WARNING: This story contains disturbing content
The death of a seven-year-old Langley girl was a “tragic incident,” but her mother couldn’t be found guilty of murder, a B.C. Supreme Court judge ruled in 2021 at the conclusion of a trial that had dragged on for more than a year.
The first-degree murder trial of KerryAnn Lewis began in October of 2020, and suffered multiple delays through the fall and into early 2021 as COVID exposures of witnesses and the defendant’s own health issues sometimes brought proceedings to a halt several times.
At one point, Lewis fainted in the courtroom, toppling to the floor with an audible thud.
The trial was about the July 22, 2018 death of Aaliyah Rosa, Lewis’s daughter.
The Crown had tried to build a case that Lewis, distraught by a custody agreement that gave her limited access to Aaliyah, a recent breakup with her boyfriend, and financial difficulties, killed Aaliyah in her Willoughby slope apartment.
The court heard from the ex-cop who discovered Aaliyah’s body on the apartment’s bathroom floor, from paramedics and police and investigators who examined the scene, and from Aaliyah’s father, Stephen Rosa.
But some of the most contested issues at trial were medical.
Duelling experts were called by the defense and Crown lawyers in the last phase of the trial to talk about highly technical details concerning exactly what killed Aaliyah.
Neuropathologists – doctors who study the brain after death – gave conflicting testimony. An expert for the defense, Dr. Christopher Dunham of BC Children’s Hospital, argued that Aaliyah suffered from an undiagnosed case of hydrocephalus, which means a brain that is swollen or prone to swelling.
He suggested that the condition likely played a role in her death. A blow to the head that would be non-lethal for anyone else could set off a dangerous swelling in the brain of someone with hydrocephalus, Dunham suggested.
For the Crown, Dr. Marc Del Bigio of the University of Manitoba, agreed that it appeared Aaliyah suffered from hydrocephalus, but testified that his examination of the evidence showed less evidence that head trauma was involved, and said there was a real chance that Aaliyah was drowned, as the Crown contended.
After hearing all the evidence, Justice Martha Devlin ruled that Lewis was not guilty.
“Only Ms. Lewis knows what happened to Aaliyah on the day in question,” Devlin said
After the hearing concluded, someone in the courtroom yelled angrily that the verdict was “bulls**t.”
Devlin’s ruling found that Lewis had given Aaliyah a mixture of over the counter and prescription medications that was later found in her system, but she did not find that Lewis had forcibly submerged Aaliyah in the apartment’s bathtub.
The judge said it was plausible that a combination of the drugs and a head injury could have caused the child to fall into a tub drawn for a bath, resulting in the signs of possible drowning seen in the autopsy.
The Crown declined to attempt to appeal the judge’s verdict.
There are two possible reasons for an appeal, including whether the verdict raises a question of the law itself, and whether the judge made a legal error that would have altered the verdict. According to the B.C. Prosecution Service, neither applied to this case.
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