“In the absence of any skull fractures, haemorrhages or injuries, I’m of the opinion that no fatal head injury occurred,” Dr Celeste de Vaal said.
She was testifying in the trial of 48-year-old Johannes Christiaan de Jager, who has pleaded not guilty to murdering 16-year-old Mare in January this year.
He previously explained that he dismembered Mare’s corpse in a state of panic after an accidental fatal fall. He said he grabbed Mare’s arm, she slipped on a bath mat or lost her balance, and fell against the rim of the bath.
She apparently lost consciousness and he could not find a pulse on her neck. He could not remember whether her head or another part of her body made contact with the bath.
The teen’s torso was found burned in a field in Kraaifontein. Her lower legs and arms were found in separate locations and were in a state of decomposition but not burnt.
De Vaal conducted an autopsy on Mare’s torso on January 15 and on the dismembered limbs two days later.
Romay van Rooyen, for the State, asked her whether there were injuries to suggest Mare had knocked her head.
De Vaal testified that there were no skull fractures but it was impossible to make a finding regarding the soft tissue of the head.
“In blunt injury, you usually see an amount of deep scalp bruising. Unfortunately, in this case, you cannot exclude there might have been an injury because it was charred.”
She could not exclude the possibility of a minor injury which might have caused Mare to lose consciousness. However, it was her experience that the more severe the injury to the skull, the quicker the death.
Mare’s neck showed no fractures and the left thyrohyoid muscle was darker in colour.
Van Rooyen asked if this could have been as a result of a hand pressing the neck.
“It cannot be excluded. It is a possibility,” she replied.
There were no signs of internal pathology or disease and De Vaal concluded that death was due to an unknown unnatural cause.
She said Mare was not alive when her body was burned because there was no soot or injuries in her airways and the carbon monoxide levels in her blood were the same as an urban dweller.