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Doctor unsure if child's death was deliberate or accidental

CHAMBERLAIN -- A forensic pathologist testified Thursday that she could not determine a specific injury that caused the death of 4-year-old Mason Naser.

Dr. Janice Ophoven, who has a private practice in Woodbury, Minn., said Naser's death could have either been deliberate or accidental. She said the child likely suffered shock due to internal bleeding over several days before he died, and some injuries he suffered were caused after he died.

Her conclusion was an "undetermined" manner of death.

"If the bleeding was relatively slow from a non-arterial source, then he would not have necessarily gone down immediately and would be at risk for shock over time," Ophoven said.

She said many of the injuries Naser suffered to his liver, adrenal gland and pancreas were likely caused during CPR, but post-mortem.

According to earlier testimony, Naser's liver was severed, the right lobe was lacerated, the pancreas was cut in half and the adrenal gland was lacerated.

Donika Gonzales, 23, is charged with second-degree murder of Naser, two alternate counts of first-degree manslaughter, one count of aggravated assault and one count of felony child abuse.

Gonzales and her attorneys announced to the court Thursday that Gonzales will not take the stand during the trial.

Gonzales was Tyler Naser Sr.'s live-in girlfriend when Mason Naser died Feb. 21, 2013, as a result of blunt force injury to the abdomen due to alleged abuse. Gonzales is not the boy's mother, but Tyler Naser Sr. is the boy's father. Thursday was the fifth day of an ongoing trial that is expected to last throughout the week at the Brule County Courthouse in Chamberlain.

Ophoven said information she received said Naser was not acting like his normal self, was quieter, appeared ill and had suffered an injury to his abdomen. These symptoms could indicate internal injury, she said.

While she agreed Naser died of blunt force trauma to the abdomen, she could not determine the manner in which that injury occurred or when it occurred.

Ophoeven agreed with defense attorney Doug Papendick that a fall from the top bunk bed onto a toy could cause the injury.

She also said much of the damage caused to the liver and pancreas was likely caused by aggressive and prolonged CPR after Naser died because there was no blood in the samples of the organs she examined. If Naser had been alive, there would have been blood in the organs when they were lacerated and severed, she said.

A piece of liver also traveled to his left lung through the inferior vena cava, not through the aorta as previously reported, which caused oxygen loss. She said the piece of liver traveled to the lung due to the actions performed during CPR.

Ophoven determined that the laceration to the adrenal gland did not occur when Naser was injured the day of his death because there was clotting on the laceration. This indicated the injury happened quite a while before the fatal injuries to his abdomen, she said.

Despite all this, she said can't tell whether Naser's death was homicide, as alleged in the case, or accidental.

The defense rested its case Thursday afternoon and the trial is expected to continue through today.