Good police work hamstrung by lack of Guam-based forensic pathologist

WAITING FOR AN AUTOPSY: Remains believed to be Michael Castro's are loaded into an ambulance in Yigo on Wednesday. A forensic pathologist from Hawaii will be coming in to conduct autopsies on recently discovered human remains in two separate murder cases. Dontana Keraskes/The Guam Daily Post

This week, the Guam Police Department's Criminal Investigation Division had a break in two murder cases, one of which was turning cold.

On Tuesday, two defendants were arrested, followed by the arrest of a third Wednesday, in the disappearance of Adam Messier, a Navy veteran whose job as a parachute rigger brought him to Guam.

Messier, a Massachusetts native, went missing in September 2017 while he was employed in a tourism entertainment business and lived in a condo not too far from his work. The recent arrest of a woman in another case led to her telling police she saw Messier murdered in his own condo unit four years ago. Messier was killed for threatening to report illegal drug use by a roommate, according to court documents.

The roommate called in three others to strangle and beat Messier to death and hide his body, according to court documents filed by the prosecution.

On Thursday, police had another break in a different case involving the disappearance of 27-year-old Michael Castro - who was allegedly murdered. Remains believed to be Castro's were found in the Jånom Point area in Yigo on Thursday. Police also retrieved a 50-gallon drum and marked it with crime scene tape.

Guam police Chief Stephen Ignacio thanked the police investigators and Scott Wade, the acting chief of the Criminal Investigation Division, for their success in cracking two murder cases.

Their efforts could help families of the deceased find closure, Ignacio said.

We agree that police need to be recognized for their work. We also agree that leads from members of the community are crucial to finding justice and closure.

But there has been a snag in the progress on some of the murder cases from the police to the prosecution side - and ultimately to the type or severity of cases that can be filed against the suspects.

The government of Guam remains without a forensic pathologist within driving distance to a crime scene or to the Guam Memorial Hospital morgue to conduct autopsies in criminal cases.

The last chief medical examiner in GovGuam, Dr. Aurelio Espinola, retired in January 2019 after having served for 25 years in the same job.

There have been attempts to hire a full-time Guam medical examiner, but the results have not led to filling the nearly three-year vacancy.

This means Guam must wait for the arrival of a forensic pathologist from Hawaii – usually a lag of one or two weeks – before an autopsy can be done to determine the cause of death.

This determination is crucial. In one example, the two defendants in the beating death of Marine veteran Jaron Weilbacher could only be charged with aggravated assault and assault, respectively, while an autopsy was pending.

When the autopsy was performed several days later, prosecutors were able to revise the charges to murder against one defendant and manslaughter against a second defendant.

The lack of a forensic pathologist continues to be an issue.

When will this void find closure?

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