Trial for a 47-year-old Waimea woman charged with the 2017 murder of a Waimea toddler continued Tuesday with testimony from two forensic pathologists.
Chasity Alcosiba-McKenzie was indicted by a Kona grand jury in October 2019 in connection with the death of 3-year-old Fabian Garett-Garcia. She has pleaded not guilty to the single charge of second-degree murder, which is punishable by life in prison with the possibility of parole.
Alcosiba-McKenzie opted for a bench trial, which means there is no jury, and Circuit Court Judge Wendy DeWeese will decide her fate.
On Tuesday, the former chief medical examiner for Honolulu, Christopher Happy took the stand as a state witness to produce evidence that lead him to rule Garett-Garcia’s death a homicide after a procedural ruling in August delayed the trial for three weeks.
Under objection of Deputy Public Defender James Greenberg, Happy testified the Hawaii County forensic pathologist sent him a consult request to examine specimens from Garett-Garcia’s brain, spinal cord and eyes. Happy said the specimens showed hemorrhaging close to the brain and optic nerve, which could be explained by a number of reasons, the highest being trauma.
First Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Stephen Frye questioned Happy on Tuesday about the process he used to make his conclusions. Happy explained the procedure for preparing microscopic slides, including the staining of the samples to interpret them. He then stated one of the samples was sent to a lab in St. Louis, Missouri, for staining for amyloid precursor protein, which he used to determine manner of death.
He stated that although he could not declare the manner of death as homicide because he was not the medical examiner in charge of the case, he could render his opinion to Dr. Lindsey Harle, forensic pathologist who prepared the original autopsy for Hawaii County. Based on Happy’s review of the specimens, original autopsy report, photos and police reports, he concluded the cause of death to be blunt force trauma to the brain, the same conclusion Harle reported in her original autopsy report. Happy stated that that type of injury could only be caused by a motor vehicle accident or a fall from three stories or higher and could not have resulted from a short fall injury.
“The only thing left is inflicted injury,” said Happy.
Greenberg, in cross examination, produced studies that indicated although rare, injuries consistent with Garett-Garcia’s could be caused by short falls. He also noted that the Honolulu Medical Examiner’s Office was not accredited by the National Association of Medical Examiners at the time, and Happy resigned his position just days after submitting the report.
Greenberg also questioned Happy about the backlog of cases in that office and his being threatened with termination if backlog was not resolved. Happy replied that his office was understaffed, but that had no bearing on the outcome of his report and that he stands by his consultation.
“You don’t know what happened, but you are calling this a homicide,” concluded Greenberg.
Greenberg sought to have all of Happy’s testimony stricken from the record. DeWeese allowed the majority of his testimony to stand with the exception of his statements concluding homicide or beating.
Harle took the stand next and testified she originally declared the manner of death as inconclusive, but suspected homicide. She consulted with Happy to confirm her suspicion.
After reviewing Happy’s opinion, Harle testified she amended the autopsy to declare the manner of death as homicide.
“It was not consistent with an accidental short fall,” she concluded.
Under cross examination, Harle conceded although exceedingly rare, the injuries could have been caused by a short fall and bruises on Garett-Garcia’s chest could have been the result of CPR.
The state contends Garett-Garcia died at the hands of Alcosiba-McKenzie.
Alcosiba-McKenzie had reported the toddler fell from an 18-inch bench while wearing virtual reality glasses and did not exhibit symptoms until she found him unresponsive hours later.
Clifton McKenzie, the defendant’s ex-husband, who was not present at the time of the alleged fall, collaborated Alcosiba-McKenzie’s version of events when he took the stand Tuesday.
Police arrested in August 2018 Alcosiba-McKenzie, who was the boy’s caregiver, on suspicion of attempted second-degree murder and later released her. Charges were not formally filed until an October 2019 indictment, which stated Alcosiba-McKenzie intentionally or knowingly caused the death of Garett-Garcia including voluntarily omitting to obtain reasonable necessary and available medical service.
Alcosiba-McKenzie has been free on supervised release since her arrest following the indictment.
Meanwhile, a wrongful death lawsuit filed in April 2019 by Garett-Garcia’s parents Sherri-Ann Garett and Juben Garcia against the state Department of Human Services, Catholic Charities, state-licensed caregivers Chasity Alcosiba-McKenzie and Clifton McKenzie and others, continues. A motion providing additional time for the plaintiffs to submit a pretrial statement was extended in March.
No trial date has been set for the civil litigation.
The civil suit is seeking unspecified monetary damages, which Attorney Jeffrey Foster, counsel for Garett-Garcia’s parents Sherri-Ann Garett and Juben Garcia, previously said would be determined by a jury.
Clifton McKenzie has not been arrested or charged with a crime in connection with the incident, and is only a defendant in the civil litigation.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald