Impossible to tell from remains in storage locker how babies died: pathologist

By The Canadian Press
August 30, 2016 - 4:09pm

WINNIPEG — Ontario's chief forensic pathologist says there's no way to determine the cause of death for six infants whose remains were found in a storage locker, but the babies were certainly big enough to have been born alive.

"They were sufficiently developed to have been born alive," Michaal Pollanen said Tuesday via a video link at the trial of Andrea Giesbrecht.

He told court the babies could have died in the womb because of some disease or been killed after birth. There could have been complications during delivery or lack of proper care after birth, which could lead to something such as hypothermia.

Pollanen also agreed with a suggestion from Crown counsel Debbie Buors that if a newborn baby were placed in a white kitchen garbage bag, which was then sealed, it would be fatal. That's how most of the remains were found in the Winnipeg storage locker.

But Pollanen added that the advanced state of decomposition made it impossible to say how any of the babies died.

He also said most stillborn infants are usually born before they reach full term.

"We would occasionally see stillborns at this stage of gestational development."

Giesbrecht, 42, is charged with concealing the remains in the storage locker.

They were discovered in 2014 by employees of the storage company after fees went unpaid on the locker where they had been kept.

Court has heard most were in white garbage bags inside bags and containers. One was in a pail under concrete-like material. Another had been covered in a white powder that halted decomposition but dried out the body and left it rock hard.

The third infant was little more than a pile of bones, wrapped in a towel and placed in one of the white garbage bags, which was in a maroon duffel bag.

Pollanen was brought in to do a peer review of the work by Winnipeg pathologist Raymond Rivera, who examined the remains in October 2014 after they were found.

He agreed with Rivera that all appeared to have been full term or close to full-term babies who could have survived, but there is no way to know how they died because of the condition of the remains.

An anthropologist brought in to examine remains that were basically just skeletons has also testified that, based on measurements, the babies appeared to be full term or very close to full term. But, like the physicians, she said she could find nothing that hinted at a cause of death.

The trial resumed Monday after being adjourned in July to allow Giesbrecht's husband, Jeremy Giesbrecht, to seek legal counsel and decide whether he was going to waive his right to not testify about things the couple may have said to each other.

Court heard Giesbrecht had been given a legal-aid lawyer, but it was still unclear when the husband may return to testify.

The trial has already heard that Giesbrecht was pregnant at least six times and had several legal abortions over the years, as well as a miscarriage.

The Crown has yet to suggest a motive for the alleged crime.

Scott Edmonds, The Canadian Press

©2016 The Canadian Press

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