Seven-year-old Aaliyah Rosa was found dead in an apartment in Langley in July. (Special to the Langley Advance Times)

Seven-year-old Aaliyah Rosa was found dead in an apartment in Langley in July. (Special to the Langley Advance Times)

Defence argues over cause of death in Langley child murder trial

A pathologist testified on the cause of death

WARNING: This story may contain disturbing content

Seven-year-old Aaliyah Rosa’s death was caused by a combination of factors, including drowning, drugs, possible strangulation, and blunt trauma to her head, pathologist Dr. Lisa Steele testified Monday in a New Westminster courtroom.

Steele was resuming her testimony in the trial of Langley’s KerryAnn Lewis, Aaliyah’s mother, who has pleaded not guilty to a charge of first-degree murder in the July 22, 2018 death.

“This case is incredibly difficult and there are a lot of findings that aren’t a slam dunk, for lack of a better word,” Steele noted at one point during her testimony.

Steele testified that there were multiple signs indicating that Aaliyah had suffered lack of oxygen to her brain, and that she had likely breathed in water before her death. Water was found in her lungs and stomach, as well as in a sinus cavity connected to her nose.

A toxicology report prepared by the RCMP also showed the presence of both lorazepam, commonly sold as Ativan, and diphenhydramine, better known as the over-the-counter allergy medication Benadryl, in Aaliyah’s stomach.

The girl had a fairly high concentration of Benadryl in her system, according to the toxicology report, Steele said.

Crown prosecutor Christopher McPherson also asked Steele about other injuries to Aaliyah, including one to the muscles in her neck, and a couple of blows the girl appeared to have taken to the back of the head.

Steele said it was possible that the drugs alone could have caused Aaliyah’s death, and the other injuries could have contributed as well.

“There’s no way to really tease out one and only one thing that’s responsible for Aaliyah’s death,” Steele said.

Either the drugs or the drowning, alone, could have caused death, she said.

A significant amount of the cross-examination of Steele focused on injuries or damage to Aaliyah’s brain.

Defense lawyer Marilyn Sandford tried to suggest that Aaliyah did not drown at all.

Steele had testified that Aaliyah had swelling in her brain, which could have been caused by drowning, other forms of asphyxiation, or a blow to the head.

Sandford asked if the brain swelling, could have been a pre-existing condition for Aaliyah.

“I highly disagree with that,” said Steele.

The pathologist then went through a litany of technical factors suggesting why it was unlikely that the brain swelling took place before the injuries leading to Aaliyah’s death.

She also said it was very likely that a child of seven with hydrocephalus – often known as water on the brain – would have symptoms that would have been apparent to others.

Sandford also asked about how difficult it was to prove 100 per cent that drowning was a cause of death.

READ MORE: Accused wanted to die to be together with her daughter, witness testifies at Langley murder trial

READ MORE: Langley child murder trial will conclude in 2021

READ MORE: Father recounts overdoses of ex-wife accused of killing their daughter

Steele agreed that it was very difficult to show drowning as a definitive cause. Water was found inside one of Aaliyah’s sinuses, which is an indicator that she tried to take a breath while under water, but it’s not the only possible reason, Steele agreed.

Sandford zeroed in on Steele’s testimony that there were “red neurons” in Aaliyah’s brain. These are neurons that are damaged and changed in colour due to a lack of oxygen.

But Sandford said that such damage takes time, and is associated with a lack of oxygen and then resuscitation and survival for at least four to six hours after that, not a rapid death.

Steele disagreed.

“It depends on how quickly you drown,” Steele said.

She agreed that four to six hours is a rule of thumb, but there has been no research on children.

Finally, Sandford suggested that Aaliyah had actually died of a blow to the head, combined with a pre-existing issue of brain swelling.

Steele did not believe that had happened.

“The blunt force head trauma that she sustained was in my opinion not severe, and in and of itself may have been survivable,” Steele said.

The drugs in her system would have meant she could have been submerged in water and died from that, Steele said.

“I do think that she drowned.”

McPherson followed up and asked whether it was possible for someone to be immersed in water, suffer lack of oxygen, survive for a time afterwards, but still die, thus creating the “red neurons.”

“That doesn’t necessarily mean the person will survive the original deprivation, is that right?” McPherson asked.

“Correct,” said Steele.

“They could still die?”

“They could still die, yes,” she said.

The court has already heard from witnesses who found Aaliyah’s body, as well as multiple police investigators and emergency responders.

Steele is the last witness scheduled to testify in the trial, which began in October and has been plagued by delays linked to the health of witnesses – several of whom have either contracted COVID-19 or been exposed to it and forced to isolate – and of the accused.

Lewis collapsed in the courtroom in early December on one occasion.

Following Steele’s testimony, the Crown and defence lawyers are expected to make their final arguments before Justice Martha Devlin renders her verdict.

CourtIHITLangleymurder

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

An Abbotsford man was killed in a motor vehicle accident on Highway 3 on Monday, Jan. 18. (Black Press file photo)
Abbotsford man killed in Highway 3 crash near Hedley

Fatality was discovered by passing tow truck driver

Mackenzie Ashley-Lynn Gilfillan was last seen Jan. 10 in the 45000-block of Menholm Road. (RCMP photo)
RCMP asking for help to find missing Chilliwack woman

Mackenzie Ashley-Lynn Gilfillan was last seen Jan. 10 in the 45000-block of Menholm Road

Abbotsford Recreation Centre is among the local arenas that are part of an in-depth review and analysis by the city. (File photo)
City of Abbotsford conducts survey on six local arenas

Input is part of in-depth analysis of current and future needs

A warrant was issued for Darwyn Sellars, 31, on Nov. 4, 2019, according to Black Press. (CrimeStoppers)
B.C. man’s rack of charges include Abbotsford and Williams Lake offences

Sentencing delayed against Darwyn Sellars, who pleaded guilty to lengthy list of charges

Singletree Winery in Abbotsford has opened two domes where customers can enjoy wine tastings and local goodies. (Photo by Megan Ashley Creative)
Abbotsford winery first in Fraser Valley to open wine-tasting domes

Singletree Winery offers two themed transparent enclosures

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry prepares a daily update on the coronavirus pandemic, April 21, 2020. (B.C. Government)
B.C. adjusts COVID-19 vaccine rollout for delivery slowdown

Daily cases decline over weekend, 31 more deaths

A female prisoner sent Langford police officers a thank-you card after she spent days in their custody. (Twitter/West Shore RCMP)
Woman gives Victoria-area jail 4.5-star review in handwritten card to police after arrest

‘We don’t often get thank you cards from people who stay with us, but this was sure nice to see’: RCMP

An elk got his antlers caught up in a zip line in Youbou over the weekend. (Conservation Officer Service Photo)
Elk rescued from zip line in Youbou on Vancouver Island

Officials urge people to manage items on their property that can hurt animals

A Trail man has a lucky tin for a keepsake after it saved him from a stabbing last week. File photo
Small tin in Kootenay man’s jacket pocket saved him from stabbing: RCMP

The man was uninjured thanks to a tin in his jacket

Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation Chantel Moore, 26, was fatally shot by a police officer during a wellness check in the early morning of June 4, 2020, in Edmundston, N.B. (Facebook)
Frustrated family denied access to B.C. Indigenous woman’s police shooting report

Independent investigation into B.C. woman’s fatal shooting in New Brunswick filed to Crown

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Delta Police Constable Jason Martens and Dezi, a nine-year-old German Shepherd that recently retired after 10 years with Delta Police. (Photo submitted)
Dezi, a Delta police dog, retires on a high note after decade of service

Nine-year-old German Shepherd now fights over toys instead of chasing down bad guys

Nurses collect samples from a patient in a COVID suspect room in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at St. Paul’s hospital in downtown Vancouver, Tuesday, April 21, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)
5 British Columbians under 20 years old battled COVID-19 in ICU in recent weeks

Overall hospitalizations have fallen but young people battling the virus in hospital has increased

Most Read