Public Safety

Medical examiner: 24-year-old Stephanie Bowling died from blunt force head injury

Doctor testifies why he ruled manner of death 'undetermined'

Cody Brown
Cody Brown
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CEDAR RAPIDS — A medical examiner testified Tuesday that 24-year-old Stephanie Bowling died from blunt force injuries to her head after she was “flipped or thrown” by boyfriend Cody Brown during a fight on June 28, 2018.

During his testimony, Dr. Dennis Firchau, a medical examiner with Johnson County, talked about both Bowling’s injuries and his decision to rule the manner of death “undetermined.”

Brown, 27, of Marion, is on trial for involuntary manslaughter in the death of Bowling, who died June 30, 2018. The prosecution rested Tuesday and the defense started its case.

The jury trial, which began last week, is expected to wrap up Thursday in Linn County District Court. Brown, who is claiming self-defense, may testify Wednesday.

A criminal complaint shows Brown and Bowling were arguing about 2:53 a.m. June 28, 2018, at her apartment at 795 Bentley Dr. in Marion.

Brown told police that Bowling ran at him and he flipped or threw her over his shoulder, with her landing on the concrete walkway outside her apartment, according to testimony last week.

Firchau, who performed Bowling’s autopsy July 2, 2018, testified that Bowling had severe tissue swelling of her brain that was caused by blunt force impact to her head.

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This kind of brain injury is “significant” because it can be fatal, said Firchau, also a clinical assistant professor of pathology with University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.

The injury results in “immediate unconsciousness and unresponsiveness.” It also can result in cardiac arrest, which happened to Bowling, because the brain sends impulses to regulate the heart and breathing.

Without the blunt force trauma to the head, Firchau testified, Bowling wouldn’t have died.

He said he determined the cause of death but not the manner of death — that is, how it happened.

There are five manners of death specified under Iowa law — natural, accidental, suicide, homicide and undetermined.

Firchau said he concluded “undetermined,” based on the history and circumstances he had about the case.

Firchau said if he can’t make a decision between two manners of death, he rules undetermined.

First Assistant Linn County Attorney Nick Maybanks asked if undetermined meant accidental.

Firchau said no.

He said he knew there was an altercation between Bowling and Brown and that Bowling made a “motion” coming toward Brown and that Brown “directed” her to the ground. He also knew her body landed on the walkway outside her apartment.

Maybanks asked if a medical examiner’s conclusions are intended to determine a legal outcome.

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Firchau said no. A medical examiner’s determinations are made for vital statistics and public safety.

Tom Viner, Brown’s lawyer, on cross-examination asked Firchau if “undetermined” could be an accident.

Firchau said it could.

Viner asked if someone having a seizure — moving and shaking their body on concrete — could cause further head injury.

Firchau said it’s possible.

Maybanks, on re-direct, asked if Firchau has ever had a case where that happened. Firchau said he had not.

Follow live coverage from the courtroom at 9 a.m. Wednesday.

• Comments: (319) 398-8318; trish.mehaffey@thegazette.com

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