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Questions raised over ‘suicide’ of American cameraman inside PH jail

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American cameraman and filmmaker Jesse Phinney died in December 2017 while in custody on the Philippine island of Cebu. Reuters

NEW YORK/MANILA (Reuters) – An American cameraman and filmmaker who died in December in a jail in the Philippines suffered blunt-force trauma, and his body had markings inconsistent with the official account by Philippine authorities that he hanged himself, a private US pathologist said.

The findings raised new questions about the death of Jesse Phinney on the Philippine island of Cebu. Law enforcement officials there said they found the 42-year-old Boston native hanging in the bathroom of a detention facility where he was being held on December 5, and declared it a suicide.

Mr Phinney’s family, suspecting foul play and believing he was incapable of the alleged crimes that prompted his arrest, hired a Providence, Rhode Island-based forensic pathologist and a private investigations company to look into his death.

Dr. Elizabeth Laposata, said that an autopsy she performed in the US found deep bruises on Mr Phinney’s body, caused within three or four hours of his death, and an unexplained mark on his neck. She said she believed the evidence indicated that Mr Phinney did not take his own life.

“No medical examiner would be comfortable saying this is a suicidal hanging because there are all these unexplained things,” said Ms Laposata, a former chief medical examiner for the state of Rhode Island who is now in private practice and regularly testifies at murder trials.

The day before he was found dead, Mr Phinney had been arrested on suspicion of human trafficking, according to a report by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) seen by Reuters. The NBI is the Philippine equivalent of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation.

According to the report, the NBI began tracking Mr Phinney after a December 2016 complaint by Cebu Vice Governor Agnes Magpale.

The report included affidavits from a mother and child who said Mr Phinney sometimes had minors sleep at his home, took pictures of them, and gave them gifts.

The NBI’s report said Mr Phinney was found hanging by a belt and that an autopsy commissioned by the NBI determined the cause of death was “asphyxia by hanging.”

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