MPD 'final' medico-legal report: Atio Castillo died of severe injuries

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The Manila Police District's final medico-legal report on law student Horacio "Atio" Castillo III shows that the 22-year-old died of severe blunt traumatic injuries.

The MPD attached Medico-Legal Report No. H17-042 in their consolidated reply-affidavit submitted to the Department of Justice (DOJ) on Thursday, November 9.

The final medico-legal report, dated October 3, was signed by Superintendent Joseph Palmero, the chief medico-legal of the Philippine National Police (PNP) Crime Laboratory. 

Earlier, John Paul Solano's lawyer, Paterno Esmaquel, told reporters that the MPD's reply still did not include the histopathological report, which they had been asking for.

MPD Homicide Division Chief Senior Inspector Rommel Anicete told Rappler after the hearing that the October 3 Medico-Legal report is the same as the histopathological report.

MPD releases "final" medico-legal report dated October 3 that says Atio Castillo's cause of death is severe blunt injuries @rapplerdotcom pic.twitter.com/ZjNYF3qmQq — Lian Buan (@lianbuan) November 9, 2017

The report said that what caused Castillo's immediate death were traumatic soft tissue injuries from swollen arms. Witness Mark Anthony Ventura said Castillo's arms were beaten until they looked like they were about to explode.

"The mechanism of death from traumatic soft tissue injuries will cause rhabdomyolysis (skeletal breakdown) resulting to electrolyte imbalance and acute kidney injury. Increased potassium in the blood and decreased calcium in the blood due to muscle trauma will cause immediate death from cardiac failure," the report said.

Solano's camp earlier released a medico-legal report dated September 20, which made a provisional anatomical diagnosis of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy or HCM, a pre-existing heart condition. That report and the death certificate are Solano's grounds for saying Castillo did not die of hazing, but of a heart condition.

The September 20 medico-legal report is shown below:

This is the copy of MPD's medico legal report as cited by the Solano camp. These are photocopied and typed out versions. @rapplerdotcom pic.twitter.com/SNXhFeSvdZ — Lian Buan (@lianbuan) October 24, 2017

'Clutching at straws'

"Respondents seem to have conveniently forgotten the other provisional anatomical diagnosis, namely: blunt traumatic injuries, right and left upper extremeties, and that the same was still pending histopathological examination," the MPD said.

Solano also released Castillo's death certificate signed September 18, or the day after he died. The death certificate said the provisional cause of death is HCM, but also pending a histopathological report.

The MPD said this was now the histopathological report, and that the respondents were "clutching at straws."

Anicete said that all preceding documents were just provisional.

Esmaquel had yet to respond to Rappler's request for comment as of writing. (READ: The different angles in Atio Castillo's hazing case)

Forensics

Correcting details in reports like these is not unusual, according to forensics expert Dr Raquel Fortun.

"At the time the death certificate is signed and released, not everything is known. Hence it is accomplished 'to the best of one's knowledge' and it's but an opinion," Fortun told Rappler.

Fortun said the clarification was made because of the turnover to a different doctor. The first medico-legal report was done by MPD's Mesalyn Milagros Probadora, who is not a pathologist. The 2nd and final report was done by PNP's Palmero, a pathologist. Palmero's report would then be deemed more detailed.

But Fortun admitted that it was odd to label the 2nd report as a medico-legal report if the MPD is claiming that it's also the histopathological report.

Fortun said she also has a lot of questions not just on the 2nd report, but on all the reports released thus far.

"They are not what a standard forensic autopsy report should be. The description of the heart for example raises such issues as. was it really that large weighing as much as 450 grams with the left ventricle as thick as 2.5 cm and yet the microscopic exam shows normal findings? The explanation as to how ‘traumatic soft tissue injuries’ led to death seems speculative. Was there really acute tubular necrosis of the kidneys?" Fortun said.

She added: "Though not exactly untrue it would have been more convincing if the autopsy carefully ruled out other possible causes of death. Ideally there should have been a toxicology screen also."

Fortun admitted however that hazing cases are not easy in terms of forensics.

Right to privacy of communication

The reply-affidavit was meant to address the counter-affidavits of the respondents from the Aegis Juris fraternity, including the claims of some that the Facebook messages are inadmissible evidence because they violate their rights to privacy of communication.

Castillo's parents, Horacio II and Carmina, as well as the MPD, said that the right to privacy of communication only applies as a protective measure against government surveillance.

The Castillos said that they were clear from the start that the messages were obtained through the Facebook page "Hustisya Para kay Horacio."

Just the same, MPD Director Chief Superintendent Joel Coronel told the Senate that Facebook has agreed to preserve the messages, and that they would be furnished with copies once a court issues an order.

Respondents were given until November 16 to submit their rejoinders, after which the DOJ panel would decide whether to hold a clarificatory meeting or to proceed to resolve the case. – Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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