Toddler's injuries not consistent with minor fall, 2 experts testify at James Turpin trial

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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)

Two medical experts working at the IWK hospital 17 years ago, both concluded that two-year-old Kennedy Corrigan's brain injuries did not correspond with a minor fall.

Dr. Kathryn Morrison and Dr. Robert Macaulay testified by video call Wednesday at James Turpin's manslaughter trial, who is accused of the child's death in April 2004.

Turpin, who has already been found guilty once for Kennedy's death and successfully appealed the verdict, has claimed since 2004 the toddler died after falling and hitting her head in the bathtub.

"The injuries were out of keeping with a minor fall," said Morrison, who's also a child protection pediatrician, who took special training in Toronto in detecting abuse and neglect in children.

Macaulay, a neuropathologist who performed a brain autopsy on the toddler after she died, believes she suffered some kind of trauma to the head.

Kennedy's mom and James said she was herself right before the fall. - Dr. Kathryn Morrison, pediatrician

"The trauma that we usually talk about, has to be severe enough the injury travels through the skull and to the brain and brain stem," Macaulay said from Florida.

"It has to be significant."

He noticed there was significant swelling to the left side of the child's brain.

He also observed dead brain tissue, causing a deprivation in blood flow and oxygen. He said that can sometimes be caused by a stroke.

Macaulay said it's possible Kennedy had a vascular disease that caused problems in the brain, "but those are unreasonable in the circumstances."

There was also damage to the axons inside the brain, which convey information from the brain throughout the nervous system.

The damaged axons were in close proximity to the dead brain tissue and in other parts of the brain.

He compared these injuries to violent shaking, a motor-vehicle accident or being struck with considerable force.

"It would be explained by a more severe acceleration impact," he said. " … a fall from ceiling height or greater."

Medical history 'fairly unremarkable'

Morrison, who testified from Prince Edward Island, examined Kennedy the day after she arrived at the Halifax hospital on April 2.

She said there weren't any significant findings, such as rashes, bruising or changes in skin colour. She did notice the child's pupil's were dilated and noticed retinal bleeding. Kennedy was non-responsive.

She also interviewed Kennedy's mom, Connie Corrigan and Turpin, who was her boyfriend at the time. Morrison said she wanted to understand the events that led up to the toddler's "profound brain injury."

Morrison said she also would've explained her role as child protection pediatrician, how Kennedy's injury "is out of proportion to the attributed cause" and that police and social services were likely to get involved.

Dr. Kathryn Morrison took special training in Toronto in detecting abuse and neglect in children. She testified by video in James Turpin's manslaughter trial on Wednesday.
Dr. Kathryn Morrison took special training in Toronto in detecting abuse and neglect in children. She testified by video in James Turpin's manslaughter trial on Wednesday. (Catherine Harrop/CBC)

Morrison said Kennedy's medical history was "fairly unremarkable" before the toddler suffered a fatal brain injury, according to one of the pediatricians who examined the toddler at the IWK hospital 17 years ago.

Morrison said the toddler was developing normally for her age. She only had one admission to hospital for dehydration and had never had any kind of surgery. She could walk, string words together and was in the process of learning to potty-train.

"There was nothing to speak of," said Morrison.

Turpin too upset to speak

Although they were cooperative, she noted Turpin was upset, tearful and had a hard time taking part in the interview.

Morrison reviewed what happened the night before and the morning of the incident. The majority of the information was provided by Corrigan because Turpin was too upset to speak.

The night before the incident, Kennedy had thrown up two times. And by morning, she was playing with Turpin's own three-year-old daughter, who was staying with them at the time.

The couple did note Kennedy had taken a fall earlier that week. The back of her head was sensitive but Corrigan said Kennedy didn't cry and bounced back to her normal self right away.

A jury found James Turpin guilty of second-degree murder following a three-week trial in 2016. After an appeal in 2019, a new trial was ordered. This time he's on trial for manslaughter.
A jury found James Turpin guilty of second-degree murder following a three-week trial in 2016. After an appeal in 2019, a new trial was ordered. This time he's on trial for manslaughter.(CBC News)

Morrison said she was told that Kennedy had fallen and hit her head at the bottom of the bathtub. Turpin was in the process of drawing a bath for Kennedy because "she smelled pukey."

After the incident, the toddler had a hard time breathing.

"Kennedy's mom and James said she was herself right before the fall," Morrison said.

Charged in 2015

Turpin wasn't charged in Kennedy's death until 2015, when he was living in Charlo. In 2016, Turpin 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.

This marks the third week of Turpin's four-week manslaughter trial, which is being heard by judge alone.