The Ministry of Information Cultural and Tourism (MICAT) has disputed claims made by the family of the late Princess Cooper that the government blocked the family’s authorized pathologist from entering the country to conduct an autopsy as agreed.
Refuting the family’s claims, Information Minister Ledgerhood Rennie noted that while it is true that the family nominated a pathologist from the Philippines last month, named Doctor Ritualo, the pathologist has failed to provide a copy of his license, as required by the Liberia Medical and Dental Association.
Rennie added that the Minister of Justice, Cllr. Frank Musah Dean's attempts to persuade Dr. Ritualo to comply with the association's request were fruitless.
“The Cooper family was duly informed of this lack of communication, through their representative Dr. Abel Momo, their lawyer, Cllr. Tiawan Gongloe and the President of the Liberia Council of Churches, Bishop Kortu Brown,” the minister said in a statement. “The government wants to make it categorically clear that it remains open to bringing in any other pathologist of the family's will,” he said.
The request for a second autopsy came after President George Weah on April 18, directed Cllr. Dean, to lend support to the bereaved family, in their quest to bring closure to the circumstances surrounding the death of their loved one along with concerns raised by some citizens with the initial autopsy.
The government’s response comes after the family of Princess Cooper, the 25-year-old lady whose lifeless body was found face-down in a pool of blood around the Fawaz building material store building at the ELWA junction, blamed the government for not allowing their approved pathologists into the country to conduct the second autopsy.
The family, through its spokesperson, Dr. Abel Momo, accused the government of preventing a total of five forensic pathologists for three weeks into the country without any reason. All of them, according to the family, cited insecurities and resistance issues before declining the process, leaving the family with no choice but to demand the body for a befitting burial.
“With that, we’ve realized that indeed there are difficulties, constraints, and unfairness in treading the path to justice within our nation, whereas we can now confirm this road to obtaining justice will be a rocky path,” he said.
“Therefore the family has seen this as a fruitless journey. In view of the few listed above, amongst several others, and in an effort of bringing to closure our grief, and bereavement and to foster peace of mind, we have therefore requested a formal communication written to the Government of Liberia, through the Justice Ministry, to take delivery of the body of our beloved Princess for the purpose of giving her a befitting burial,” Dr. Momo added.
However, the minister of information noted that the statement by the family of the deceased runs contrary to an initial agreement involving the family, their lawyer, and some civil society organizations, for a second autopsy to be conducted by a pathologist the family would select.
He added that regardless of the many overtures made by the government to lend support to the bereaved family in their quest to bring closure to the circumstances surrounding the death of Ms. Cooper, some have opted to politicize the matter.
“Nonetheless, the Minister of Justice, Cllr. Dean, as a further demonstration of goodwill, will convene a discussion with the family, their lawyer, the inter-religious Council, and any other civil society organizations interested in providing assistance in this matter, to find an amicable solution to the impasse," the Information Minister added.
Minister Rennie noted that the government affirms that it remains very committed to conducting the autopsy that was requested by the “family to allay all the allegations and claims regarding the cause of her death, in order to bring proper closure to this matter.”
The late Princess’ body was found in a fence behind the Store, according to the Liberia National Police. She lived in the Tweh Farm community, Bushrod Island.
On April 18, Drs. Benedict Kolee and his colleague, Zoebon B. Kpadeh, after conducting the government-approved autopsy, said that Ms. Cooper died mainly of progressive secondary pulmonary tuberculosis, which the family vehemently denied, prompting their demand for a second examination.
Earlier, Dr. Momo claimed that the police failed to bring all of the residents of the FAWAZ compound, as well as some nearby community-dwellers of the crime scene who, he believed, could have been strategically questioned and the information gathered compared to the confirmed visible assessments gathered from the crime scene.
“That the first abrupt preliminary report published by the police, which then confirmed that there was no foul play, but without any medical examination, undermined the entire investigation process. And the family formally complained directly to the Ministry of Justice but the complaint fell on deaf ears.
“We also confirmed our disapproval for an autopsy to have been conducted by Dr. Kolee and his team due to qualification concerns. The police has failed to provide a full-scale or comprehensive report from what was gathered from their executed investigation so that one would see if it has any form of collaboration with the agreed government autopsy report,” said Dr. Momo.