Pathologist reports autopsy findings at Learn trial

Trial resumes with more testimony from a medical expert and another RCMP officer.

A pathologist and another RCMP officer testified in Cranbrook Supreme Court as the trial for Chyenne Learn resumed on Monday.

In front of Justice Dev Dley, Dr. Gilles Molgat reported his findings on the autopsy of Tammy Ellis, while Cpl. Eric Barnes testified about his actions the day of, and the day after the shooting.

Learn is on trial for the shooting death of Ellis on Dec. 17, 2007. Learn was convicted of second-degree murder in 2009 but the decision was overturned on appeal in 2013 and he was awarded a new trial.

Dr. Molgat, who is based out of Kamloops, received the body of the deceased three days after the shooting, upon which he performed the autopsy in the presence of two RCMP members.

Crown counsel Lianna Swanson began her questioning of the witness before defence counsel Brent Bagnall cross-examined.

Warning: Details ahead may be too graphic for some readers.

The body of the deceased had a wound in the lower left side of the back consistent with an impact from shot pellets fired from a shotgun, according to Dr. Molgat.

Dr. Molgat removed a number of pellets lodged within the body and described their trajectory in relation to the corresponding physical injuries.

He ruled the eventual cause of death was arrhythmia, caused by shotgun pellets  damaging the heart, which caused it to stop beating.

In addition to the shot pellets, Dr. Molgat also found ‘shot-wad’ material—used in the construction of shotgun shells—in the wound.

Dr. Molgat also concluded that the wound was caused by a shotgun fired close-range between three to four feet away from the body.

In cross examination, Bagnall leaned more on Dr. Molgat’s expertise as a medical doctor to solicit opinion evidence regarding the affects of long-term alcohol abuse on the human body.

Dr. Molgat noted that in addition to the typical short-term signs of alcohol consumption, such as unsteadiness or slurred speech, there are more serious effects for long-term abuse.

Those effects physical damage to internal organs such as cirrhosis of the liver and hypertension while more serious neurological damage includes symptoms that could be attributed to dementia.

Bagnall brought up issues of tolerance and Dr. Molgat explained that it differs on a case-by-case basis, but also added that tolerance can be increased based on sustained alcohol abuse, including the practice of binge-drinking.

Dr. Molgat testified that heavy alcohol abuse can cause someone to be disinhibited and interfere with their ability to reason.

Bagnall also suggested that heavy alcohol abuse can cause blackouts, where a person appears to be functioning but has no memory of their actions following significant alcoholic consumption.

Following testimony from Dr. Molgat, Barnes took the stand.

Swanson led off the questioning, as Barnes described his actions the night of the shooting and the day after, where he attended the residence of the scene as well as another scene where a firearm was located and later determined to be the same one used in the incident.

Barnes arrived on scene roughly and hour and a half after the shooting, but was told to stand down and wait until officers from a Major Crimes Unit from the Interior to arrive.

On Dec. 18, 2007, Barnes attended the scene on 4th street at a bridge covering Joseph Creek behind the B.C. Liquor store where a civilian passerby had discovered a firearm in the snowbank.

He photographed the area and the weapon—a sawed-off shotgun—before picking it up and disarming it.

Later on in the investigation, he checked the weapon for fingerprints, but none were found.

He later attended the residence where the shooting occurred, taking pictures continuously as he moved from room to room.

Upon cross-examination, Bagnall noted the components of the firearm were located on opposite sides of the bridge and described how he detached the barrel from the handle portion to disarm it.

Upon further questioning from Bagnall regarding the residence, Barnes testified that both TV’s located in the living room and the bedroom of the house were on, with the volume low in the latter, but was unable to recall if the former was audible.

The trial will resume on Wednesday and both sides are hoping to be done by the end of the week.

 

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