Monrovia — In yet another embarrassing turn in the ongoing saga over the death of Mr. Harry A. Greaves, the former Managing Director of the Liberia Petroleum Refining Company, the Liberian government has officially backed out of its pledged to conduct a second autopsy and laying the blame on the family of Mr. Greaves for forcefully ending what would have brought some closure to the controversial death.
The ministry of Justice delivered a three-page letter to the family late Sunday evening in which the body was turned over to the family at approximately 1 am Sunday morning.
"No autopsy was performed and all the family are at the JFK awaiting the hearse to take the body to St. Moses Funeral Home," a Greaves family member, speaking on condition of anonymity, told FrontPageAfrica Sunday.
Letter: Govt. Blames Greaves' Family
The letter obtained by FrontPageAfrica reads:
Dear Mrs. Greaves:
By this communication, I hereby officially inform you that the Government of Liberia has decided to turn over the body of your husband, Mr. Harry Greaves to you and the family effective as of this evening, March 6, 2016. The John F. Kennedy Medical Center, in whose custody the body of Mr. Greaves is currently, has accordingly been notified. With this turnover of the body to the family, you are at liberty to proceed with the funeral or to conduct further forensic examination on the body as the family may deem fit and necessary.
Let me, however make some few clarifications through chronology of the events that brought us to this point:
You will recall vividly that in a communication dated March 3, 2016, we informed you that the Government of the Cote d'Ivoire has seconded two pathologists to review the JFK Medical Center Report and the Report of the Forensic examination by the US Doctors on the body of Mr. Greaves, with the view to making a determination as to whether or not there is any contradiction or inconsistency between the two reports, and if there is any, to proceed to conduct a second autopsy.
When the Ivorian doctors arrived on Thursday, March 3, 2016, as scheduled, we notified you immediately and requested that you designate representatives to observe the process.
On the same day, we received an appeal from you to postpone the conduct of the autopsy to the evening of Friday, March 4, 2016, to allow for a crucial family member to arrive and participate in the process. We granted this appeal in a communication of even date. When we informed the Ivorian doctors of the postponement they requested in the meantime to view the body of Mr. Greaves, they had discovered that he has been embalmed and that under the circumstances, they are unable to do an autopsy. They reiterated that they were not informed that the body has been previously embalmed, and that if they had been informed, they would not have agreed to come to Liberia for such an autopsy. In this regard, it must be noted that the Government has not at any time requested for the body of Mr. Greaves to be embalmed nor was it aware at the time it appealed to the government of the Cote d'Ivoire for assistance in this regard, that the body of Mr. Greaves has in fact been embalmed. So the position of the Ivorian doctors that they are unable to conduct an autopsy on the body of Mr. Greaves on grounds that he has been embalmed too the government by surprise.
Notwithstanding, the Ivorian Pathologist confirmed that if they can review the JFK Medical Center Report, the Forensic Examination, and engage the doctors at the JFK Medical Center who first examined the body, they will be in position to state whether or not an inconsistency exists between the Forensic report and the JFK Medical Center Report.
Accordingly, I instructed the Ivorian doctors to conduct the review of the reports but with the full opportunity but with the full opportunity for the family representatives being present. When the family representatives, who as it turned out were also a pathologists and medical personnel, were approached to work along with the Ivorian doctors in the aforesaid regard, they asked for time to consult among themselves and revert to the Government, when the family representatives eventually reverted their response in a communication dated March 5, 2016 was that irrespective of Government's decision to perform the autopsy or not, the family request that the remains of their loved ones be turned over to the family for burial with immediate effect. This letter was delivered to the Ministry at about 11:15 PM today.
As we have said consistently, it is the desire of the Government to have the death of Mr. Greaves investigated professionally, objectively and in a transparent manner. This we have done by bringing qualified pathologists from the United States and lately the doctors from Cote d'Ivoire. In addition, we have requested for support from the Government of the United States and they have responded by conducting a thorough investigation, the report of which is now being awaited. We did all of these not only because we are required to do so by law but also because of the Government's desire to ameliorate the pain and agony of the family by establishing the cause of death, take prosecutorial action if it is so warranted and help bring closure to this matter.
If it is the position of the family however, that the Government should turn over the body of Mr. Greaves to them and perhaps conduct their own forensic examination, the Government interposes no objection to this. This is why I have instructed the JFK Medical Center to release the body of Mr. Greaves to the family so that they can do whatever they desire. If this is what is required to bring this matter to rest.
Once more, let me on behalf of the Government express our condolence to you and the rest of the family on this irreparable loss and pray that God will continue to give the strength and courage during this difficult period.
Cllr. Benedict Sannoh
Minister of Justice, RL
Leaked JFK Report Prompted 2nd Autopsy Push
It can be recalled that the government of Liberia turned over the body of Mr. Greaves to the family following the first autopsy conducted by Dr. Thomas Bennett and Dr. Matthias Okoye who concluded that Mr. Greaves had died from drowning. But took possession again amid a wave of dissatisfaction over the findings of the two doctors. It was based on that conclusion that the family commenced funeral plans and took steps to embalm the body.
The second autopsy was prompted after FrontPageAfrica obtained a copy of a leaked medical report from the John F. Kennedy Medical Center where Mr. Greaves' body was deposited after it was discovered on Sunday, Feb. 1, 2016.
The JFK report contradicted the pathologist report which concluded that Mr. Greaves death was a result of drowning and that all the injuries on the body surfaced after his death and were from bumping into rocks in the sea. In contrast, the JFK report found that there were blister-like lesions from the neck down to Mr. Greaves' chest; that there was noticeable peeling of the skin; that both arms were very swollen, large, contracted and still; that his abdomen was bloated, and that his rectum was widely dilated and oozing blood."
Justice Minster Sannoh confirmed the report in a news conference on February 19 but sought to convince the public that the first pathologist report was more credible than the JFK finding. "No medical doctor at the Medical Center is licensed to conduct forensic examinations to establish a cause of death. The report did not establish a cause of death. However, medical opinions received thus far indicate that the JFK report is consistent with the forensic examination report, and that there is no contradiction or inconsistency", Minister Sannoh declared.
The case was further complicated after Mr. Greaves' widow, Precious, broke her silence recently for the first time since she says she last saw the horrific body of her husband and expressed sense of discontent over the manner in which the entire matter regarding the autopsy is being handled.
Madam Greaves said the entire matter needed to be handled a little bit more professionally and that the family should be part of the process, because according to her, "It seems, what the left hand is doing, the right hand does not know about."
Cllr. Sannoh told a news conference on Feb. 19 that consistent with this pledge, the Ministry of Justice through the Liberia National Police, took control of the body. Said Sannoh: "This is the only way to bring these irresponsible allegations and conclusions to rest. This means that the Government will resume control over the body and proceed with the forensic examination."
At the same news conference, the Justice minister recalled that the government first took possession of the body and concluded arrangements with the Nebraska Institute of Forensic Sciences (a United States based institution, and one of the best forensic institutions in the World). "This led to the arrival of two eminently qualified Pathologists to conduct a forensic examination of the body of Mr. Greaves with the view to informing the Government and indeed the family of the cause of death of Mr. Greaves."
The minister said at the time that the government was forced to force a second autopsy because of what he described as "spurious allegations". "It is also in the best interest of the family to have this review done so as to help bring some psychological closure on the cause of death."
But in the last few days, the family and the government had been at loggerheads over the direction of the case. Three of Mr. Greaves' daughters and other relatives took time off from the jobs in the U.S. where they reside to attend his funeral.
Justice Minister Benedict Sannoh, addressing the local media on February 19, 2016 challenged the family and the public to bring in their own pathologists if they were not satisfied with the drowning conclusions of Dr. Thomas Bennett and Dr. Mathias Okoye.
The family went through great strains to call Minister Sannoh's bluff by bringing in a pathologist from the United States of America.
Dr. Roger Mitchell, MD, FASCP, is board certified in Anatomic and Forensic Pathology by the American Board of Pathology. He is a graduate of Howard University, Washington DC, and UMDNJ-New Jersey Medical School, Newark, NJ. Dr. Mitchell is licensed to practice medicine in Washington DC and New Jersey. He has performed over 1300 autopsy examinations in his career and has testified as an expert on numerous cases. He began the study of forensic science and violence prevention as a Forensic Biologist for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) - DNA Unit in January 1997. For the last 2-1/2 years Dr. Mitchell has worked as the Regional Medical Examiner in Newark, NJ serving large cities such as Patterson, Jersey City, Irvington and Newark. Prior to his tenure in the NJ Northern Regional and NJ State Offices, Dr. Mitchell served 4 years as the Assistant Deputy Chief Medical Examiner, in charge of Medicolegal Death Investigations, at the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences. Harris County is the third largest county in the nation.
Autopsy After Embalming Not unusual
Autopsies after embalming is not unusual, according to the American Forensics: "If necessary, one can perform an autopsy many days after death. Even after the patient has been embalmed by the funeral home, a valid autopsy can still be performed. But it is suggested that for the best outcome, an autopsy should be performed on an unembalmed body after proper refrigeration. If there is a long delay (beyond one week) between the time of death and the autopsy, embalming is recommended to preserve the body tissues. Embalming interferes with most of the toxicology studies.
The issue of embalmment is likely to be subject of debate in the coming days and resurrects the recent exhuming of the body of Angel Togba who was found dead in November 2007 but exhumed in 2008. Ironically, that autopsy was conducted by Dr. Bennett and Dr. Okoye. Dr. Bennett concluded after autopsy that for strangulation to be determined, there should be a breakage in the hyoid bone which is located in the neck of every human being. He further stated that the hyoid bone does not break in the case of suicide. Bennett's findings was crucial in turning the case around and won victory in the high court for Hans Williams and Mardea Paykue, who were accused of killing Angel.
More recently, in Burkina Faso, an autopsy showed the remains of Burkina Faso's ex-president Thomas Sankara, were riddled with bullets, strengthening assertions he was executed in a 1987 coup, a lawyer said on Tuesday. Sankara's death had clouded Burkina Faso's politics since his former friend Blaise Compaore toppled Sankara's government 28 years ago.
Meanwhile FrontPageAfrica has learned that the family has decided to go on with the funeral of Mr. Greaves which has been set for Friday and Saturday, March 11th and 12th respectively. Mr. Rogers, the pathologist brought in by the family reportedly left for the U.S. on Sunday.