Skull fractures show Micah was abused, expert tells court

Date: 13 Jun 2007
Two-year-old had also been hugely underweight for his age Baby Micah Bramely Patterson suffered extreme neglect before he died. He was underweight, his teeth had cavities and fractures on his skull were evidence of the extreme force used to kill him. This was what anthropologist Professor Maryna Steyn was able to observe from the little boy's skeletal remains after they were exhumed by the police eight months after his death. Steyn was giving evidence in the Johannesburg High Court yesterday in the trial of Bernette Martins (24) and her husband Quincy Martins (21), of Eldorado Park, south of Joburg. The couple have denied murdering the child. The anthropologist's findings were consistent with those of forensic pathologist Dr James Blair Mwesigwa, who had performed a postmortem on Micah months earlier. Bernette was Micah's biological mother and Quincy his stepfather. They are alleged to have physically abused Micah until he died of his injuries on July 28 2004. Mwesigwa found that the child had fresh and "healing" injuries and that he had suffered fractures to the skull. To substantiate its case against the Martins couple, the state called Steyn, a professor at the University of Pretoria, who testified that she was approached by police officers from the Forensic Science Laboratory in May 2005 and asked to examine the boy's skeletal remains. After analysing the remains, she said she discovered that there were lesions on the remains as well as holes in the teeth, which were an indication of poor dental care. Micah's skull had two fractures, explained Steyn. Asked by state counsel, advocate Mara Papachristoforou, what conclusion she reached of Micah's weight of 10kg at the age of 3, Steyn responded: "He was severely underweight for his age." She noted that when Micah was 2 years old, he weighed 13kg, which was consistent with the growth of a child of that age. The fact that he weighed 10kg at age 3 showed he was severely underweight. The holes in the teeth could have been treated by a dentist, added the academic. Steyn had also observed that Micah had fractures on the left side of the skull. "The other one was on top of the eye socket," she said, supporting Mwesigwa's findings that Micah had a blue eye. "In your expert opinion, what would cause such trauma (fractures on the skull)?" asked Papachristoforou. Steyn replied: "Some external energy. Real force." She added that one fracture at the back of the skull stretched from one side of the temple all the way around the skull. Defence advocate Lydia van Niekerk put it to her: "My instructions are that the child had a fall on a Monday, his head was swollen, but there was no medical intervention. On a Wednesday, he had another fall or bump and had a concussion or convulsion." Steyn responded: "It is unlikely with that (kind of) fall that he would have (sustained) that fracture. To me, it does not seem plausible." Micah's stepfather had told neighbours that the child had fallen in the bath. Steyn told the court that according to a well-acknowledged paper on forensic science, which was released a few years ago, a child who had fallen at a height of less than 1,5m would not suffer the kind of fractures Micah sustained. The trial was postponed to Monday, when the state is expected to call police officers who attended the crime scene. By Siyabonga Mkhwanazi The Star 13/06/07 e1