Shortly after my teenage son Henry died on May 31, the results of his preliminary autopsy were given to the press before we were even aware they were available. At that time, law enforcement authorities spoke to the media about the preliminary autopsy’s finding of no skull fracture, saying that this finding supported their belief that Henry had never sustained a blow to the head from a weapon of any kind. (In fact, the assailants have admitted assaulting Henry during a drug deal robbery; the only part they deny, really is that they used a weapon. Other, extensive medical and corroborating witness evidence contradicts the assailants’ claims of how the assault took place, and whether they used a weapon.)
I have now had Henry’s final autopsy in my possession for a week or two. Authorities and our family agreed that it was best to keep the details of the report under wraps while the investigation is ongoing. So I have not mentioned publicly that I have it, or what it says. However, it turns out that the ME’s office has provided Henry’s final autopsy to the Knoxville News Sentinel, at the newspaper’s request, and the ME has gone on the record with a reporter about the autopsy findings. The KNS will be running a story about this, and today, they asked for and got my response to the ME’s findings and statements to them.
Thus, I feel it’s now acceptable for me to comment here about the autopsy, and where things stand with the investigation as far as I am concerned.
First, I want to make it very clear that I absolutely understand and respect the newspaper’s responsibility to ask for Henry’s final autopsy from the ME – that is their job as journalists. And I understand that the ME was totally free to release the autopsy and speak directly to the reporter (Don Jacobs, an excellent and well respected journalist). However, now that my son’s autopsy is going to hit the Web and be reported in print, I feel like I have a responsibility to speak up as well.
Henry’s final autopsy was a nightmare for me to read. Imagine reading about how your child’s brain was removed for study, and how a Y shape was cut into his chest. His beautiful brown eyes were described clinically as “brown iride.” It was an extremely painful document to read. But I did read it very carefully.
Henry’s final cause of death was noted by the ME as hypoxic brain injury as the result of accidental opiate overdose. No evidence of any external head trauma or skull fracture was found. His toxicology report (from admission on April 27) revealed several different drugs in his system.
While some may believe that our family has some kind of dispute with the ME regarding what happened to our son – we absolutely don’t. We agree in general with her findings, and I have great respect for her expertise. However, there are some key points I want to make now that the autopsy and the ME’s remarks regarding it are going to be made public:
-Our family continues to believe, based on numerous conversations we have had with those who were with Henry the day he was assaulted, as well as the medical records from his 5 week stay in the hospital before his death that Henry was assaulted with some sort of weapon, likely a tire iron or something resembling a tire iron. I accept that the ME found no evidence of substantial head trauma on the day of his autopsy, but that doesn’t negate our belief based on ALL of the evidence that 5 weeks and 2 days before the autopsy, our son was assaulted with a weapon.
-We agree with the ME that Henry’s death was not DIRECTLY due to any head trauma sustained in the assault. However, we still don’t believe the people who assaulted him should be released from any liability just because the assault didn’t ultimately kill him.
-We agree with the ME that Henry’s final cause of death was hypoxic brain injury as a result of a drug overdose. What the autopsy does not and CANNOT show is the progression of Henry’s brain injury over the course of the previous five weeks before the autopsy. Henry’s actual, more specific cause of death was a very rare COMPLICATION from the drug overdose – a complication called Delayed Post Hypoxic Leukoencephalopathy. This is noted in his medical records. However, this distinction – which the ME does not note in her autopsy or mention in the interview she apparently gave to the newspaper – is ultimately meaningless with regard to potential criminal liability; the outcome of death from an overdose is the same, no matter how you pick apart the specifics. The bottom line is that my child died of a brain injury caused by the hypoxia (lack of oxygen) that came with a drug overdose, compounded by the fact that the people with him refused (not failed, but refused) to call for help for him for a significant period of time. The ME apparently believes that Henry was headed for death from the moment he entered the hospital, while his medical records demonstrate some improvement over two weeks followed by rapid decline after the DPHL process began. But again, this is nit-picking for purposes of potential criminal liability. My son would not be dead but for the overdose-related hypoxic brain injury he received. On this, we can all agree.
So here’s the main point I want to make: I don’t want to argue with anyone about the final autopsy results. There is no point in that and everyone is in agreement on the ultimate cause of death. Instead I want to focus on investigating the source of the drugs that caused Henry to overdose and the fact that he was in fatal distress for hours in a private residence with no call made to 911 until his brain was so badly damaged. I would also very much like to see a more complete investigation of the assault that preceded the overdose, but if I had to pick one thing (I shouldn’t have to pick) for authorities to focus on, it would be the circumstances surrounding the overdose and its aftermath – the 18 hours before Henry was finally taken to the hospital.
I know a great deal about what happened during that period. I can’t share any of it publicly because the investigation is ostensibly ongoing. I continue to believe that when all the facts are clear to Knox County authorities, they will choose to at least attempt prosecution.
Yes, my boy was a drug addict. Yes, he was involved in dangerous, risky, illegal activities. We’ve never denied that. But he didn’t intend to overdose and die, and he wouldn’t have but for the actions of certain individuals who have yet to be held accountable.
I know that nothing I do or say will bring Henry back. The reason that I continue to pursue this matter – even though it has led to a great deal of pain and hurt for me due to the way I’ve been characterized by some in authority – is because I simply couldn’t live with myself if I just let it go, and then another mother loses her child at the hands of the same people who were involved in my son’s overdose death, That’s why I won’t be quiet and go away. I don’t want to see any other family go through what we’re going through when I believe that it can be prevented via a thorough investigation and prosecution.
Additionally, it is my hope that my advocacy in this matter will fundamentally change the way overdose injuries and deaths are investigated and prosecuted in Knox County, which would go a long way toward helping to end the epidemic of opiate-related deaths that is currently ravaging our community.
Thanks to everyone for your continued support. It means a lot to me, and helps me stay focused when I get discouraged and feel like giving up.
Henry Louis Granju