Saturday, October 23, 2010


PUBLISHER'S NOTE: In view of the $4.25 million compensation William Mullins-Johnson that was announced on October 21, 2010 by the Ontario government , I am re-running some early posts relating to the case. The following post, published on October 6, 2007, ran under the heading, "Conduct of other experts scrutinized by Mullins-Johnson's lawyer."


Several experts who participated in the investigation of the death of Valin Johnson have come under scrutiny - along with Dr. Charles Smith - by lawyers representing William Mullins-Johnson.

One of those experts is Dr. Bhubendra Rasaiah, director of pathology at the General Hospital in Sault Ste. Marie, who performed the autopsy on Valin Johnson and determined a time of death at which only Mullins-Johnson had exclusive access to his niece.

"Dr. Rasaiah presented as an adversarial and defensive witness with outdated ideas of pathology," the brief reads.

"He was not a forensic pathologist although the significance of this was not brought to the jury’s attention. Dr. Rasaiah was often prepared to advocate in his own cause during his testimony:

● He discounted the authority of a textbook in pathology ‘Essentials of Forensic Medicine’ by Poulson, Gee and Knight14 which is viewed by forensic pathologists as one of the leading texts in the field. When questioned about statements in the book, Dr. Rasaiah responded:

A. Your Honour, there are many forensic text books out, but I wouldn’t regard this as being the most authoritative text book. One that I would refer to as a most authoritative text book is the Medicolegal Investigation of Death, which is the 3rd edition, published in 1993 by Spitz and Fisher, and is probably the major text book in the United States, Your Honour.

Mr. O’Hara: Q. Nonetheless, this is a recognized work?

A. Well, I don’t recognize it. Others would, I wouldn’t doubt that.

Q. Do you recognize the names of the authors?

A. Yes, I know they are forensic pathologists.

He later referred to Poulson, Gee and Knight’s book as a “primer”, and denied that it was an authoritative text. The book is decidedly not a ‘primer’.

● He relied on unreliable and outdated methods to fix a time of death with which all the other pathologists who testified disagreed.

● He criticized questions put to him, and addressed these criticisms to the trial judge. Following are two examples:

– when asked about passages from Medicolegal Investigation of Death by Spitz and Fisher, Dr. Rasaiah responded:

Your Honour, I don’t see the purpose of the defence reading something that I know, and something everyone knows.

And I mentioned quite clearly in my initial testimony that there is no accurate precise method of estimating the time of death in the present state of our scientific knowledge.
So, really, I don’t see the purpose of you reading that text to me.

I thought, Your Honour, the purpose of him reading the text was to mention to me causes of cooling. Perhaps he could read me out the 24 causes of cooling from the text.

– When asked about part of Dr. Ferris’ opinion set out in a letter to counsel, Dr. Rasaiah replied:
A. I’m sorry, Your Honour, I’m afraid the expert contradicts himself in another section of the same letter.
THE COURT: Well, in answer to the question, I think you should answer to the question. If you wish to refer to - -
A. Yes,
THE COURT: ...the report, you can do this.
A. And I disagree with that but I want to show how the expert in fact says the reverse elsewhere in his letter.
THE COURT: Well do it. You are permitted to do that. I want your full answer to every question put to you.

A. Your Honour, I think that since this letter has come to the court, I think there are sections here, I think [Mr. O’Hara’s] selectively taking parts of it, and other areas that [Dr. Ferris] should be here to testify [about] and be cross-examined on it.

The factum also indicates that after Mullins-Johnson's application for ministerial review was presented to former Justice Minister Irwin Cotler in September, 2005, "The Respondent (The Ministry of the Attorney General) received a series of unsolicited opinions from Dr. Rasaiah in response to the ministerial review application.

Dr. Rasaiah considers that “to insist that natural causes should be considered [as a cause of death] is unjustifiable speculation.”

He was highly critical of the reports of Dr. Pollanen and Professor Knight. He did not budge from his previous opinions.

In May, 2007, the Respondent asked Dr. Rasaiah to comment on the more recent reports of Dr. Ferris, (a defence expert) Professor Milroy, Professor Crane and Dr. Butt. (the three independent reviewers);

Dr. Rasiah’s opinions remain unaltered and he urged “re-examination of the physical evidence” including further DNA analysis of vaginal and rectal swabs and other items.

Dr. Rasaiah’s competence has been further called into question as a result of a re-autopsy in a case (James Travette) in which Dr. Rasaiah had failed to observe multiple post-mortem burns on the deceased, including his face, described by Dr. Pollanen at the re-autopsy as “related to the application of the heated end of a cigarette lighter”, and missed two foreign objects, an 8 cm. screw and a piece of wood, found in the deceased’s rectum.

In a letter to the Crown describing the case, Dr. Pollanen wrote:

I am aware that expert opinions are key to both these cases (Mullins-Johnson and Travette), and I personally do not wish to treat Dr. Rasaiah improperly or unfairly.

But, Dr. Rasaiah’s mistakes in the Travette autopsy are factual errors, i.e., missing physical evidence, failing to notice injuries, and misinterpreting histological slides.

In my view, errors of this type challenge Dr. Rasaiah’s forensic capabilities.

Insofar as these issues may be relevant to the autopsy of Valin Johnson, I believe it was necessary for me to communicate them to you directly.

There was a recent e-mail exchange between the Crown and the Chief Coroner:

Dr. McLellan:
I understand that Dr. Rasaiah is no longer on the roster of pathologists used by OCCO. Is this correct and since when? Prior to that occurring (if I am correct) what would be the correct way to characterize his relationship with OCCO? i.e. Contract, on a roster, employed by ... Thank you for your ongoing assistance.
. . . . .
Dr. Rasaiah is still conducting coroner’s autopsies at the Sault Area Hospital. Criminally suspicious cases and homicides are no longer autopsied in Sault Ste. Marie.
Dr. Rasaiah conducts these autopsies under Coroner’s warrant on a fee for service basis (as do all other pathologists who conduct coroner’s autopsies at Ontario hospitals).
I hope that this is the information you were looking for...

Mullins-Johnson's lawyers also scrutinize the opinions of Dr. Patricia Zehr, an expert in child abuse, who concluded, along with Dr. Rasaiah, that Valin Johnson was the victim of chronic sexual abuse.

Zehr was the only witness to testify that bruising on Valin's thighs was consistent with sexual abuse.

Dr. Michael Pollanen later determined that the discolouration could have been been caused by riding a bicycle.

"Dr. Zehr gave her testimony as if she had an agenda," the brief reads."

" Her opinions were overreaching and ambitious, especially since she was the only medical expert called who had no expertise in pathology at any level. "

Nevertheless, the Crown felt able to present her in his closing address in the following terms:

Let’s talk about that sexual abuse. We all know that it was chronic and we heard the word sodomy from two of the experts here that deal with children exclusively, Doctor Zehr, exclusively, I mean this woman was...before she was a doctor, was a paediatric nurse.

And Doctor Smith is part of that SCAN at the Ontario Hospital for Sick Children, and they said things like sodomy, that’s what they said."

Harold Levy;