Open verdict on Caymanian prisoner’s death in Panama

An inquest was held last week into the death of a Caymanian inmate serving a prison term in Panama who died after reportedly falling off a bunk bed at the jail.

Queen’s Coroner Eileen Nervik conducted an inquest on Thursday into the death of Mark Philip Bodden, who died in Panama on Aug. 18, 2014.

She described the inquest as rather unique, given the circumstances and limited information. After considering the information that was available, jurors returned an open verdict – meaning that the evidence was insufficient for them to reach any other conclusion. They also found that the cause of death was unknown.

Mr. Bodden, 37, died at the Panama Calidonia Hospital in Santo Tomas, Republic of Panama. He had been taken there from the Pacora LaJoya Penitentiary, after been injured, reportedly in a fall from the bunk bed.

The coroner explained that the inquest was being held because Mr. Bodden’s body was repatriated to Cayman and the family had requested an investigation and a second post-mortem examination, if possible.

“He was a member of our community, so we need to resolve the issue as far as possible,” she commented.

The only witness to give evidence in person was government pathologist Dr. Shravana Jyoti. Jurors were given copies of the report written after an autopsy was performed in Cayman by pathologist Michaele Enghardt on Sept. 5, 2014.

Dr. Jyoti explained that an autopsy had already been performed in Panama, but a complete report from that procedure was not available. Cayman authorities did receive a post-mortem form from Panama’s National Directorate of Civil Registry. It listed causes of death to be edema and brain hemorrhage, and severe head trauma, with pneumonia being a contributing factor.

Background information given to the pathologist was that Mr. Bodden had reportedly suffered a fall in his cell, but additional verifiable information was not available. A hospital record was not available.

Dr. Enghardt did not make a finding as to cause of death, but she did comment on the cause as found in Panama. She said a small amount of coagulated blood in the cranial cavity might allude to a prior hemorrhage event. A very thorough examination of the head showed no external marks of trauma or lacerations. There was no evidence of a skull fracture and no trauma to the neck.Dr. Jyoti listed other specific findings and said strangulation could be ruled out and being hit in the head with a blunt object could be ruled out. Fingernails were intact, which meant they were not damaged in any defensive action.

Jurors then heard the statements of two police officers, as read by the coroner. This information had to do with the liaison between the Deputy Governor’s office in Cayman and the British Embassy in Panama, the translation of documents from Spanish to English, the process by which Mr. Bodden’s body was brought back to Cayman, examined and then released for burial.

The coroner then explained the possible verdicts the jury could reach, such as natural causes, misadventure, suicide, lawful or unlawful killing. One of jurors asked about a finding of negligence. The coroner emphasized that an inquest is a public fact-finding inquiry and not a trial; the jurors’ role was to find facts as to the physical cause and manner of death, not to accord blame.

It was up to them as to whether they accepted the findings of the autopsy performed in Panama, she said. If they did not, they could say the cause of death was unknown. If the cause was unknown, they might ask themselves how they could know the manner of death, she observed.

Cayman authorities had worked diligently to get more information from Panama, she noted, but were unsuccessful. “We did try,” she told jurors before they considered their verdict.

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