Toddler could've suffered brain injury before fall in the bathtub, pathologist testifies

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Two-year-old Kennedy Corrigan suffered a massive brain injury on April 2, 2004, and died a week later at the IWK Hospital in Halifax. (Court exhibit - image credit)
Two-year-old Kennedy Corrigan suffered a massive brain injury on April 2, 2004, and died a week later at the IWK Hospital in Halifax. (Court exhibit - image credit)

A forensic pathologist says it's possible two-year-old Kennedy Corrigan suffered swelling to the brain before her alleged fall 17 years in the bathtub ago, and this could have affected her response to the fall.

"Pre-existing brain swelling could have lowered this," Crown witness Marnie Wood said Monday during cross-examination at the manslaughter trial of James Turpin in Fredericton.

Turpin, now 41, has always maintained that Kennedy fell and hit her head in the bathtub at her home in Central Blissville, south of Fredericton, on April 2, 2004.

This was Wood's second day under cross-examination by defence lawyer Nathan Gorham, who reiterated that Kennedy had fallen and had been vomiting days before the incident that sent her to hospital in Fredericton.

Gorham asked Wood if vomiting could exacerbate brain swelling.

"Potentially, yes," she testified from Nova Scotia by video call.

Other factors possible, doctor says

Gorham then asked if there were factors that could have made the toddler more vulnerable to a fall.

"When we talk about the things that may have rendered Kennedy Corrigan in a state of increased vulnerability or having a lower injury threshold," Gorham said, "it could've been swelling of her brain, it could've been vomiting repeatedly or it could have been dehydration, or it could have been all three of them working together?"

Wood said this was also possible.

Last week, Wood said bleeding inside Kennedy's brain was caused by some form of trauma, and the injury prevented oxygen and blood flow. This forced the toddler to lose consciousness.

On Monday, the defence asked whether Wood thought it was possible Kennedy died from the fall in the bathtub.

"Would you agree it's within the realm of possibilities, even if you yourself aren't convinced it's a reasonable possibility?" Gorham said.

Wood said it was possible.

"There may have been other factors to lower her threshold or response to that fall that were present," she said.

Kennedy fell earlier

Throughout cross-examination, Gorham referred to medical literature, including work on biomechanics, that suggested falls from standing height may be forceful enough to cause fatal injuries and sudden infant death syndrome.

"There are limits to medical knowledge and [sudden infant death syndrome] represents one of their dramatic limits, where many medical doctors accept … something is going on that causes the child's death."

Wood agreed.

She was contacted by RCMP in January 2014 to review Kennedy's case. She was also asked to write a 10-page report that provided an opinion on the cause of death.

In her report, Wood ruled out shaken baby syndrome and any kind of infection or genetic or metabolic disorders or diseases inside the child's brain.

Turpin, who has already been found guilty once for Kennedy's death, was looking after the child when she suffered the fatal injury. After being taken to Chalmers hospital in Fredericton, Kennedy was flown to the IWK Health Centre in Halifax, where she died a week later.

Trial moves into 4th week

Turpin wasn't charged in Kennedy's death until 2015, when he was living in Charlo in northern New Brunswick. The next year, he was found guilty of second-degree murder, but three years later he successfully appealed his conviction.

The Court of Appeal found there wasn't enough evidence of murder but ordered a new trial on the lesser charge of manslaughter.

The Crown has now wrapped up its case in the trial, which is being heard without a jury by Justice Terrence Morrison.

Court will resume Thursday morning.