Bungled autopsies: Are pathologists guilty of abetting crime?

The author, Mr John Riaga

Sometime early this year, a contingent of senior officers from the Ministry of Medical Services, led by the minister, Prof Anyang’ Nyong’o, visited the KEMRI/CDC campus in Kisian, Kisumu. Theirs was a fact finding mission as well as a learning experience following the successful and excellent laboratory operations at the premier medical research facility. Prof Nyongó’s entourage included his Permanent Secretary and other senior staff and members of the Kenya Medical Laboratory Technologists Board. Also in the team was one Dr. Moses Njue, the Chief Government Pathologist.

While giving his remarks during an address to the KEMRI/CDC staff gathered to listen to the visitors, Dr. Njue talked about how shoddy autopsies lead to police losing key court cases and thereby ending up abetting crime. He attributed this to the fact that several Labs in Kenya either lack the personnel or equipment or standards equal to the task of conducting serious autopsies, whose results can sustain and indeed be the basis of winning a court case.

A few months later, renowned athlete Samuel Kamau Wanjiru (God rest his soul in peace) died under mysterious circumstances. Kenyans were treated to all kinds of drama ranging from conflicting police theories to family feuds over the cause of his death and other matters I would refer to as private family affairs that should not have reached non family members.

Too much has been said and written about the death of Wanjiru. He is not the subject of this article, but the events after his death are, certainly. I want to review the conflicting theories around the cause of his death and try to stir our minds into thinking. First it was the suicide story, then that he was pushed over the balcony, then yet another that he was hit on the head before falling over and others not documented. Pathologists present including Dr. Njue during the autopsy were perplexed and seemed not to agree with each other on what exactly caused the star’s death.

Without casting aspersions on the work of the pathologists at the centre of the Wanjiru case and certainly without appearing to demean the profession, I asked myself if, going by Njue’s own admission, certain court cases lost could have been won with proper and accurate autopsies done to determine the cause of death.

A few questions could help us understand this predicament even better. Could there be murderers enjoying freedom out there while their victims are rotting in graves and families and friends left behind agonizing? On the converse, could there be people languishing in prisons convicted of crimes they never committed because a pathologist failed to do his job properly? Still could there be court cases dragging for years on end because autopsies are done back and forth? How many families struggling to come to terms with the death of a relative have to be taken through an exhumation exercise because somebody failed to perform his or her job correctly? The issues are myriad.

I said earlier that I would not want to appear to accuse practitioners of this noble profession; I believe without them this country would be doomed. Anyhow, matters surrounding bungled autopsies and the questions I have raised above need some answers. I believe something can be done. This may be in form of investing in up to date and ultra modern forensic and pathology equipment in government laboratories, proper training of personnel and any other measures that could guarantee right and desired results.

The writer is a public relations practitioner and journalist.


About meshakenya

Media for Environment, Science, Health and Agriculture in Kenya (MESHA) is an association of communicators who are specialized in science, environment, agriculture, health, technology and development reporting.
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5 Responses to Bungled autopsies: Are pathologists guilty of abetting crime?

  1. Wairimu says:

    I think, pathologists and the police need to see episodes of CSI and maybe get a little motivation on solving crime. Look at the issue plaguing Richard Mardcoch-owner of NewsCorp, an incident from the early nineties and the police found fresh evidence, meaning the case was never closed.

  2. Linda Keya says:

    good questioned raised Riaga…i wonder who will help us understand those dynamics

  3. nancy mathu says:

    john, this is an intriguing article. many times when we hear a post mortem is being conducted we dont pay much attention to the results. the questions you have raised need to take this subject of debate further. and you can bet on me i ll pursue it.

  4. john riaga says:

    Thanks my sisters. I believe this is one area that affects all of us. How many people are “found” dead in our villages on a daily basis and our relatives at home convince the police to spare them the autopsy part?

    We must have working systems.


  5. The information you provide is very useful for me. Really good thought for popular your website.nice collection of gathering information.thanks

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