Physical assault could be cause of death of Latvian tourist

Liga Skromane

Two days after the chemical examiner was declared hostile following his suggestion that the Latvian tourist Liga Skromane could also have drowned, the forensic expert who did the autopsy on Skromane's body told the Principal Sessions Court, Thiruvananthapuram, on Friday that there were telltale signs of potentially fatal physical assault on Liga's body. Nonetheless, both these experts could not confirm rape.

Dr Sasikala, who was also a former police surgeon, said the cracks on Liga's temporomandibular joint (which connects the lower jaw to the skull) and the occipital bone (which forms the back and base of the skull) suggested that she was violently hit on these parts. Dr Sasikala said that heavy force on these areas could lead to death. "Such injuries are not seen in cases of drowning or suicide," Dr Sasikala told the court.

Liga came to Kerala with her sister Ilze Skromane for a long-haul Ayurveda treatment on February 3, 2018. Liga went missing on March 14, more than a month after the treatment began. One and half months later, on May 18, her decomposed body was found inside an obscure mangrove forest at Thiruvallam, near Kovalam. It was in an advanced state of decay that the head was virtually severed from her body.

The prosecution case is that the accused - Udayan (27) and Umesh (31) - had lured Liga to the mangrove forest, drugged her and then sexually assaulted her.

Dr Sasikala had done the autopsy on the decomposed body. She said it was difficult to establish whether sexual assault had taken place or not. In response to the defence cross-examination, the forensic expert also said that the removal of clothes from a decomposed body would not cause any damage to the organs. Dr Sasikala said Liga's body was already in a mummified state when the police discovered it.

On June 22, P.G. Asok Kumar, who was then assistant chemical examiner at the Chemical Examiner’s Laboratory, Thiruvananthapuram, had testified before the court that drowning could also have been the cause of Liga's death, a possibility that flies against the prosecution's findings. He was declared hostile, the second prosecution witness to be declared so after a retail textile dealer at Beemapalli near Kovalam who had previously told the police that Liga's jacket was brought to his shop to be sold but had gone back on his statement during the ongoing trial.

Asok Kumar said that the diatoms (microalgae in water bodies) found in Liga's bone marrow matched with the microorganisms in the water samples collected from the area. The chemical examiner testified that diatoms were found in the bone marrow only if a person had drowned or was force-fed the water. The reason why he said drowning could not be ruled out.

He also said that the spermatozoa of the accused could not be found in Liga's body. He said the genetic material could be picked up from a dead body even a year after death. Dr Sasikala, too, had told the court on Friday that it was difficult to establish whether sexual assault had taken place or not.

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