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Autopsy indicated man was strangled, court told

Dec 03 2011

Paul Rouxel's death was consistent with manual strangulation, a forensic pathologist testified Friday in B.C. Supreme Court.

Dr. Danny Straathof was testifying at the trial of Wyatt Prince, who is charged with second-degree murder and robbing Rouxel in his View Towers apartment on April 9, 2009.

The jury has been told it must decide how Rouxel died that night. Crown prosecutor Leslie Baskerville has told members the issue is complicated and they must come to some conclusions about the cause of death.

Straathof testified that, before the autopsy, he received information from the coroner and investigators that disturbing sounds were coming from Rouxel's apartment that night, indicating a struggle. The building manager went to check, found the door ajar and saw Rouxel on the floor, midway into the closet.

Rouxel's T-shirt was pulled up under his arms and his long johns were pulled down around the ankles. The closet was also knocked off its tracks, testified Straathof.

The pathologist also learned Rouxel was a cocaine addict.

During the autopsy, Straathof documented abrasions and bruises on Rouxel's face, body, arms and legs. He noted a small number of petechial hemorrhages - a frequent finding in cases of strangulation - on Rouxel's right, lower eyelid and upper chest.

Straathof testified he found significant injuries to Rouxel's neck, including bruising, a fracture of the thyroid cartilage and bleeding near the Adam's apple and voicebox and on the right side of the hyoid bone.

The injuries themselves are not life threatening, said Straathof. A person can survive with bruised muscles in the neck, but they indicate a compression of force applied to the neck that resulted in strangulation, he said. Strangulation cuts the flow of blood to the brain. If prolonged, it causes irreversible brain damage and death, Straathof said.

During the autopsy, Straathof found Rouxel had a narrowing of two major blood vessels to the heart. The natural disease process, called atherosclerosis, is a potentially life-threatening condition that can result in heart attack or sudden death.

Toxicology found that the cocaine in Rouxel's body was at a level at which a person can die from an overdose, Straathof testified. "But it's also seen in cocaine users who live," he added.

During cross-examination, Straathof agreed with defence lawyer Mike Munro that the neck injuries are not compatible with death. He also agreed that atherosclerosis can cause sudden death and that Rouxel's cocaine level could also cause sudden death.

The three major findings may have acted in concert or on an individual level to cause death, testified Straathof. He was unable to say how much each contributed.

Straathof concluded that the information he received about the scene and the circumstances of the death, and the finding at autopsy including the neck injuries and the presence of petechial hemorrhage indicate Rouxel's cause of death was from manual strangulation.

ldickson@timescolonist.com

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