PEI

Pathologist testifies at Patricia Hennessey, Nash Campbell inquest

The inquest into the deaths of Patricia Hennessey and her four-year-old son Nash Campbell, that began Monday in a Summerside courtroom, heard from the medical examiner who performed autopsies on their bodies.

WARNING: Contains graphic material that some readers may find disturbing

The deaths of Patricia Hennessey and Nash Campbell were ruled a murder-suicide. (Facebook)

The inquest into the deaths of Patricia Hennessey and her four-year-old son Nash Campbell, that began Monday in a Summerside courtroom, heard from the medical examiner who performed autopsies on their bodies.

The bodies of Hennessey and her son were found in a burned-out Jeep on June 21, 2013 in St. Felix, just outside Tignish, P.E.I.

After a police investigation the deaths were ruled a murder-suicide. That investigation showed that both had prescription drugs in their systems when they died of smoke inhalation.

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Dr. Matthew Bowes, chief medical examiner for Nova Scotia, said, during the inquest Monday, it is his conclusion that Hennessey started the fire and she committed suicide.

Both Campbell and Hennessey were sedated and both died of smoke inhalation, said Bowes.

Bowes said he believes it was a murder-suicide.

The bodies were badly burned, which made identification difficult, he said.

Hennessey's body was identified through dental records and a tattoo on her arm that read, "Nash," said Bowes. The boy was identified through a DNA match with his mother.

He told the inquest that soot in Hennessey's airways confirmed she was alive while the fire was going and also that she died from smoke inhalation.

Bowes said he believes the medications Campbell had in his system were given in "an attempt to sedate him."

Loud bangs

Earlier Monday, the inquest heard from several witnesses who saw the Jeep on fire.

A few people living close by came out of their houses around 1 a.m. to find out what was going on.

They heard loud bangs, which were later identified by other witnesses as the Jeep tires popping, and saw what they described as a big ball of fire.

At first, the individuals, the firefighters and police who were called in, thought it might be a bonfire connected to a High School graduation night.

One firefighter said it was a hard blaze to extinguish, with lots of hot spots. They had to call in extra firefighters.

After firefighters brought the fire under control, an RCMP officer told the inquest he looked inside the vehicle and couldn't believe what he was seeing.

At first he thought it was a teddy bear. But then he realized it was the body of a small child, with a body of an adult as well.

RCMP Cpl. Scott Stephenson, who supervised photographing and removal of the remains, said he believes the fire started at the front of the Jeep and worked its way back.

Stephenson also said the bodies of Campbell & Hennessey were found lying side by side in back of the vehicle.

RCMP officer Const. Thane MacEachern said police investigated the possibility of the 2012 Jeep Wrangler catching fire through spontaneous combustion, as Hennessey had put 24,000 kilometres on the vehicle in just three months. However, MacEachern found no history of spontaneous combustion in that type of vehicle.

No publication ban

On Monday morning, Prince County coroner Dr. Roy Montgomery, who is heading the inquest, ruled there would not be a publication ban at the inquest.

On hearing evidence at the inquest in Summerside, P.E.I., Montgomery said he was "not satisfied it would be appropriate to order a ban in this case."

Mary Lynn Kane, who represents several provincial government employees, and Jim Gormley, who represents Dr. Susan Stewart, a psychiatric witness, noted the Coroner's Act allows for a publication ban when a death is by suicide.

Both lawyers also argued some of the information witnesses are being asked to provide is protected under privacy legislation. They said a publication ban would not be forever, but would put a "freeze" on information that could be made public later.

Alan Parish, representing the CBC and the Charlottetown Guardian, countered that there is great public interest in this case.

"I think the public will be quite disappointed if you ban all publication," said Parish.

He said a publication ban is discretionary, not mandatory. He noted only one of the two deaths was suicide.

After recessing for half an hour to consider the arguments Montgomery ruled against granting the publication ban. He said courts are based on the open process, and he agreed that there is great public interest in the case.

Lost custody of son

Sources told CBC News that Hennessey had lost custody of her son the day before. She was supposed to turn over the boy to his father that morning.

The inquest is slated to last until Thursday, then adjourn until March 30 to hear from a witness who is unavailable this week.

A panel of six jurors will hear evidence from a number of witnesses.

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