While I lack the credentials of a medical practitioner and possess no training in the field of pathology, recent statements by the Guyana Police Force regarding the case of Malinda Niewenkirk have prompted me to embark on a nosedive into research. Based on my findings, it appears that the country’s foremost law enforcement agency has committed a significant error by prematurely asserting that the compression injury observed on Niewenkirk’s neck is “consistent with hanging”.
Given the current tense investigative climate, this proclamation by the force is undoubtedly contentious. It has been merely four days since the teenager was discovered hanging at her place of abode in Lusignan, East Coast Demerara (ECD). From the outset, the police hinted at suicide, while intense scrutiny has befallen her partner. Persons are expressing concerns about an alleged cover-up, citing the man’s occupational affiliations. The public is well aware of the details to which I refer.
Cause of Death vs Manner of Death
It is unheard of for a post-mortem examination (PME) to even hint at the manner of a person’s death when this examination is more geared at establishing the cause of death. The cause of death signifies the precise ailment, injury, or condition that directly culminated in the person’s demise. (PAHO/WHO), whereas, the manner of death classifies the setting, intention, and backdrop that contributed to the way and reason a person passed away. The latter extends beyond the purely medical aspects, delving into the broader circumstances that led to the fatal incident (Georgia Bureau of Investigation Division of Forensic Sciences).
For example, “John” died of blunt trauma to the head. This does not mean that someone struck “John” to his head and certainly does not prove that he was murdered. What “John” died of is significantly different from what led to him receiving that injury. One can conclude, therefore, that the cause of death is determined by medical intervention, while the manner of death is established by examining the events that led to John’s demise. However, in Niewenkirk’s case, there seems to be no distinction between the two.
“Her body displayed compression injuries to the neck”. The force should have left it there, rather than hinting that the cause of death was consistent with hanging as the manner of her demise. This blurring of the line only reinforces the agency’s initial suicide theory.
More importantly, why would the force hastily publicise such a conclusion when compression injuries as a cause of death are not solely associated with hanging?
Below are a few examples from 2018 in which compression injuries to the neck as a cause of death were NOT linked to hanging:
1. The post-mortem report on Gregory ‘Wayne’ Frank, a 46-year-old man found dead at his home in Kuru Kururu, Linden Highway, revealed that his cause of death was attributed to compression injuries to the neck. His body was discovered facedown in his living room (Kaieteur News, 2018);
2. Julian Anthony Reberio, now 37 years old, confessed to strangling her husband with her bare hands. The cause of death, determined by a post-mortem examination, was compression injuries to the neck (Chabrol 2018);
3. The autopsy on 41-year-old Sherwin Apple, found dead facedown at the Kitty Seawall, revealed that he died of compression injuries to the neck. (Guyana Times International, 2018)
The investigation must proceed with meticulous care, adhering to stringent forensic standards. Hasty presumptions could heighten confusion and compromise the pursuit of justice. The law enforcement agency must explore all potential theories and motives exhaustively, given the contentious nature of this case. Although it now comprehends the cause of death, the agency must employ diligent investigative methods to determine the manner of death. Regrettably, it hasn’t indicated an intention to explore beyond its initial focus. It appears the agency is primarily absorbing information that bolsters its initial theory of suicide, despite the fact that Niewenkirk’s cause of death doesn’t exclusively align with hanging.
Chabrol, Denis. “Woman Admits to Responsibility for Husband’s Death.” Demerara Waves Online News- Guyana, 25 May 2018, demerarawaves.com/2018/05/25/woman-admits-to-responsibility-for-husbands-death/
Georgia Bureau of Investigation Division of Forensic Sciences. “Manners of death.” https://dofs-gbi.georgia.gov/manners-death
Guyana Times International. www.guyanatimesinternational.com/death-of-lindener-in-viral-rape-video-of-teen-now-treated-as-murder-not-suicide/. Accessed 21 Aug. 2023.
KNews. “Kuru Kururu Man Died from Compression Injuries to the Neck.” Kaieteur News, 3 Aug. 2018, www.kaieteurnewsonline.com/2018/08/04/kuru-kururu-man-died-from-compression-injuries-to-the-neck/
World Health Organization. “Cause of death.” World Health Organization. https://www.who.int/standards/classifications/classification-of-diseases/cause-of-death