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Protester Rebecca Mackinac holds a sign alongside demonstrators under the 'Not One More Death' banner march toward the old courthouse, ahead of the second day of the manslaughter trial for Brayden Bushby, in Thunder Bay, Ont., on Nov. 3, 2020.David Jackson/The Canadian Press

The Kentner family stays close together as they walk out of the courtroom during recess from the manslaughter trial of the man who felled Barbara Kentner with a trailer hitch. One of Barbara’s sisters, Melissa, wears an MMIWG pin on her jacket in honour of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

In the evenings, the Kentner family finds strength and support around a sacred fire that was lit Monday in the parking lot of a Thunder Bay funeral home. It will burn for four days under the watchful eyes of fire keepers who have volunteered to maintain the flames all day and night during the long-awaited trial of the man accused of killing the Anishinaabe woman. Boughs of cedar cover the ground surrounding the fire, where community members offer tobacco.

The trial of Brayden Bushby started on Monday, when he pleaded guilty to aggravated assault and not guilty to manslaughter for throwing a trailer hitch out a car window, striking Ms. Kentner in the stomach in January, 2017.

Ms. Kentner required emergency surgery to repair a ruptured small intestine caused by the blunt-force trauma from the trailer hitch. She died six months later, on July 4, 2017.

Toby Rose, the forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy on Ms. Kentner, told the court on Tuesday that Ms. Kentner died of pneumonia and acute chronic peritonitis as a result of the ruptured intestine from the blunt-force trauma. Dr. Rose listed end-stage liver disease as a contributing factor, but not a direct cause of her death.

Mr. Bushby’s defence lawyer, George Joseph, focused his cross examination of Dr. Rose on Wednesday on Ms. Kentner’s medical records during her hospital stay after the attack and the progression of her liver disease, including indications Ms. Kentner was “deeply jaundiced” about three months before she died.

Dr. Rose said she didn’t observe jaundice in her postmortem examination.

Mr. Joseph also suggested Ms. Kentner had begun in the months after the attack to exhibit signs of confusion and incoherence, which are also symptoms of end-stage liver disease. A psychiatric consultation note days after Ms. Kentner’s surgery describes a history that included anxiety, decreased appetite, paranoia about theft and intruders, unco-operativeness, yelling and swearing.

Dr. Rose told the court the notes indicated those symptoms were a result of alcohol use disorder and withdrawal from alcohol, not end-stage liver disease.

According to medical records, Ms. Kentner was told by the surgeon who repaired her ruptured bowel that people with end-stage liver disease don’t do well after sustaining an injury or after surgery. Mr. Joseph told the court the real issue was determining how long it takes for a person with end-stage liver disease to deteriorate in the “immediate postoperative period.”

Dr. Rose reiterated her testimony from Tuesday that she believes Ms. Kentner was a very sick woman who would have died of her liver disease, and that the injury from the trailer hitch hastened her death.

“By how much, I don’t know,” she told the court on Wednesday.

Justice Helen Pierce will hear closing submissions from the Crown and defence on Thursday morning. The Kentner family say they are hopeful they will see justice. Ms. Kentner’s teenage daughter Serena couldn’t attend the trial in person because she is in Ottawa undergoing treatment for leukemia diagnosed in June.

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