WARNING: This story contains graphic content and may affect those who have experienced sexual violence or know someone affected by it.
A doctor who studied the body of a murdered B.C. teen denied questions from defence lawyers suggesting he wasn't "independent" because of his financial relationship with prosecutors.
Dr. Jason Morin, a forensic pathologist, was retained by Crown prosecutors as an expert witness in the trial of Ibrahim Ali. Morin performed the autopsy on the 13-year-old girl Ali is alleged to have murdered in 2017.
It is common practice for expert witnesses to be paid for their time contributing to a trial, including for hours spent preparing, time in court, and travel. Crown and defence can both call expert witnesses in trying to prove their case.
Dr. Morin was involved in the investigation a year before Ali's arrest and subsequent prosecution. He was qualified as an expert witness who could give opinion evidence on cause of death, dating of injuries and identifying bodily fluids.
During cross-examination, defence lawyer Ben Lynskey pressed him on his relationship with prosecutors.
"You are not an independent witness, are you, Dr. Morin? You're working for the Crown in the prosecution of this case, right?" Lynskey asked.
"No," Morin said.
"I've been asked by the Crown to come and give the evidence as pertains to the autopsy and what my opinions on that are."
Morin said he told Crown prosecutors he didn't have the expertise to comment on whether or not injuries he studied on the victim were caused by a sexual assault, and suggested they find another expert who could.
"Dr. Morin, you are not an independent witness. You're being directed by the Crown about what areas to give evidence on, in terms of the expert testimony, right?" Lynskey said.
"No I'm not. Crown asked me a question and I said in my expertise, I cannot answer that question," Morin replied.
"And you're making suggestions to them about how they can best prosecute the case, and get the best evidence for their case, right?" Lynskey pressed.
"No, I gave them a suggestion on who would be a better person to answer that question," said Morin.
"You would say getting paid by one side over the other is independent?" asked Lynskey.
"I would say that any expert witness that comes to testify in a trial is paid for their time, and that compensation is usually done by the side that calls the expert witness," said Morin.
Lynskey then pointed out that there are court-appointed witnesses. Morin acknowledged that was out of his area of expertise but stood by his claim that it's common for experts like him to be paid while remaining unbiased.
"It's not for my opinion, it's for my time," said Morin.
During his testimony, Morin concluded the 13-year-old girl was strangled to death, citing burst blood vessels on her chin and eyes, an injury commonly found in strangulation cases.
His conclusion incorporated findings from a neuropathologist who found fatal injuries caused by bloodflow and oxygen being cut off to the brain.
Morin also observed injuries to the victim's vagina and anus, but couldn't say definitively whether it was caused by a sexual assault. He recovered sperm from those areas.
The Crown contends the victim was passing through Burnaby Central Park on July 18, 2017, when she was attacked and dragged into the woods before she was sexually assaulted and strangled to death. Her name is protected by a publication ban.
The Crown says Ali's DNA was recovered from the crime scene. DNA witnesses are expected to testify in the coming weeks.
The trial is expected to run through the summer and into the fall.
Support is available for anyone who has been sexually assaulted. You can access crisis lines and local support services through this Government of Canada website or the Ending Violence Association of Canada database. If you're in immediate danger or fear for your safety or that of others around you, please call 911.