Defense Raises Questions about Forensic Pathologist’s Competence

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YoloCourt-12by Carla Arrango

On October 13, 2016, the prosecution in People v. Darnell Dorsey called two medical experts to give their accounts about Cameron Morrison’s health and cause of death.  Dr. Theresa Murdock-Vlautin explained that Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation (DIC), the formation of blood clots in blood vessels,  can be triggered when a patient experiences shock due to severe infection or severe trauma, and brain swelling. Then Dr. Ikechi Ogan testified that Cameron died from a traumatic brain injury due to head trauma.

Darnell Dorsey is charged with Cal. Penal Code sections 273a and 273ab, assault on a child resulting in death, after his girlfriend’s son, Cameron Morrison, who was under Dorsey’s care, was pronounced dead on January 25, 2014 at the age of nearly 20 months.

Deputy District Attorney Michelle Serafin, for the People, began with a continuation of her direct examination of Dr. Theresa Murdock-Vlautin.  Dr. Murdock-Vlautin works at UC Davis Medical Center in pediatric critical care, and examined CT and MRI scans of Cameron. Murdock-Vlautin established that brain coma in children under three years of age is very common, but it’s only when it becomes severe that DIC happens.

Ms Serafin asked Dr. Murdock-Vlautin if she looked at Cameron’s white blood cell count and if she expected the white blood cell count to be elevated in a patient with DIC. Dr. Murdock-Vlautin said she indeed looked at the count and expected a higher amount. White blood cells help fight infections by attacking bacteria and viruses in the body.

The last thing Dr. Murdock-Vlautin stated was that DIC does not cause retinal hemorrhaging.

Mr. Gocke then began cross-examination on behalf of the defense. He confirmed with Dr. Murdock-Vlautin that, in order for infection to cause DIC, the patient has to be in shock.

Mr. Gocke proceeded to ask Murdock-Vlautin about her familiarity with Circulation, a research journal which he said commonly publishes articles related to blood diseases. Mr. Gocke cited a 1995 published article by a Dr. Motsch, which said cardiac arrest in children is very rare.

Mr. Gocke reminded the witness that there had been several attempts to resuscitate Cameron prior to his entering cardiac arrest. Dr. Murdock-Vlautin responded  by saying that “in children, cardiac arrest is triggered by something else, it doesn’t happen spontaneously.”

Mr. Gocke said respiratory arrest could cause cardiac arrest. Dr. Murdock-Vlautin responded, questioning why a child would have respiratory arrest. Mr. Gocke said it could be caused by pneumonia, but Dr. Murdock-Vlautin said the pneumonia was only in the lower lobe.

Mr. Gocke asked Murdock-Vlautin if an increase in intracranial pressure could lead to retinal hemorrhage,  but she said that was not within her expertise.

Mr. Gocke asked Dr. Murdock-Vlautin if she was aware that one of her colleagues at UC Davis Medical Center said you can have DIC in response to cardiac arrest.

Ms. Serafin began her re-direct examination. She asked the witness if adults can have cardiac arrest along with DIC, and Murdock-Vlautin confirmed the statement was true. The witness also agreed that if a patient has cardiac arrest and DIC, then she would look for symptoms of something else that happened.

The next witness to testify was Dr. Ikechi Ogan, a forensic pathologist. Dr. Ogan has worked since 2002 with the Forensic Medical Group (FMG), a private firm based in Fairfield, CA.

As a forensic pathologist he focuses on how the human body gets sick, injured, or dies. Dr. Ogan has an interest in brain neuropathology and has performed about 5,000 autopsies on children and adults throughout his career.

Dr. Ogan established that all violent deaths, all deaths in people under the age of 18, all deaths in the workplace, and all deaths in people who are within a certain distance of reaching a hospital have to be investigated.

At this time, Judge Richardson decided to take the afternoon break. The trial resumed after the break in Department 13 with a continuation of Ms. Serafin’s direct examination of Dr. Ogan.

Upon his return to the stand, Dr. Ogan said Cameron Morrison displayed evidence of medical intervention, such as feeding tubes, IV fluid lines on arms and wrist, and a catheter to drain urine.

Dr. Ogan said Cameron was poorly groomed, although he was well nourished and well hydrated. On the face he had a laceration near the mouth. The doctor also said he could feel a soft spot by just touching the head.

Ms. Serafin presented People’s Exhibit 155, which depicted the overall appearance of Cameron’s face. Dr. Ogan pointed out the discoloration on his right cheek.

People’s Exhibit 157 showed some areas of discoloration and blood on his left ear.

Ms. Serafin asked Dr. Ogan if he could identify the source of the blood, and he said in his opinion it was blood that trickled down the child’s face and ended up on his ear.

People’s Exhibit 160 demonstrated discoloration and bruising on Cameron’s side, back and hips. Dr. Ogan explained that a bruise is formed when a person has a crush injury, which causes blood to leak out.

Dr. Ogan said that, when he dissected the skin, he saw bleeding in the area where he had previously seen outer bruising.

Ms. Serafin asked if the doctor had found any injuries to Cameron’s internal organs, and Dr. Ogan said he saw three lacerations in different part of the liver. He said a liver gets lacerated as a result of blunt trauma, when force is applied, such as running into something or being hit by something.

Ms. Serafin asked if the fact that the lacerations were present in three different areas suggested that they could have been caused by different impacts. Dr. Ogan replied “it could be from different impacts, it could be from the same, I would hate to speculate.”

Serafin asked Dr. Ogan how common it was to see pneumonia in the lungs of a person who died after being in coma and on a respirator. Dr Ogan said close to 90 percent of patients who are on respirators develop pneumonia, but pneumonia did not kill Cameron, he died from traumatic brain injuries.

Ms. Serafin continued to show several photographs and Dr. Ogan identified injuries to the head and brain. He found blood in abnormal spots of the brain and bleeding into the optic nerve.

Dr. Ogan also identified Cameron’s fractured ribs.

Mr. Gocke then began cross-examination. He asked Dr, Ogan if he was aware that PBS and other news organizations had scrutinized the work done by FMG doctors.

Dr. Ogan said “I’m here to talk about Cameron Morrison and what led to his death.”

Mr. Gocke mentioned that certain doctors working for FMG, including Dr. Ogan, are not certified as forensic pathologists. The American Board of Pathology offers certification upon passing a comprehensive exam.

Dr. Ogan said he did not feel comfortable answering the question, but Judge Richardson asked him to make an effort to answer Mr. Gocke’s questions.

Dr. Ogan said “I don’t think it’s germane to why I’m here.”

Mr. Gocke asked Dr. Ogan when he became a judge – after Dr. Ogan still failed to answer despite being told to do so by Judge Richardson..

After Mr. Gocke said Yolo County requires certification to perform an examination on anyone, and, pressured by the judge, Dr Ogan finally replied.

“I did the required training. I didn’t take the exam, but by law I’m allowed to practice.”

Judge Richardson informed the jury the trial would break for the day and would reconvene at 8:30 a.m. on Friday. Dr. Ogan is expected to return for further examination.

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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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