A US pathologist has cast doubt on police claims that an American cameraman and filmmaker hanged himself in a Cebu jail cell.
A fresh investigation launched by the family of Jesse Phinney suggests he suffered blunt-force trauma before his death.
Police said they found the 42-year-old hanging by his belt in the bathroom of a cell, where he was being held on December 5, and declared it a suicide.
However, friends of Jesse contacted PLN to question this — saying that – among other things – he never wore a belt. They also said his arrest on suspicion of human trafficking and child abuse was an obvious set-up.
In a bid for justice, his family has hired a Rhode Island-based forensic pathologist and a private investigations company to linvestigate his death.
The pathologist, Dr Elizabeth Laposata, told Reuters that an autopsy she performed found deep bruises on Phinney’s body, caused within three or four hours of his death, and an unexplained mark on his neck.
She said this evidence suggested that Jesse did not take his own life.
“No medical examiner would be comfortable saying this is a suicidal hanging because there are all these unexplained things,” she said.
The National Bureau of Investigation began monitoring Jesse after a complaint by Cebu Vice Governor Agnes Magpale, who also co-chairs a women’s protection group.
She had alleged that Jesse sometimes had minors sleep at his home in Talisay City, took pictures of them and gave them gifts. However, his friends told PLN that these were the children of his girlfriend and that he was a father figure to them.
The NBI’s regional director in Cebu, Patricio Bernales, told Reuters: “I thought this case was closed, but the local police is now conducting an investigation and the human rights groups here are also asking a lot of questions.”
Jesse was a cinematographer on documentaries, TV series and reality shows on channels including Discovery and History. Most recently he worked on National Geographic’s 2014-2016 series Life Below Zero. Earlier in his career he had worked with Donald Trump as a cameraman on The Apprentice.
He had recently been winding down his TV career and was looking to start a new life building low-cost housing for poverty stricken people in the Philippines.