A prominent forensic pathologist has testified that the death of Jeffrey Brooks was caused by heroin use, not physical trauma.
In 2013, Nick Masley invited Jeffrey Brooks and his cousin Kayla Ellis to a residence. Authorities claim that Masley lured Brooks there to beat him up for getting his cousin addicted to heroin. When Brooks was later leaving the residence, Masley punched him in the face and knocked him unconscious. The police were called to the scene. Brooks’ right eye was swollen and nose was bleeding. He was taken to University Hospital Elyria Medical Center and later transferred to MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland. Brooks died two days after the assault. The Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner’s office performed an autopsy and ruled Brooks’ death a homicide caused by blunt force trauma to the head and spinal cord.
Masley was indicted with murder and felonious assault. At trial, defense attorney Kenneth Lieux called only one witness to testify of Masley’s behalf. Lieux retained prominent forensic pathologist and medical examiner Dr. Werner Spitz. Dr. Spitz has worked as a forensic pathologist in Maryland, the District of Columbia, Michigan, and Germany and as a medical examiner in multiple counties. Dr. Spitz has served as an expert witness in every state in the country. Dr. Spitz is the author of almost 100 scientific papers and a textbook, Spitz and Fisher’s Medicolegal Investigation of Death: Guidelines for the Application of Pathology to Crime Investigation, now in its fourth edition.
Dr. Spitz testified that he disagreed with the conclusions of the medical examiner. He said, “The cause of death of Mr. Brooks was brain swelling. . . . This was brought on to major degree by the injection of heroin into (his) system. . . . It is my opinion, that with the findings of the autopsy, the fall was a significantly less severe impact in causing brain swelling than the heroin.” Spitz also opined that the fluid found in Brooks’ lungs was caused by heroin use. Brooks’ lungs weighed three times the amount of normal healthy lungs.
On cross-examination, the assistant county prosecutor Donna Freeman asked Dr. Spitz whether the fracture to Brooks’ face and the bruising inside his scalp that had been caused by punches could have caused the brain swelling. Spitz responded that the impact from the punches was not severe enough to cause death. He also referred to the injuries as superficial.
A jury found Masley guilty of involuntary manslaughter, which is a third-degree felony, and two counts of misdemeanor assault. Lieux indicated that he was satisfied with the verdict. “I was pleased with the verdict. I think what I felt the evidence showed is that Nick’s act of punching him was just an assault, a simple assault. . . . He did not act with intent to cause serious physical harm, and the verdict bears that out. Unfortunately, by the verdict, the jury felt the death was one of the approximate results of the assault so that’s why they found him guilty of involuntary manslaughter. I certainly respect the verdict of the jury in that regard.”