Judge denies defense bid to prevent release of Otieno's body

FILE - This undated photo provided by Ben Crump Law shows Irvo Otieno. A Dinwiddie, Va., Circuit Court judge denied a request from one of the 10 people charged in Otieno’s death who asked to keep the body from being released in case they wanted to get a second autopsy. (Courtesy of Ben Crump Law via AP, File)
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A Virginia judge has denied a request from attorneys for one of seven sheriff’s deputies charged in the death of a mental patient to prevent the man’s body from being released until they decide whether they will seek an independent autopsy.

Dinwiddie Circuit Court Joseph Teefey Jr. ruled Wednesday that defense attorneys could instead ask for an independent examiner to be present during the autopsy currently being performed by the state medical examiner’s office.

Irvo Otieno died on March 6 while he was being admitted to Central State Hospital. Dinwiddie Commonwealth's Attorney Ann Cabell Baskervill has said that Otieno was suffocated to death, but an autopsy has not been completed. Video released this week shows the deputies and hospital employees pinning the 28-year-old Black man to the floor for more than 10 minutes.

Defense attorneys have said that the deputies and hospital employees were trying to restrain Otieno after he became combative during the transfer process from a Henrico jail to the hospital.

Otieno’s family said he had longstanding mental health struggles and was brutally mistreated at the hospital and in jail. He was initially taken to a Richmond-area hospital by police for psychiatric care on March 3. But after authorities said he became combative, he was charged with three counts of assaulting a law enforcement officer and transferred to the jail. His family says he was denied access to needed medication during his time there.

In their motion, attorneys for Sgt. Kaiyell Sanders of the Henrico County Sheriff's Office asked that Otieno's body be preserved as physical evidence. They said it would be “highly unlikely” that they would ask for a second autopsy, but because the cause of death “will be an essential element” of the state's case against Sanders, their request to preserve Otieno's body is “imminently reasonable.”

“Without an order from this Honorable Court ordering the preservation of the physical evidence, namely the body of Irvo N. Otieno, the Defendant will be unjustly deprived of his ability to inspect the physical evidence through an independent autopsy,” Sanders' attorney, W. Edward Riley IV, wrote in the motion.

Riley did not immediately return a call Thursday seeking comment on the judge's denial of the request.

WRIC-TV reports that during a bond hearing in court Wednesday, Sanders’ attorneys said the state medical examiner informed them it could be up to 12 weeks before the autopsy report is released.

Mark Krudys, an attorney for Otieno's family, did not respond to an email seeking comment on the defense request.

In denying the motion, Teefey said the defense request was “speculative in nature," WRIC reported.

“We're not talking about a T-shirt or a vial of blood,” Teefey said. “We're talking about the dignity of a human body.”

A total of 10 people have been charged in the case. All have been granted bond and have pre-trial hearings scheduled in court in April and May.