorsey.

BA told the court that they had gotten into an argument about attending a friend’s barbecue and, at the moment she told Mr. Dorsey that she didn’t want to go, he closed the passenger door and put the car in reverse.

“I just wanted to get out of the car, I was upset,” stated BA.

When Ms. Serafin asked how Mr. Dorsey was acting, BA said, “He was yelling, cussing and driving fast. He was angry.” BA testified that Mr. Dorsey had driven around the city of Davis at speeds of 90 mph. Ms. Serafin then asked if BA attempted to ask Mr. Dorsey to let her out of the car, she stated, “Yes, I was yelling.”

Eventually, Mr. Dorsey stopped the car in the parking lot of a local Safeway. “I got out right as he stopped the car and into A’s car,” stated BA. Her friend, “A,” who took BA to her appointment, had been following them since they left Sutter Hospital.

The prosecution then inquired about any other incidents of aggression between BA and Mr. Dorsey. BA testified that one time they got into an argument over diapers and Mr. Dorsey “restrained” her onto the bed in her bedroom by getting on top of her and holding her arms down.

“After he pinned me down, I started to kick, that is when he told me to calm down, then he put his hand on my throat,” stated BA. However, when Ms. Serafin asked if he choked or slapped her, BA stated, “No, I was able to talk and cuss. He just held his hand there and told me to calm down.”

Although BA testified that he never choked her, Ms. Serafin inquired about whether he had slapped her during this incident. BA responded no, however, the prosecution stated that BA had told a detective that Mr. Dorsey had slapped her during this incident. BA had no recollection of that statement.

The prosecution then asked if BA had told the detective that Mr. Dorsey threatened her life, to which she stated, “I fixed a lot [of] the mistakes [on the transcripts], there were a few things worded wrong, but I think I remember I said that.”

Ms. Serafin then asked BA about the final incident. BA testified that they were arguing and she wanted to leave to her grandmother’s house, but Mr. Dorsey did not want her to go. Thus, he tried to restrain her, but she ended up falling. At that time, BA testified that Mr. Dorsey locked all the doors in the house so she wouldn’t be able to leave. Ms. Serafin asked if she was injured in this incident, but BA responded that she didn’t get hurt.

BA testified that, due to her personal beliefs, she did not report any of these incidents to police.

Ms. Serafin ended the direct examination by inquiring whether Darnell Dorsey was “quick to anger.” BA stated, “Yes, he would express his anger by yelling.”

“You had occasions that you lied to the cops?” asked Deputy Public Defender Martha Sequeira during the cross-examination of BA.

BA gave an agitated response saying, “Okay. I have lied to the police.” Ms. Sequeira then followed up with how BA lied to CPS (Child Protective Services) about having a drug addiction during pregnancy.

“I’m done! I can’t testify, I don’t want to be here!” exclaimed BA in response to Ms. Sequeira’s statement.

After a minute of Judge Paul Richardson regaining order, the cross-examination continued with Ms. Sequeira explaining the situation that had occurred during the birth of BA’s child. Ms. Sequeira stated CPS was investigating the birth of BA’s child due to the fire department, which responded to her premature labor, finding opiates in her system.

Furthermore, Ms. Sequeira pointed out that, over the course of the investigation, BA did not once tell CPS of the possibility that Darnell Dorsey was not the father of her child. BA explained that CPS assumed Dorsey was the father because he and BA were together in a sexual relationship.

“I don’t need to tell anyone about my relationship,” BA stated in response to Ms. Sequeira’s disclosure of how BA allowed multiple investigators to assume that Mr. Dorsey was the father. Ms. Sequeira then said for BA to simply answer yes or no if she let investigators believe Darnell Dorsey was the father, and she stated, “Yes, there was the possibility he was.”

Ms. Sequeira then stated that, even though Darnell found out that he wasn’t the father, he still went to the hospital appointments. BA responded that he only went to one appointment and the baby shower. Ms. Sequeira then inquired how many appointments the biological father attended, to which BA responded, “None.”

Although the next few questions did not involve BA’s personal matters, Ms. Sequeira’s questioning seemed to drain the witness, causing another emotional moment.

“You think I want to be here, I’m here for that baby!” cried BA.

Toward the end of the cross-examination, Ms. Sequeira discussed the incidents that occurred at Sutter Hospital and the bedroom of BA’s house.

Ms. Sequeira questioned the validity of BA’s testimony of the Sutter Hospital incident. Ms. Sequeira explained that Mr. Dorsey was supposedly driving 90 mph in the city of Davis and being followed by BA’s friend at the same speed – and they were able to remain undetected by police officers. BA responded, “Nope,” in agreement.

Next, Ms. Sequeira asked BA why she fought with Mr. Dorsey over diapers. She explained that he bought “Pampers” instead of “Huggies.” Ms. Sequeira responded, “So you got mad because Darnell Dorsey bought you the wrong package of diapers for a child that wasn’t his?”

BA responded yes.

In the re-direct examination, BA testified that she was a Type 1 diabetic and injected insulin.

However, in the re-cross examination, Ms. Sequeira discussed the possibility that the argument that occurred in the bedroom wasn’t over diapers but over BA’s use of heroin, which is why she has areas of injection marks on her body.

BA responded, “That is a lie, a f***ing lie, I was doing pills.”

Ms. Sequeira then inquired when she started to abuse pills. BA testified that her addiction began toward the end of her pregnancy.  Ms. Sequeira followed up with the question, “So that is why your daughter was born prematurely?”

BA exhaustedly responded, “I don’t know.”

The prosecution decided to conclude the examination of their witness and BA was dismissed.


About The Author

The Vanguard Court Watch operates in Yolo, Sacramento and Sacramento Counties with a mission to monitor and report on court cases. Anyone interested in interning at the Courthouse or volunteering to monitor cases should contact the Vanguard at info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org - please email info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org if you find inaccuracies in this report.

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