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Defense witness challenges medical examiner in San Antonio trial over death of 4-year-old boy

Miranda Casarez on trial.
Paul Flahive
Miranda Casarez on trial.

A witness for the defense in the trial over the death of four-year-old Benjamin Cervera testified Monday that there was no positive evidence of starvation-based on his evaluation.

Dr. William Anderson, a board certified pathologist, testified that Cervera's autopsy failed to mention key flags of starvation. He noted fatty liver, brown fat and myocyte degradation — damage to heart muscle fiber.

Anderson testified via Zoom from his home in Florida. He was the first witness in the defense of Miranda Casarez — who stands accused of seriously injuring the boy by starving him.

Dr. Kimberly Molina, the Bexar County chief medical examiner, said starvation killed Cervera and ruled it a homicide more than two years ago.

Casarez and Brandon Cervera Sr. — the boy’s stepmother and father— were arrested for causing the death. Cervera is awaiting a trial date.

Anderson said that while he agreed with the medical examiner’s autopsy, her interpretation of the findings were wrong, and that the death was caused by something else.

“I think the mechanism of the death, as I indicated before, is the swelling of the brain, the cerebral edema, which occurs quite quickly over a period of five minutes or less,” he said.

Prosecutors pushed back, saying the doctor had not reviewed the child’s larger medical history and had never physically examined the body.

Anderson was one of several experts who testified Tuesday aimed at poking holes in the state’s case, which took place last week.

“The evidence will clearly show that D. Molina unfortunately relied on facts that weren't accurate, procedures, testing that were not correct,” said Anthony Cantrell, Casarez’s attorney.

Cantrell had previously argued the finding of homicide was biased based on reports from the San Antonio Police Department. He said they gave Molina “misinformation” and did not tell medical examiners that Child Protective Services had been involved with the family for months.

Benjamin’s brother, identified as "BC" by the court, testified that his stepmother physically abused the four-year-old by dropping him intentionally and making him eat hot sauce and hand sanitizer.

“My client is not a monster,” Cantrell told the jury in his opening statement. “She really tried hard to take care of that child.”

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Paul Flahive can be reached at Paul@tpr.org