Former state pathologist gets 10 years for stealing body parts from mother killed in car crash

19 July 2019 - 14:36 By NONKULULEKO NJILO
Dr James Blair Mwesigwa "abused his position of power".
Dr James Blair Mwesigwa "abused his position of power".
Image: Nonkululeko Njilo

A former state pathologist found guilty of organ theft was sentenced to 10 years direct imprisonment by the Kempton Park magistrate’s court on Friday.

Dr James Blair Mwesigwa, dressed in a grey suit and blue shirt, appeared before magistrate Eric Mhlari, looking down throughout proceedings as he sat in the dock.

His attorney, Paul Samuels, argued for a lenient sentence in the form of a fine not exceeding R10,000 as he faced a bleak future of unemployment.

Mwesigwa, 60, allegedly removed body parts from Alida Scheepers, who had died as a result of a car accident in 2013.

The body parts that were removed at the Diepkloof mortuary included the brain, tongue, pharynx, larynx, trachea, lungs, heart, pericardial sac and part of the diaphragm - which he removed from the mortuary in a white bucket. 

The prosecutor, advocate Riana Williams, argued for direct imprisonment saying that Mwesigwa had abused his position of power and showed no remorse. 

"He has not showed any remorse. To date the accused has not even showed remorse to the fact that the organs were illegally removed from the deceased. The accused throughout the trial blamed all the witnesses of colluding against him while they were just doing their duty," she argued. 

She said Mwesigwa had been a qualified health practitioner who had taken an oath to serve truthfully and was entrusted with the bodies as well as training young pathologists.  

"Perhaps one could have expected that from a junior pathologist but a senior pathologist, a specialist with 17 years’ experience, to conduct himself in such a manner …"

Samuels argued that his client was a first time offender who was now doing odd jobs in the North West, had no fixed income and had dependents, including a four-month-old son.

But the prosecution argued that the family of the deceased had suffered a great deal due to his offences.

"The family of the deceased had to suffer the loss of a wife, daughter and a mother in a vehicle accident which is traumatic on its own. As if this loss was not enough, they also had to deal with the fact that the body of the deceased was then violated after the death by a professional pathologist," she argued.

"The conclusion I have come to at this stage is that a non-custodial sentence, either in the form of correctional supervision, a fine or suspended sentence would not send the right message to other similar offenders," said Mhlari.

DA MPL Jack Bloom welcomed the conviction and added that the Gauteng health department had handled the case poorly by suspending Mwesigwa on full pay for 17 months, "during which time he received R1.54m, before resigning in March 2015".


X