Transgender woman’s death ruled homicide, coroner says _lowres

Advocate staff file photo by DANNY MONTEVERDE -- Lashey Hall, left, and Lessie Hall hold a picture of Brenisha Hall, whose recent death has sparked a law enforcement probe that vital forensic evidence related to Hall's cause of death may have been overlooked, or compromised.

Months after a local hospital said a transgender woman died from natural causes, despite concerns that the death resulted from a black-market silicone injection, the Orleans Parish Coroner’s Office has ruled the death a homicide.

The coroner’s forensic pathologists conducted “extensive testing” before concluding that Brenisha Hall, 25, died Jan. 1 of complications from injections of a siliconelike substance, said John Gagliano, the office’s chief investigator.

The substance migrated into various parts of Hall’s body, including her brain, and was responsible for her death, he said.

The reclassification will likely have repercussions for another transgender woman, Armani Nicole Davenport, who allegedly injected Hall with the purported silicone last fall. Davenport, 32, was booked into jail as Larry Bernard on a charge of negligent injuring. She remains free on a $25,000 bond, according to Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office records.

A Police Department spokesman said detectives are in the process of determining what new charges Davenport might face based on the coroner’s homicide ruling.

Brenisha’s mother, Lessie Hall, could not be reached Friday, but she has said doctors at Interim LSU Hospital told her that her daughter’s heart and liver failed due to the toxic nature of the silicone injections.

She said earlier this year that she was stunned to learn the death was ruled natural after a hospital autopsy. Also surprising, she said at the time, was that the hospital performed the autopsy and not the Coroner’s Office, even though there was an open criminal investigation into the matter.

The hospital said it consulted with the Jefferson Parish Coroner’s Office because that is where Hall lived. Officials with the Jefferson Parish office said they didn’t know about the pending criminal investigation in Orleans Parish and therefore gave the hospital the green light to autopsy the body, then release it to the family.

The first time police or coroner’s officials in New Orleans heard about Hall’s death was when they were contacted by The New Orleans Advocate. Hall was buried the next day.

Paolo Zambito, senior vice president of operations at Interim LSU Hospital, said earlier this year that hospital policy dictates that the coroner be notified about any deaths related to criminal cases under investigation by police. It was not immediately clear, he said, why the hospital did not notify authorities in New Orleans about Hall’s death.

Hall, who was born Brad, was hospitalized Oct. 24. She was brought to the hospital in critical condition after having her hips and buttocks injected with a silicone substance — her family believes it was Fix-A-Flat — and later going into a coma.

While she showed some signs of improvement as she underwent various treatments, her body suddenly shut down Jan. 1.

“It was devastating. It was hard,” Lessie Hall said of her child’s death. “I never thought he was going to die, but he was real, real weak.” She always referred to her child as a man, though he wanted to be thought of as a woman.

Although she was hospitalized late last year, Brenisha Hall’s death will be counted as a homicide for 2014 because she died this year, Gagliano said.