Raquel B. del Rosario-Fortun, M.D.Forensic Pathologist

January 31, 1999

Mrs. Margot Larraņaga
40 Oriole Street
Santo Niņo Village
Banilad, Mandaue City

Dear Mrs. Larraņaga,

          I am forwarding to you some of my comments about the case as of this time, just as you requested. The following Is by no means complete or final as this is based only on the limited information I have at present regarding this case.

          * Based on the testimony of Mr. Jude Mendoza it seems that his qualifications, skills and knowledge as a forensic serologist are limited. As we discussed earlier, the tests that he performed (specifically the so-called Florence test) are outdated. He admitted to not taking the precaution of wearing gloves during his examination of the clothing and the evidence he examined was not packaged properly for further tests. He also implied in his testimony that there are (only) 4 blood types from which the identity of the origin of the cloth stain can be determined. He was referring to the ABO blood group which is by no means the only one used in forensic serology because by itself it gives very little useful information. He also claimed to have seen "at least one whole spermatozoa (sic. spermatozoon is singular, spermatozoa is plural) but did not explain how he visualized it under the microscope without the benefit of stains. Because his finding cannot be verified in the absence of a fixed and stained slide with the spermatozoa. I have doubts as to its validity, considering that the interval between the alleged date of the incident (July 17th) and the date of submission of the panty (July 25th) is long and the spermatozoa were supposed to have been seen in fluid reconstituted from the starchy panty stains. In other words, under such adverse conditions I doubt if intact unstained spermatozoa could still be visualized.

          * Mr. Mendoza's tests on the clothing stains for the presence or absence of blood are really not that vital since it is known for a fact that these items were on the body which definitely bore bleeding wounds. If it is suspected that the assailant(s) was (were) also injured then the blood stains could be linked to him (them) but then the test done should be more specific and sensitive such as DNA analysis.

          * The blood stains on the clothing, granting they were not significantly contaminated, could be used to settle the dispute on identification, again through DNA analysis. It is my opinion however. that there seems to be no basis to question the identification established through fingerprint comparison because the known (alleged victim's antemortem file) and unknown (thumb marks obtained from the body) standards apparently matched. It appears that the fingerprints from the cadaver are suitable for comparison and that several matching points (12 as shown in the exhibits) were obtained. Nonetheless if you wish to explore this issue further I suggest that consultation with a fingerprint analyst be made.

          * The alleged seminal stains on the panty might still be subjected to DNA analysis if no significant degradation and contamination occurred yet. I have doubts though if testing is still possible at this point. When it was presented in court the garment was not properly packaged and preserved and large defects were already present at the crotch where Mr. Mendoza took samples for his analysis. Nevertheless you might want to try the Forensic Science Services based in the United Kingdom and I am sending you literature on this group.

          * The alleged presence of semen on the panty together with the postmortem finding of genital lacerations imply that forcible sexual intercourse took place (i.e. rape) however these findings may also be seen after consensual sex. Also. these findings by themselves do not indicate who or how many assailants there were. Dr. Sator testified that there could have been multiple assailants involved because of the deep lacerations but this is an unjustified conclusion. Dr. Sator also did not describe the lacerations in terms of whether they are recent or old (healed) injuries.

          * It is unfortunate that no swabs from the body were taken because according to Dr, Sator embalming had already taken place. The postmortem interval was only 3 days and common embalming procedures do not usually involve washing the vagina, hence the procedure should have been attempted at least. Actually, ideally the body should not have been embalmed at all prior to the autopsy. If the medico-legal officer were in complete control of the situation, he should have taken charge right from the beginning, supervising the recovery at the scene, transporting the body to the morgue, removing the clothes, the tape around the head, handcuffs and other evidence. Based on reports, the funeral parlor mortician performed many of these procedures. Curiously, the death certificate was marked "OK for embalming" with Dr. Sator's signature and the date July 25, 1997. The autopsy was performed on July 20. 1997 with the body already embalmed.

          * The photographs of the body taken at the morgue and submitted as exhibits could have been more professionally done. They only showed the right side of the body with cloth over the genital region. Standard forensic autopsy photos include shots of the face, front, back and sides without any cover but with a scale (ruler).

          * According to the autopsy report the cause of death is "shock and hemorrhage due to physical injuries to the head, trunk and extremities." More specifically. based on the findings, death was likely  to have been caused by blunt force injuries of the head with skull fractures, subdural hemorrhage and probable associated brain lacerations and/or contusions. The pulmonary lacerations may be significant also but they were not adequately described. It is not clear if embalming artifacts can be ruled out (insertion of a long metal tube in the abdomen used to introduce embalming fluid could produce postmortem lacerations). Other internal injuries could have been present but not included in the report. No tissues were also taken for histopathologic examination which is a standard procedure in a forensic autopsy. Incidentally, the court transcripts and the autopsy report erroneously indicate "coronary sutures" in the skull as a fracture site. Dr. Sator apparently was referring to "coronal sutures" which separated as a result of blunt impact (coronary pertains to the heart).

          * A summary of the injuries noted on the body indicates multiple skin abrasions. lacerations and contusions as well as fractures of the left clavicle, skull and right 4th and 5th ribs, and dislocation of the right knee. These injuries are due to blunt impact and because of their multifocal nature, they were probably sustained from a fall, consistent with the other circumstances (i.e. the victim was allegedly thrown off a cliff). The finding of subdural hemorrhage (and other evidence of bleeding) also indicates that the victim was likely to be still alive when she sustained the injuries (i.e. when she fell).

          * One disturbing finding obtained from the reports and examination of the pictures is the presence of handcuffs on the left wrist of the body and apparently, also around a branch of a fallen tree adjacent to it. If it can be confirmed that indeed the other cuff was fastened to the branch then the implication is that after the victim was thrown, somebody must have been at the site where it fell and then handcuffed the body to the tree. It would have been impossible for the cuff to have hooked the branch and locked by itself during the fall. This point can be pursued further because Mr. Davidson Rusia*s testimony did not mention that the victim was handcuffed when she was allegedly thrown or that somebody cuffed her where she fell.

          * It is not clear at this point what the significance is of the partially burned left shoe" and the alleged grenade recovered at the scene. If these items (like the diskette?) were found on July 22, 1997 when the police returned to the scene (there was a report of foul smell in the area which turned out to be a decomposed pig), their relationship to the body found earlier is questionable. This is especially so if there were no efforts to secure the scene round-the-clock, since anybody could have placed them there after removal of the body. Another possibility is that they could have been there all along and hence totally unrelated to this case. 

          Pictures of some of the exhibits are also enclosed together with diagrams. Do get in touch with me as necessary.  

Very truly yours,

Raquel B. del Rosario-Fortun, M.D.


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