Troubled by Sean Luke autopsy

Sean Luke, 6, was murdered in 2006.
Sean Luke, 6, was murdered in 2006.

Forensic pathologist Dr Eslyn McDonald-Burris, who is nearing retirement, has described the autopsy 13 years ago on six-year-old Sean Luke as the most unforgettable of the 5,000 she has done in her 18-year career.

Luke was found murdered in a cane field near his Henry Street, Orange Valley Road, Couva home on March 28, 2006.

McDonald-Burris, who did the autopsy days after the boy's gruesome death, remembered Luke was sodomised with a sugarcane stalk that ruptured his intestines and caused severe damage to his internal organs. He died from internal bleeding.

McDonald-Burris, who grew up in Charlotteville, spoke in a wide-ranging interview on Monday at Newsday's Tobago office.

As a UWI student she graduated with a bachelor's degree in medicine and surgery at the Mona campus, Jamaica.

She returned to Trinidad as a medical intern for one year and was a house officer for another year at Port of Spain General Hospital.

In 1985, she returned to Tobago and worked at Scarborough General Hospital and was assigned as a district medical officer.

In 1990, she went to St Lewis University in the US to pursue her master's in public health. She returned to Tobago and was promoted to county medical officer.

After receiving a government scholarship in 1994 to the University of Scotland to study forensic pathology, she returned in 1998 and began working at the Forensic Science Centre in Port of Spain, in 2001, as a forensic pathologist.

Discussing her career, McDonald-Burris said despite conducting autopsies after murders, she still tries to keep faith in humanity.

“I always remember that (Sean Luke) case well, for different reasons. I prefer not to have any children to deal with. I prefer to do an autopsy on an adult. When children are involved, I’m always in a different mode.

“I still believe in the goodness of human beings, despite my job. I always expect good, not bad, but when I see really bad, it just tends to jerk me a little more in the sense where I say, ‘I think this could have been bad, but it was really bad.'"

Thirteen years after Luke's death, the preliminary inquiry into his killing has been completed and the case is pending trial before the San Fernando High Court.

Media reports said the boy's mother, Pauline Lumfai, was asleep when Luke left the house to go outside to play, as he would normally do. He was later found dead some 300 feet away from his home.

Akeel Mitchell, then 15, and Richard Chaitoo, 12, were arrested and charged with the murder. They were remanded to the YTC juvenile prison, Arouca. Today, as adults, they are at the Maximum Security Prison at Golden Grove.

Luke would have turned 19 this year.

McDonald-Burris preferred not to go into details but said the experience changed her perspective on life.

“It makes you treasure life more each day. It makes you appreciate people around you. It helps you not to argue because you never know. That is what it has done to me.”

She added: “Justice is the most important of all things, so I’m doing a job that justice revolves around, and you have to do your best because I want to get it right. Some things are by the way and some things are not. Some things may appear routine and some things aren’t. Every case is a whole responsibility.”

McDonald-Burris said most times it's hard to become emotional on the job because “half of the time you don’t have time for that, you have a job to do, you have a body to work on and your job is to find a cause of death.”

She went on to describe her position as “a job that is very tense; people don’t realise.” And for her, it is a serious task.

She is now in pre-retirement and told Newsday she feels she has served well and accomplished what she set out to achieve.

“I think I have worked hard and long and I’m thinking about retirement. It’s not that you don’t have the same passion but you’re thinking that you should move on since you have accomplished so much.”


"Troubled by Sean Luke autopsy"

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