TORONTO, CANADA — A prisoner who died when he choked on a Bible shoved down his throat baffled a medical specialist who at first suspected murder because he couldn't believe someone could do that to themselves.

The average person "does not have the will to persistently shove something of such a size, such a solidity" down the throat, Dr. Peter Charlebois, an anesthetist and respiratory specialist for over 25 years, testified yesterday at an inquest into the death of Franco Brun.

The average person "does not have the will to persistently shove something of such a size, such a solidity" down the throat.

"I found I was physically not strong enough to pull the object out of this guy's throat," Charlebois said.

The doctor said he suggested it was a murder and police should investigate, he said.

He later changed his mind when he became familiar with the circumstances. Guards testified Brun's cell was locked and no one had access to him.

Brun, 22, of Toronto died at Scarborough General Hospital on June 9 after being taken by ambulance from Metro East Detention Centre where he was serving a 15-day sentence. A post mortem found he died of asphyxia due to choking, Coroner Martin Taylor told jurors. The former stable boy at Woodbine Race Track was found with a pocket-sized, New Testament down his throat despite guard checks every 20 minutes, the inquest was told.

The red-covered Gideon's Bible, which was 6.35 centimetres (21/2 inches) by 10 centimetres (4 inches) by 1.27 centimetres (half an inch), had been in the man's hand the day before he died.

That day, Brun was moved to a windowless cell, after he was seen by a guard masturbating at his cell window overlooking the street. He had the Bible in his hand at the time, Guard Alan Fulton testified. He was examined by the jail psychiatrist who said he was acutely psychotic and medication was prescribed, but the prisoner refused to take it, jurors were told.

Violent behavior
Later in the evening, he had his fists shoved in his mouth, but there was no evidence of the Bible and he was able to say "No, no, no" when his medication was offered, guard Christine Fulford said. She said she noticed a pinkish tinge around his mouth and teeth, but thought it was because of his fists, not the dye from the Bible. "An inmate is allowed a Bible," Fulford said. "If nothing else, he may ask for and receive a Bible."

Because of violent behavior when the guards and a nurse tried to control Brun before bed-time, he was put in handcuffs and leg irons.

Brun, arrested May 8 on six criminal offences, pleaded guilty to "two or three of them" in provincial court June 3 and was sentenced, said Metro Toronto Police Sergeant John Line.

'Stupid crimes'
Brun's sister, Lucy Brun, 24, said outside the hearing room her brother had been involved in "stupid small crimes," committed when he was depressed and taking alcohol or marijuana.

Although he appeared in good spirits during a family visit June 4, the next day he telephoned his parents' home, crying and upset. He said someone, not identified, told him the devil was in him and that's why he had been committing sins. He said God would forgive him if he changed his religion. That day he asked for and was granted protective custody.

The Bible was behind the soft palate at the back of his throat, from the level of his nose down to his larynx.

The Bible was behind the soft palate at the back of the man's throat reaching from the level of his nose down to the larynx, Charlebois said.


Speaking before the inquest, Coroner Martin Taylor remarked that "the swallowing of the Bible to him was some form of symbolism or allegory as though he was trying to purge himself of the devil by consuming religion."

Taylor said Brun did not commit suicide "in the true sense of the word," because he was in a delusional state, unaware of the consequences of ingesting the pocket-sized New Testament.

The jury, which deliberated nine hours yesterday, agreed the 22-year-old man died accidentally on June 9 as he was not mentally fit to account for his actions. The jury also recommended:

An inmate in acute distress be seen by a doctor or psychiatrist regularly on an ongoing basis.
During a suicide watch, every item in the cell should be accounted for regularly.
Inmates under a suicide watch by guards should be told whom their visitors are and if the visit is refused by the inmate, the guard should try to find out and communicate the reason to the visitor. (Brun was told he had visitors two days before his death, but he didn't know they were family members and refused to go.)
An inmate should see a doctor or psychiatrist privately and only one guard should attend unless he is a threat to himself or others. The jury had been told that during the psychiatrist's one visit with Brun about 12 hours before his death, several guards were with him, not for safety but out of interest in Brun.

Gerald Yasskin, lawyer for the family, called Brun's treatment a "circus."