American Radical: episode 4
Cause of Death
Ayman Mohyeldin: Just a warning. This epidemic contains graphic discussion of an autopsy report, depictions of violence, and some profanities.
Lonna Cave: OCME case number 2100108, government of the District of Columbia, Office of the Chief Medical Examiner autopsy report. Name of decedent, Rosanne Marie Boyland. Age, 34. Race, white. Gender, female. (SIGH) Date of death, January 6th, 2021. Date of autopsy, January 7th, 2021. Cause of death, accurate amphetamine intoxication. Other significant conditions, obesity, and hypersensitive cardiovascular disease. Manner of death, accident.
Mohyeldin: On April 6th at around 8:00 p.m., Lonna Cave got a phone call from Dr. Joanie Taylor in the DC Medical Examiner's Office.
Cave: Dr. Taylor called me to let me know that they had determined the cause of death, and that they were gonna be announcing it tomorrow on the 7th. So she wanted to go ahead and tell me that they were ruling it acute amphetamine intoxication.
Mohyeldin: Acute amphetamine intoxication. That meant, in the eyes of the authorities, what killed Rosanne wasn't anything that happened in the tunnel on the west front of the Capitol, it was drugs she'd taken. Now, amphetamine here doesn't mean methamphetamine, the street drug, but the active chemical ingredient in ADHD medications like Adderall, which Rosanne had been taking by prescription for more than a decade. The implication was that she'd taken too much of her prescription meds and it killed her.
Mohyeldin: Where were you when you got that phone call?
Cave: Probably about to put the girls to sleep. And then I got the phone call and dropped to my knees and started balling.
Cave: Because that was exactly what Rosanne didn't want. That was why she was sober for so long. And I just thought that it was just-- a load of shit, basically.
Mohyeldin: Rosanne's sobriety had been the central focus of her life for the last seven years, and the thing she took the most pride in. Lonna couldn't believe she would've messed that up.
Cave: And I said, "No, no, no. That's not right. I can't believe it." And she said, "I discussed it with my colleagues and that's what we feel is what happened." You know, it's like, "Okay." And I just called my mom, balling. Called my sister, balling. Was shaking, crying. And my mom just kept saying, "Can you please just say that it was her prescription medicine? Like, you know, people are just gonna think that she just bought some street drugs." And they were like, "Yes, yes, yes. We'll take care of it."
Mohyeldin: And did they?
Cave: No. I think that probably hit me just as hard as when my mom called me to tell me that she was dead, honestly.
Mohyeldin: The family couldn't accept that this was how Rosanne died. They knew her, and they knew she would have never OD-ed on her prescription medication. Lonna felt something wasn't adding up. From MSNBC, I'm Ayman Mohyeldin, and this is American Radical.
Episode 4, Cause of Death. There are parts of Rosanne's autopsy report that, to this day, Lonna can't bring herself to read.
Cave: My dad was like, "Don't read past the second page." And I messed up, and the first part that I read was like, "The body of the decedent arrived in a black plastic bag." And I was like, "Oop. And I'm done."
Mohyeldin: But that doesn't mean Lonna hasn't spent hours pouring over every detail she can manage to stomach. Is that the whole medical--
Cave: Well, it's just got a buncha stuff in there.
Mohyeldin: These are your notes?
Mohyeldin: Amphetamine intoxication.
Cave: Uh-huh (AFFIRM). So that would be April 6th that I talked to her.
Mohyeldin: We're in Lonna and Justin's office. It's late, probably around 9:00 p.m. And Lonna has swapped her contact lenses for thick, clear-framed glasses. We're rummaging through her research on Rosanne's autopsy. There's a lot of it.
Imitation of bronchial, but not impressive. Congestion of eyes. 2.21 milligrams per kilogram stomach content. 278 pounds at time of death is how much she weighed?
Mohyeldin: What's petechia?
Cave: It's where the blood vessels in your eyes, if you're being strangled or choked or change breathe or something, they'll like pop or--
Mohyeldin: So you came prepared with your terminology?
Cave: I am an investigator. Like, if I don't know something about something, I will look into it. I have a little bit of a OCD issue with that.
Mohyeldin: Lonna received Rosanne's autopsy report in early April, but she says her investigation into her sister's death began months earlier, just one day after Rosanne died, when she got a call from a detective in DC.
Cave: So Detective Shell, the original homicide detective, called me on the 7th, probably about 11:00 a.m., right before they did the announcement of the people that died that day.
Mohyeldin: Detective Jonathan Shell works for the DC Metro Police in homicide. He was assigned to Rosanne's case. He's the one that called Rosanne's mom, Cheryl, a little bit before midnight.
Cave: He said, "I'm just leaving the autopsy and it's a fentanyl overdose. They see this all the time up here. There was fluid in her lungs. This happens all the time up here. It's a fentanyl overdose."
Mohyeldin: Lonna could barely make sense of what she was hearing. All she'd known at the time was that Rosanne had been caught up in a violent mob. News reports were saying she was probably trampled to death. Why was this detective talking about fentanyl? She started to wonder: What if the officials examining Rosanne's body had jumped to conclusions?
Cave: And I said, "They're just saying that because of her past history." And he's like, "No, they don't even know who she is." And that's when I was like, "Well, you can see on her body that she was a former drug user."
Mohyeldin: So you think they looked at her body, the tattoos, the event that she was at, and concluded, "We're not gonna investigate this"?
Cave: Yes. Yes, exactly.
Mohyeldin: We did try to get in touch with Detective Shell to hear his recollection of what happened. We left a message for him using a cell phone number we found on a reward poster for a homicide case. He called us back and left a voicemail referring us to the Metropolitan Police Department's public information office.
Detective Jonathan Shell: Police Department is who you need to send inquiries to. Thank you so much. Bye.
Mohyeldin: We then reached out to the Public Affairs Office, but the department declined to comment. But that interaction with the detective made Lonna doubt that the process was truly objective. So she was already skeptical when she got a call three months later from the DC medical examiner who had done the autopsy. Dr. Taylor said that she'd finished her report and she'd concluded Rosanne had overdosed.
Cave: She called me and she's like, "Okay, we did get the results of the toxicology report. There was Loxapine, amphetamine, tobacco, and caffeine in her system.
Mohyeldin: That all made sense. Rosanne had been prescribed Loxapine and Adderall. She drank coffee and liked to smoke. But then Lonna says Dr. Taylor started walking through more of her findings, and those didn't make sense to her. She started taking notes. What did you write?
Cave: Rosanne Boyland, toxicology: "Pills in gastric contents, amphetamine hadn't been absorbed," which is another thing because if it hadn't been absorbed then how was that in her bloodstream? "Normal glucose," also another thing, her glucose was never normal. She was always having issues with her sugar levels. It was always like way high.
Mohyeldin: To be clear, medical experts say that pill fragments in your stomach can affect toxicity levels in the body. And that glucose levels post mortem don't always match a person's levels while alive. To Lonna though, the real shock of the autopsy was what wasn't in there: Any mention of what was going on around Rosanne when she died.
Cave: She took the medicine every single day. I highly doubt that, if she was sitting on the couch like she was on the 5th, that she would have died.
Mohyeldin: The trampling, the riot, the video evidence, none of this was even mentioned in the official autopsy report, one of the few documents that the office has released to Rosanne's family.
Cave: And then that's when I started askin' the questions: Was there not any indication in her lungs? And the tissue sample from the lungs, what's up with that? And, you know, what about petechia in the eyes? You know, all the things that should come up.
And she's like, "Well, there was some irritation to the bronchial, but it wasn't anything of note. And there was slight petechia, but once again, it wasn't anything worth writing about." My dad's like, "So, what? She would still be alive if she didn't take her medicine that day?" You know? That's kind of another way to look at it. Like, if she didn't take her medicine, would she still be alive? Would she still be at the bottom of a pile? Like, you know.
Mohyeldin: I feel like you just want somebody to acknowledge that that environment contributed to her death?
Cave: Yes. Or at least, like, look into it. I just feel like they just automatically saw who she was, what she was doing, and they just kinda brushed it off. They didn't want to deal with it.
Mohyeldin: By saying it was drugs?
Mohyeldin: We contacted the DC Medical Examiner's Office several times, asking to speak to Dr. Taylor or her boss, Chief Medical Examiner Francisco Diaz. All our requests were denied. Dr. Diaz's assistant told us that his team had already spoken to the family of the deceased on multiple occasions.
Cave: I think they just thought, "Oh, this family's just gonna, 'Oh, okay. It was a overdose. Okay, let's move on.'" But, no. I'm not lettin' my sister go down like that.
Mohyeldin: "I'm not letting my sister go down like that." Lonna was already determined, but then in September, new video emerged that she says changed everything.
Cave: I had always thought something was fishy and wrong and I didn't believe the cause of death. But the trigger, the turning point was when I was on Twitter and right there is a video that the DOJ released.
Mohyeldin: A warning here: You're about to hear graphic audio from body camera footage recorded on the Capitol steps on January 6th. In September, the Justice Department released a batch of videos related to its prosecution of one of the men accused of attacking police officers on January 6th. It included footage of Rosanne's body at the top of the stairs, at the threshold of the tunnel leading into the Capitol. Her shirt is partially lifted and her midriff is visible. Several people are crowded around her, shouting at the police.
Cave: These guys are all screaming. One guy's saying, "You killed her. You killed her."
Rioter: You're a murderer. (UNINTEL PHRASE)
Rioter: No, seriously.
Rioter: Killed her (UNINTEL).
Rioter: (UNINTEL) dying.
Cave: The guys have brought her body back up to the top of the stairs, and this guy's doing chest compressions, and he's saying, "I need chest compressions."
Rioter: I need compressions.
Cave: And the police are just standing there. There's blood coming out of her nose, her face is blue, and her body is blue. And then one police officer picks up her leg and starts to drag her. She was overweight, so I don't know why they thought that, you know, picking up one leg and dragging her was gonna work. So then finally, one of the rioters picked up her arms and helped carry her back behind the police line. And that's the last time she's seen.
Mohyeldin: What did that trigger inside of you, when you saw that video?
Cave: Anger. And drive. And motivation to get somewhere out of this nine months of purgatory hell that I've been living in.
Mohyeldin: Lonna says she realized that she could broaden her search for witnesses beyond Justin Winchell. And she got to work.
Cave: This is the board of players. When I really got motivated, I was like, "There are so many different people, I don't even know what to do anymore." So I got this board and I wrote down all the different people. I'm sure there's a lot more people at this point.
Mohyeldin: Lonna's pointing to a giant white board. It's covered in names, body camera identification numbers, physical descriptions of people in the videos with Rosanne. It's got the energy of one of those evidence boards where potential suspects are connected by red string. Lonna has reached out to everyone she can think of from Capitol police officers to reporters to rioters who were there that day.
Mohyeldin: What is this, down here?
Cave: Those are just some Sedition Hunter peeps. Those are some videos to look at. ProPublica. There's a sedition spreadsheet. The U.S. attorney's office. Then there's some body-worn camera numbers.
Mohyeldin: Lonna was trying to collect as much video footage as possible, and she came across a group of amateur investigators who call themselves The Sedition Hunters. They've been trying to identify as many rioters as they can.
Cave: I've reached out to The Sedition Hunters and they gave me, like, spreadsheets that had all of their stuff with Rosanne and Justin in it. So I have like four different Google docs with a whole bunch of videos and photos.
Mohyeldin: So you're doin' pretty legitimate investigative work here.
Cave: I'm Magnum P.I. over here. (LAUGH) I mean, what sucks is I shouldn't have to be doing this, you know. Like, I should be sitting here grieving and, like, moving on. But instead, I'm trying to get answers as to what happened to her. I'm having to do this because nobody else is.
Mohyeldin: But there are some other people looking for answers too, and quite a few who think they've found them.
Philip Anderson: When someone is killed, you can't lie about the cause of death. You can't hail someone as a hero when they kill someone. You can't do that.
Mohyeldin: That's Philip Anderson. He's the man you heard from in the first episode, the one who says he held Rosanne's hand as she died. In some of the videos that shoe Rosanne's body, you can see Anderson lying on the ground next to her, clearly in bad shape.
Anderson: They killed Rosanne Boyland in front of everyone there. And they nearly killed me too. The police kept pushing more and more and they kept macing more and more. They kept gassing more and more. They kept beating more and more. Which, I get it, maybe they were just thinking, "They chose to be in this tunnel. We're just gonna push them out."
But the thing is that when people are trying to leave, you let them leave. You don't just keep doin' that to where it's killing them. I feel really bad for Rosanne's family 'cause people don't know the truth. I don't want her family to think that she died of a overdose. That's just wrong.
Mohyeldin: Anderson isn't the only one who thinks the police are responsible. Here's how Rosanne's friend, Justin Winchell, the man who went up to the Capitol with her, remembers her death in that interview with Zac Summers from CBS46.
Justin Winchell: I want you to hear me: She was already blue and the Capitol police, I kid you not, had been hitting everyone with batons and stuff, understandably. But I'm talking she is laid out, maybe dead at this point, but they hit her at least two times in the body. And then they hit her once in the face, once right here in her nose, and some blood started comin' out of her nose. Like, this is not a joke. Like, we were attacked.
Mohyeldin: A conservative website called The Gateway Pundit has been pushing this theory too. In September, they published an article that claims to show, using body camera footage and other video, that a particular officer beat Rosanne with a baton as she was lying on the ground. It's hard to see objectively what's happening here because the scene is so chaotic. But it's clear that an officer in a yellow-and-black jacket is moving a baton up and down near Rosanne's body.
The Metropolitan Police Department sent us a written statement. The first part of the statement deferred to the Medical Examiner's Office. It reads, "The DC office of the chief medical examiner conducts the official autopsy of any decedent and determines the official cause and manner of death. It is our understanding that Miss Boyland's death was determined to be drug related. You should contact their office for information related to the autopsy."
The second part of the statement addressed the allegations about the individual MPD officer accused of beating Rosanne. They wrote, "A use of force allegation was filed against a specific officer and referred to the Office of Police Complaints for an independent review. Officials reviewed relevant body-worn camera footage, and it was determined that the complaint was unfounded. The case was subsequently closed."
We requested the officer in question's body camera footage, but we were denied. It's important to state here that there are conflicting reports about what happened at this moment and the riot. This is the same time that an officer is being dragged into the crowd and beaten. And CNN reported in July that three police officers actually entered the mob to try and help Rosanne only to be physically beaten back by the rioters.
Cnn Reporter: He was going to help retrieve that woman. They weren't exactly sure if she was dead yet. As he went in to help, to aid this woman in distress, he was attacked by the mob. This video shows him--
Mohyeldin: Then there's the question of what happened to Rosanne after the police took her inside. In July, Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn testified in front of the House Select Committee investigating January 6th. He said that in the Capitol crypt, just inside from the tunnel entrance, he'd come across an officer tending to a victim the family feels sure was Rosanne.
Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn: I encountered Sergeant Gonell who was giving assistance to an unconscious woman who had been in the crowd of rioters on the west side of the Capitol. I helped to carry her to the area of the House majority leader's office where was administered CPR. As the afternoon wore on, I was--
Mohyeldin: But Dunn's account just caused the family more confusion.
Cave: Harry Dunn, his statement in the January 6th commission is a little wish-washy. He stated at 4:26 he walked up to the crypt and saw Sergeant Gonell giving CPR to, he didn't say Rosanne's name but it was Rosanne. But she was not found there by the EMTs, she was at the Rotunda when the EMTs got to her. So they schlepped her around from the hallway of the tunnel to the crypt, to the House majority leader's office, and then to the Rotunda. And she wasn't a light person.
Mohyeldin: On October 27th, Cheryl and Brett Boyland sent a detailed email to the inspector general of the U.S. Capitol police with four detailed questions: Why did it take 75 minutes for help to arrive, but only 25 minutes to get Rosanne to the hospital? What time were the EMTs called? When was CPR started? Why she was carried from place to place?
They ended the email by requesting access to all information, documents, and videos related to Rosanne's death. Someone from the office responded, forwarding their request, but no one ever followed up. Around that time, Lonna asked the DC medical examiner for Rosanne's complete file, including the full investigative report and any documents or photos that hadn't been released to the family. They said that would require a court order. She also sent emails to the United States Attorney's Office in DC asking for January 6th-related footage in their possession. She never heard back.
Cave: If the criminal defendants have a right to see the footage then shouldn't the family whose body is laying there, shouldn't they have the right to see the footage as well? So we've just been asking for the body-worn camera and any kind of other evidence basically that they're using against these guys.
Mohyeldin: There's a question I keep coming back to when I think about the death of Rosanne Boyland. Her family is certain that, by the time she went to Washington, her drug use was years behind her. You have no reason to believe that she had relapsed in any of those final months?
Cave: No, I don't.
Mohyeldin: But here's the problem: Not everyone in Rosanne's life thinks that.
Sarah Lewis: We grew up together. We were probably a year and a half old when we were placed into a home daycare together.
Mohyeldin: That's Sarah Lewis, one of Rosanne's oldest friends. The two of them went to the same high school and both dropped out after getting into drugs. In the last six months of Rosanne's life, Sarah says they talked and argued a lot.
Lewis: I feel very strongly about Trump. I feel that he is the epitome of everything evil and wrong with this world. It was a huge test of our friendship for her to suddenly be defendin' this man to me. You don't want your best friend who you've grown up with and you really respected to (LAUGH) be throwin' this all you all of a sudden. But she was just so fixated on this child trafficking issue.
Mohyeldin: The pandemic hit Sarah hard too. And so at times, she'd seek Rosanne out for comfort, heading over to her friend's main haunt, The Triangle Club.
Lewis: One night, I went and met her out in front of a AA meeting, and we smoked cigarettes and chitchatted for a while before the meeting. You know, little casual encounters like that.
Mohyeldin: But she said that more recently, something about Rosanne was off.
Lewis: The last time that we met up in person, I met up with her before an AA meeting and she couldn't stop moving. And it was a motion that I had never seen her do before. Like, you know, when you know somebody, you know their body language and their movements and the way they move.
And I had never seen her move like that before. She was very fidgety and very bouncy and the movements were jerky and her fingers and hands just wouldn't stop moving. And it wasn't a motion that I'd ever really seen anybody make, you know what I mean? It was a puzzle to me.
And I didn't ask her anything about it, and I regret that. And I assume, because of the fact that she wasn't nodding all over the place, she was injecting some sort of stimulant, whether it was the prescriptions or, you know, meth or whatever.
Mohyeldin: No one in Rosanne's family believes any of this.
Cave: Rosanne's sobriety was like the most important thing to her.
Justin Cave: The only thing that Rosanne had was her sobriety.
Cheryl Boyland: She was not doing drugs. The only thing they found was her own prescription medicine.
Lewis: I know they wanna believe that, and I understand that. But, you know, we were in contact every single day. And, you know, one thing that really drove her crazy is that she couldn't put more than a day or two together clean.
Mohyeldin: To Sarah, that's the only explanation for how her friend, who was afraid of crowds, who didn't like leaving the house or even going Christmas shopping, would have willingly entered a mob forcing its way into the Capitol.
Lewis: She wasn't sober. I assumed from the beginning that amphetamines were at play. And so when they came out and said it was amphetamines, it was more like a "there it is" moment for me. Because I had already assumed that that was the case.
Mohyeldin: We've seen messages between Sarah and Rosanne, and it's clear that Rosanne was struggling with her sobriety. In a 12-step probably, you're supposed to start your steps over every time you relapse. In June of 2020, years after Rosanne's family thought that she had last been using, she texted Sarah, "I just finished my first step again."
Operator: You have one new voice message. (BEEP)
Diane: Hi, this is Diane with Dr. Warner Spitz. Dr. Spitz went through the autopsy report and I need to cancel the interview tomorrow. There's nothing he can help you with.
Mohyeldin: We set out to find independent experts to take a look at the documents we'd been able to gather about Rosanne's death, the autopsy report and toxicology report. It was actually really hard to find someone willing to talk because highly publicized cases like this one tend to be so divisive. But we did eventually reach a few top experts who agreed to talk to us. Dr. Priya Banerjee.
Dr. Priya Banerjee: The highest profile case that I personally consulted on as an expert was Breonna Taylor's death.
Mohyeldin: And Dr. Adele Lewis.
Dr. Adele Lewis: I've done about 4,000 autopsies, yeah.
Mohyeldin: And the two of them totally disagreed. My producer, Preeti Varathan, spoke to both of them.
Banerjee: I just wanted to pull up your link that had the autopsy report, if I can.
Mohyeldin: Dr. Banerjee is a forensic pathologist in Rhode Island. She's been doing this for 11 years and has consulted on many autopsies. Her opinion on this report is pretty simple.
Banerjee: I think this is a very well done report. You know, they cover head to toe. They cover all the internal organs. They even looked at her major organs under the microscope to assess them, so I think that was a very thorough examination. And then the toxicology, again, is very thorough as well.
Mohyeldin: Dr. Banerjee says that even though Rosanne was young and took her ADHD medication regularly, the amount in her system was in the lethal range, and she had preconditions that made her more vulnerable to amphetamine intoxication.
Banerjee: I mean, she's heavyset, she has high blood pressure and diabetes. So you have to think that the heart is under stress from high blood pressure, okay? And diabetes puts you at risk for, you know, all sorts of other medical problems as well.
And then when you have the amphetamine on top of that, and the stress of the situation, like, that can trigger an abnormal heartbeat, you know, an arrhythmia is what I'm saying. And so that's why they're top-lining it with the amphetamine, with it being in her system as triggering her death.
Varathan: So one thing I'm sort of noting here, right, is that we've talking about a handful of factors that might have made it more likely for the amphetamines in Rosanne's to kill her. But one thing I'm wondering is, you know, how is the environment that she died in, the insurrection? You know, there are reports that there was gas in the area, the stress, the physical pushing, the crush, the trampling. Is any of that noted in the autopsy report?
Banerjee: I mean, I think that's the gray area, okay? Because no one is there taking her blood pressure during the riot, right? So we don't know exactly if her blood pressure's super high or not or, you know, is her heart-- is she under stress where she's tachycardic?
The thing is I think when you think about the environment, the biggest thing was to run out trauma. You know, did she get caught up in the crowd and get trampled? That would have given injury to her body to cause her death? And my colleagues ruled that out. So that's the effective part of the autopsy. And then they were able to measure amphetamine in this context and say, "That's in excess and that caused her death."
Varathan: Talk to me about what you mean when you say, "We ruled them out"? Because my follow-up was actually gonna be, based on this autopsy report, based on what you can see, does Rosanne's body show any signs of trauma from the environment that she was in?
Banerjee: So, you know, her examination shows a four-inch bruise on her arm. Now, let me just see. Yep, on a right forearm. I mean, so that could be from anything, honestly, you know. It could be from the crowd; it could have happened before. You know, there's no way to date and time that bruise.
But that's the only bruise they saw on her. And when we do the autopsy, the whole thing we're looking for, especially with some sort of concerning history like trampling, is that is there impact on the head? Is there bleeding on the brain? Rib fractures? Bruising somewhere that would cause her death? Is there bleeding into her body cavities?
I mean, you name it, we look for it, okay? And so in the description, this detailed autopsy report, the only injury they saw was that bruise on the right forearm. I mean, the bruise on her forearm's not gonna kill her. Okay? She died with it, not because of it.
Mohyeldin: Dr. Banerjee did ask for any witness statements or videos we could provide in addition to the autopsy and toxicology reports. And so we sent her the accounts of a handful of rioters, including Philip Anderson and Justin Winchell, as well as body camera video from the scene of Rosanne's death. She knows those videos show some violence, but ultimately she doesn't think they change the cause of death. She even has a theory about why Rosanne's body shows so few trauma-related injuries.
Banerjee: You don't get injuries after you've died. So let's say she dies quickly at the bottom of the pile, at the beginning of the riot, as people are rioting over her. By that point, she's just laying there. You need a functioning heart and blood pressure to bruise. And so if she's physiologically deceased at that point, it doesn't matter how many people are rushing over her, it's not gonna add insult to injury because she's already physiologically gone. Does that make sense?
Mohyeldin: Dr. Adele Lewis, the other expert we spoke to, is a seasoned medical examiner in Tennessee. She's been doing this work for 16 years. She agreed with Dr. Banerjee that the autopsy was well done.
Lewis: So I read Miss Boyland's report and looked at the toxicology. I would have probably done one more procedure during the autopsy where I would look at the muscles and bones and ligaments at the back of her neck, just to make sure there were no injuries there. But otherwise, it seemed like a fairly straightforward autopsy, pretty thorough.
Mohyeldin: But Dr. Lewis takes issue with the report's conclusion.
Lewis: I would disagree with the cause of death that was listed though. She was listed as an acute amphetamine toxicity. And as we say, context is everything. So when you look at the videotapes and read the eye witness accounts of what happened, it's pretty clear that she probably was not a drug overdose death.
She's being essentially trampled by several other people. I know it may have been a little bit confusing because she did have some pill fragments in her stomach, but her level of amphetamine was quite low. And she also had a prescription for it, so she presumably was taking it on a daily or near daily basis.
Varathan: Do you have a sense of what you would have ruled the cause of death as?
Lewis: Yeah, I think probably a more appropriate cause of death would have been something like traumatic asphyxia due to being trampled or pinned under other people.
Varathan: All she had on her body was a bruise on her arm. And someone doesn't die from a bruise on their arm. So how would you maybe justify that cause of death if the body doesn't look like it had been trampled?
Lewis: You have to take into account the circumstances that were going on at the time. And a person can die an asphyxial death and have no signs of it on their body. And that's why we really like to have that background history and know what was going on at the time of death. 'Cause a person could be asphyxiated or trampled and have no evidence of it on their body.
Mohyeldin: Both Dr. Banerjee and Dr. Lewis agreed that reviewing witness statements and videos from the scene of someone's death are standard protocol and would have likely been done by the chief medical examiner. Dr. Lewis thought it was a little odd that those findings hadn't made their way into the official autopsy report, but noted that they were likely in the full investigative report, which we're still trying to get. We did ask Dr. Lewis how she might explain the discrepancy between her medical opinion and another expert, like Dr. Banerjee's.
Lewis: There is a range of autopsies. There are some authorities that it's a matter of interpretation and opinion, and those are the cases that forensic pathologists will sit around a conference table and argue about. And then there are some cases that are black and white, cut and dried, easy to interpret. There's room for interpretation in everything. And, you know, everything we do in medicine is based on our medical opinion and what's more likely than not. And, to me, in this case, this is more likely than not a traumatic asphyxia.
Mohyeldin: What you're hearing isn't just professional disagreements between two experts. It illuminates the whole issue torturing Rosanne's family, and it cuts to the core of it. That sometimes, figuring out how someone died is almost impossible. We do know one thing though. There is a chance that, if Rosanne's body had arrived at Dr. Lewis' office instead of the DC medical examiner, her death wouldn't have been ruled an overdose. Is there a part of you that wished that there was a resolution to this?
Cave: Yes. Honestly, I would have rather them just to say "undetermined" for the cause of death. I would have rather have had that than this bull shit.
Mohyeldin: Lonna and the family had been stewing over this for months, a frustrating quest that they've been pursuing mostly alone. But not anymore because Rosanne Boyland's death is back in the news. Next time on American Radical.
Bennie Thompson: A quorum bein' present, the select committee to investigate the January 6th attack on the United States Capitol will be in order.
Marjorie Taylor Greene: I was shown video of Rosanne Boyland dying.
Louie Gohmert: Was a determination ever made as to who repeatedly struck Rosanne Boyland in the head with a rod before she died?
Cave: How is there just five minutes missing? I find it to be very odd.
Chuck Schumer: That a fear or fealty to Donald Trump, the Republican minority just prevented the American people from getting the full truth about January 6th.
Mohyeldin: From MSNBC, this is Episode 4 of 5 of American Radical. The final episode comes out on Sunday, December 19th. The series was reported and produced by Preeti Varathan with Eva Ruth Moravec and Ursula Sommer. Additional production help from Abe Selby and Olivia Richard.
Original music by Brian Robertson and MJ Hancock. Sound design by Rick Kwan. Bryson Barnes is our technical director. Reid Cherlin is our executive producer. Madeleine Haeringer is our head of editorial. Thanks to the medical experts we consulted for this episode, especially Dr. Adam Bisaga.