The Coroner’s Inquest
The coroner’s inquest is the first legal procedure undertaken following a suspicious death. The coroner, who is often a doctor by training, undertakes this inquest if he suspects that the death was due to a criminal cause. He later draws up a report which specifies the causes of death. He has the power to identify the individual that he believes to be implicated in or responsible for the death of the deceased person; this makes him a central figure in the legal system.
Dr. William Jolicoeur was the designated coroner in the Gagnon case. Summoned from Quebec City on February 13, 1920, he oversaw the inquest into the death of Aurore Gagnon, that same day, in the Ste. Philomène church. Dr. Jolicoeur had his colleague, Dr. Albert Marois, perform an autopsy on the little girl’s body. The observations revealed that the child had died of generalized blood poisoning, the result of a large number of infected wounds. After hearing seven witnesses (Télesphore Gagnon, Marie-Jeanne Gagnon, Exilda Auger, Arcadius Lemay, Alphonse Chandonnet, Dr. Albert Marois and Dr. Andronic Lafond), the six members of the jury of the coroner’s inquest issued a verdict of death by general poisoning. It remained for the coroner to decide if this poisoning was the result of septicaemia (blood poisoning) or another cause (poison).
We know today that neither illness nor accident caused the death of Aurore Gagnon. The coroner’s inquest established that there were grounds for criminal proceedings against the young girl’s father and stepmother. Following this verdict, Detective Lauréat Couture was ordered to arrest the Gagnon couple and to gather evidence and exhibits.
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