By: Ador Vincent Mayol April 06,2018 - 10:35 PM

PHINNEY. Did he kill himself, or was he murdered? Two agencies are scrambling to uncover the truth.

  • US pathologist finds marks on American’s body that indicate foul play
  • NBI-7 maintains victim killed himself inside cell
  • CIDG, CHR conduct separate probes

Two government agencies are looking into the death of an American national amid suspicion that he didn’t hang himself inside the stockade of the National Bureau of Investigation in Central Visayas (NBI-7).

The separate investigations being conducted by the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group in Central Visayas (CIDG-7) and the Commission on Human Rights in Central Visayas (CHR-7) stemmed from the requests of the United States Embassy and the family of Jesse Phinney.

A US-based pathologist reportedly found marks on the body of Phinney, a cameraman and filmmaker from Boston, Massachusetts, that indicated foul play.

But NBI-7 officials stood by their findings that Phinney committed suicide while detained in their stockade to face charges of child abuse and human trafficking.

“It was really suicide but I can’t elaborate on it now because we are being investigated by different agencies,” said NBI-7 director Patricio Bernales on Friday.

He added that the results of the autopsy performed by their medico-legal officer proved that Phinney, 42, hanged himself inside the restroom of the NBI-7 detention cell.

Phinney was found hanging by a belt past midnight last Dec. 5, 2017, a day after he was arrested by agents of the NBI-7 for taking custody of an eight-year-old girl in his apartment in Talisay City. Recovered inside his room were dolls and teddy bears clad in bikinis, cellular phones, camera, lenses, tablet, laptop and clothes for little girls.

Phinney was supposed to face charges for violating the laws against human trafficking and child abuse.

Since the victim was a child, the offense was non-bailable.

Under Philippine laws, qualified trafficking carries the penalty of life imprisonment and a fine of not less than P2 million.

Was it a foul play?

In an April 5 report of Reuters, an international news agency, Dr. Elizabeth Laposata, a former chief medical examiner for the state of Rhode Island who was currently in private practice, said she found deep bruises on Phinney’s body and an unexplained mark on his neck that showed that the latter did not commit suicide.

Suspecting foul play, Phinney’s family reportedly raised $34,000 (P1.6 million based on an exchange rate of P52 to a dollar) to defray the cost of the second autopsy.

Laposata, in the Reuters report, said she also found two distinct blood and fluid stains on the victim’s T-shirt instead of the usual one stain pattern – dropped from the nose or mouth – which was typical in suicidal hanging.

The US-based pathologist pointed to a picture of Phinney when he was arrested that showed he was not wearing a belt.

Laposata said the autopsy conducted by the NBI-7 missed a hemorrhage on top of Phinney’s head as well as bruises on his back and shoulder consistent with blunt trauma.

Lawyer Arvin Odron, CHR-7 director, said Phinney’s brother had sent an email to Jose Luis Gascon, CHR chair, in December 2017, asking the office to conduct an investigation on the victim’s death.

“And even before there was an order for us to investigate, the CHR-7 already conducted a motu propio investigation after learning about Phinney’s death through the media,” Odron told Cebu Daily News.

He said the CHR-7 has taken it upon themselves to investigate deaths under the custody of law enforcement agencies.

“We want to find out whether there was a suicide or a foul play. And if there was a foul play, who did it? That’s our aim,” Odron said.

He said their investigator already talked to Dr. Rene Cam, NBI-7 medico-legal officer who claimed that Phinney died of asphyxia due to hanging.

“We are conducting a full-blown investigation to determine what really happened,” Odron said.

Chief Insp. Hector Amancia, deputy chief of CIDG-7, said they already requested the NBI-7 to turn over to them the necessary documents regarding Phinney’s case and death.

“It was the NBI that first took cognizance of the case. So we need to secure the documents from them. We have to dig up first whatever available document or evidence,” he said.

Last February, Amancia said the US Embassy requested the Philippine National Police to look into Phinney’s death.

The CIDG-7, he said, was subsequently tapped to conduct a probe on the matter.

“At present, we are coordinating with the NBI. (But) so far, we have not obtained any records yet,” Amancia said.

If they still fail to get the necessary documents from the NBI, Amancia said they would seek an advice from the CIDG central office on what step to take.

“Maybe, we can issue a subpoena so that we will obtain what we need from the NBI,” he said.

“For now, we’re really just waiting,” he added.

Cebu Vice Gov. Agnes Magpale, co-chair of the Provincial Women’s Commission, said she earlier received a complaint against Phinney who allegedly slept with minors in his room in Talisay City.

As a standard procedure, Magpale said she would forward whatever complaints she received either to the NBI, the police or the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for verification.

“In this case, we referred it to the NBI,” she said.

“We later knew that a child was rescued allegedly from his (Phinney) custody. I didn’t know what happened after that,” she added.

Magpale said they welcome any investigations to find out whether Phinney committed suicide or was murdered.

”Of course, we always want the truth to come out,” she said.

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TAGS: Americans, finds, Murder, NBI, suicide

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