Thursday 20 June 2019

Death of an Irishman: the brutal facts for his family

The siblings, Mary, Patrick(standing), Stephan and Laura of Matthew Fitzpatrick, who was found dead in suspicious circumstances in Germany in 2010
The siblings, Mary, Patrick(standing), Stephan and Laura of Matthew Fitzpatrick, who was found dead in suspicious circumstances in Germany in 2010
Matthew Fitzpatrick from Portumna, who was found dead in suspicious circumstances in Germany in 2010
Matthew was found dead in his Mannheim apartment

John Waters

Matthew Fitzpatrick was found dead in his German flat in late 2010. The authorities claim it was suicide, but his loved ones insist the explanation is at odds with the evidence. John Waters investigates.

It was the way the story kept changing that convinced the Fitzpatrick family that something odd was afoot.  And each time the facts changed, it was as though the aim of the investigators was to avoid the implications of the evidence rather than arrive at the truth.

At the very outset, it seemed, the police investigators decided that Matthew Fitzpatrick (34) took his own life, and no amount of questions or inconsistencies appeared to make any difference. The family, from their knowledge of Matthew, felt that the suicide hypothesis did not ring true, but they also conducted their own investigations and enquiries.

They responded to the initial autopsy conducted in Germany with a comprehensive analysis of the evidence, based on the results of a second autopsy, conducted by a senior Irish pathologist following the repatriation of Matthew's body. The German autopsy concluded that Matthew died by self-inflicted strangulation - death by hanging. The second autopsy, conducted in Dublin on December 18 by the then Deputy State Pathologist, Dr. Khalid Jaber, raised several troubling questions.

Death was estimated to have occurred between 6am and 7am on December 11, 2010 in the apartment in Mannheim where Matthew lived. There were several contradictory versions of what happened emerged.

At first it was claimed that Matthew was hanging from the kitchen door handle. Four days later, it was alleged that Matthew was hanging by his belt from the top of the door - that the belt was slung over the top middle part of the door and Matthew was hanging from a height. The Fitzpatrick family challenged this account, on the grounds that Matthew's body position - based on the police photographs - made this a technical impossibility. The body ended up face upwards with the head by the door frame.

If he had been hanging at a height and the door had been opened, Matthew's feet would have hit the ground first and the body would have fallen forward, positioning the head at the other end of the kitchen. Medical evidence suggests that the pattern of livor mortis in the body was consistent with it having lain on the ground, back down, in the period immediately after death. In the course of a more recent investigation, the story changed again. It was now claimed that the belt had been slung over the top of the door but that Matthew had his feet on the ground and his legs bent at the knees. In this latest account, the body fell down when the door was opened.

An analysis carried out by the Fitzpatrick family, using data supplied by the German police and pathologist, indicates that it is impossible that Matthew hanged himself in this way.

There are several other elements of the evidence that suggest the German insistence that Matthew Fitzpatrick killed himself is entirely implausible, if not ludicrous.

An inquest into Matthew's death, held in Dublin County Coroner's Court on April 21st 2011, returned an open verdict. Media reports at the time relayed that the inquest had been given an account of an investigation by the German police, which had concluded that Matthew had hanged himself. The German police were invited to send a representative but declined to do so.

An account of the German police investigation, relayed to the inquest, stated that Matthew's body had been discovered by his ex-girlfriend, Sabrina Krause, when she arrived at the apartment they had previously shared, at 11am on December 11th 2010.

The inquest was told that Ms Krause and Matthew Fitzpatrick had been in a longterm relationship which had ended two months before Matthew's death. According to the account given to the inquest of the police investigation, Ms Krause had been found by neighbours on the morning of December 11th, claiming that Matthew's death was all her fault.

She was said to have taken an overdose of some unspecified drug and to be carrying a knife. According to the police report, the neighbours also claimed that she had tried to jump out of a window and had to be restrained.

The inquest also heard evidence from Dr Khalid Jaber concerning the post mortem carried out by him on the repatriation of the body to Dublin. Dr Jaber told the inquest that, in his view, Matthew Fitzpatrick's death was due to asphyxia as a result of ligature strangulation. He described the bruising to Matthew's body, which he said was inconsistent with other details.

Stating that he had not had the opportunity to study the scene of the incident, and observing that there existed a degree of confusion arising from the account whereby Matthew had allegedly hanged himself from a door handle, Dr Jaber said that he was unable to clarify the matter further. It was possible, he said, that the injuries to Matthew's head might have been caused by a door handle but, without examining the location, he just couldn't say. He said that suicidal strangulation, suicidal hanging and third-party strangulation all remained possibilities, but was insistent in his evidence that several bruises on Matthew's body could not be accounted within the suicide version of events. For example, some of the bruises had fingerprints, indicating that Matthew had been manhandled in some way.

Mysteriously, much of Dr Jaber's evidence remained unreported by the media in the wake of the inquest.

The inquest also considered toxicology reports which indicated that alcohol was detected in Mathew Fitzpatrick's blood, which also showed up a therapeutic level of an anti-depressants.

According to Dr Jaber's pathology report, the blood alcohol level in the body was 0.15, or 151 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood, just short of double the drink driving limit, indicating that Matthew had consumed approximately six alcoholic drinks.

According to his family, Matthew had visited a doctor on three occasions in the wake of the break-up of his relationship. The doctor in question subsequently confirmed to the family that Matthew was getting over a difficult relationship and was having trouble sleeping.

He prescribed Citrophram, an antidepressant, to help Matthew sleep. The German police have claimed that Matthew's doctor had told them that Matthew had been suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The family have since received an email from the doctor asserting that he made no such diagnosis.

In a subsequent telephone conversation with one of Matthew's brothers, the doctor said that he had been surprised not to have received any further contact from the police. He also recalled that he had been very surprised to be told by the police that Matthew had taken his own life, as he had not remotely considered him a suicide risk. On the last time he had seen Matthew, he had noted that he was feeling a great deal better and appeared to be moving on with his life.

The coroner, Dr Kieran Geraghty, said there was no evidence that anyone other than Matthew had been in the apartment on the night in question. He directed jury members that they could deliver an open verdict or find that Matthew had died by suicide.

However, he also advised the jury members that, if they had any doubts on the matter, they should not return a verdict of suicide. On April 22nd, 2011, a jury at the Dublin Coroner's Court returned an open verdict on Matthew's death.

The German autopsy was carried out in Heidelberg by Dr I. Pedal, a Consultant in Pathology and Forensic Medicine, and lasted one hour and 50 minutes. The autopsy carried out by Dr Jaber was a far more detailed examination, lasting seven hours. The family believes that the German autopsy was conducted on the basis of a prior assumption that the death was a suicide, and therefore did not look deeper and was not forensic in nature.

Dr Khalid Jaber's detailed report shows that he found 35 unaccounted injuries on Matthew's body which were inconsistent with the version put forward by the German police and were largely unaccounted for in the German autopsy. These included: a blunt force trauma to the back of the head; numerous contusions and abrasions to the face and body; a severe injury to the lower back, consistent with blunt force trauma; and neck injuries, including a fracture to the neckbone associated with forceful ligature strangulation.

Dr Jaber's view was that strangulation was the cause of death, but he also found that most of Matthew's injuries were defensive and could not have been self-inflicted.

He informed the coroner in Dublin that the head injury might have rendered Matthew unconscious for sufficient time for strangulation to be inflicted. In his report, he described the injury to the back of Matthew's head as a patterned blunt force trauma caused by an object. The family points out that if, for example, the German pathologist had shaved more of the hair of the back of Matthew's head, he would have uncovered several injuries which he did not refer to in his report.

Indeed, pictures taken by the German pathologist show several injuries to the body that were ignored in his report, including injuries to Matthew's back, head and right elbow.

The German autopsy yielded just nine photographs, compared to 184 taken by Dr Jaber. The German pathologist 'noted' a blunt force trauma to the back of Matthew's head - yet hazarded no explanation as to the cause of this.

There is a great deal of further evidence pointing to the implausibility of the suicide theory and the possibility that Matthew Fitzpatrick may have become the victim of dark forces in Mannheim. In the early hours of Saturday December 11th, neighbours within the complex where the couple resided heard noises - unidentified voices and what they described as 'dull thuds' - from Matthew's apartment.

The Fitzpatrick family insists that, in the course of questioning witnesses, the German police sought to insinuate a false psychological analysis in order to depict Matthew as a suicide risk. They say that there was no evidence of any psychological difficulties afflicting Matthew, and point out that he had bought return air tickets to come home for a visit before Christmas, and had also bought his Christmas presents.

The police investigators in Mannheim initially closed the case on December 22nd 2010, stating that Matthew's death was the result of self-inflicted strangulation. Following the persistent attempts of the Fitzpatrick family, the investigation was subsequently reopened, but Matthew's death has recently been definitively pronounced as suicide.

After much delay and procrastination the German authorities decided in June that there was no reason to change their view of what had happened to Matthew Fitzpatrick. The Public Prosecutor in Mannheim disregarded most of the evidence submitted by the Fitzpatrick family and dismissed several aspects, including the autopsy conducted in Dublin by Dr Khalid Jaber. For nearly four years now, they have been lobbying Irish politicians with a view to bringing pressure to bear on the German authorities

At first, the Irish authorities claimed that they could not intervene while the German investigation was ongoing, but now that the German authorities have declared their intention not to reopen the case, there is no sign of any further initiative from the Irish side.

The Fitzpatrick family has recently written to Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan, and have received a terse acknowledgment with the promise of a more detailed response in due course.

They wait in hope for a change of key.

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