The father of Aaliyah Rosa planted a tree and laid a plaque in her memory in 2018. (Dan Ferguson/Langley Advance Times)

Langley child murder trial delayed until March as new witness testifies

A neuropathologist will be testifying as an expert witness

WARNING: This story contains disturbing details

The murder trial of KerryAnn Lewis will stretch into March, after the judge agreed to hear from a new witness for the defence on Tuesday in New Westminster Provincial Court.

Justice Martha Devlin ruled that Dr. Christopher Dunham, a pediatric neuropathologist at B.C. Children’s Hospital, will be allowed to testify at the trial in the death of Aaliyah Rosa.

Rosa was seven years old when her body was discovered in the apartment of her mother, Lewis, in Langley on July 22, 2018.

Lewis was later charged with first degree murder.

The Crown prosecutors said at the outset of the case that they would show that Rosa had sedated and drowned Aaliyah in the apartment’s bathtub.

The trial has already heard evidence including toxicology tests showing that Aaliyah’s bloodstream contained Benadryl and Ativan at the time of her death, that boxes had partially barricaded the door to the apartment, and that Lewis had even spoken of wanting to die with her daughter because of frustration over her lack of custody access.

Lewis has pleaded not guilty.

In cross-examining Dr. Lisa Steele, the pathologist who conducted the autopsy of Aaliyah, Lewis’s defence lawyer, Marilyn Sandford suggested that Aaliyah did not actually drown.

READ MORE: Defence argues over cause of death in Langley child murder trial

Sandford suggested that Aaliyah might have died of another cause, including a blow to the head combined with an undiagnosed pre-existing medical condition.

Steele disagreed with that, while admitting that Aaliyah’s case was a difficult one to determine because of the many factors involved, including apparent drowning, drugs, blows to the head, and trauma to her neck.

Dunham, who is also a clinical associate professor at UBC, is one of just a few doctors in Canada to specialize in pediatric neuropathology, which is focused on the brain and nervous systems of children.

He began his testimony on Tuesday afternoon, but the largely technical testimony about brain structures and neurons was cut short by the end of the day’s hearing.

Because the judge, lawyers, and Dunham have various other commitments, the next possible date to finish Dunham’s testimony will be some time in March.

The trial was originally scheduled to begin last fall and wrap up before the end of the year, but it has suffered repeated delays due to COVID-19 – several witnesses were either infected or had to go into two-week quarantine because of possible exposures – and because of Lewis’s health issues. She collapsed in court on one occasion last fall.

Devlin and lawyers for the Crown and defence will set a date for the trial to resume during a conference call on Jan. 12.