Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Part 5 Innocence in Mississippi

The State of Mississippi is fortunately encountering pressure from the community to remove Dr. Steven Hayne, whose false testimony led to the wrongful conviction of both Levon Brooks and Kennedy Brewer, as medical examiner. The Innocence Project has already filed an official complaint against Dr. Hayne.
For months, Mississippi medical examiner Steven Hayne has come under fire for years of false forensic testimony, unethical methods, nepotism and potential illegal activities. His flawed autopsies led two innocent men to spend a combined three decades in prison before they were exonerated earlier this year. He claims to work 110 hours a week and conduct 1,500 autopsies a year – earning him more than a million dollars annually.

On Sunday, the Hattiesburg American posted an editorial criticizing the state of Mississippi's slow response to what is truly a serious problem. The author of the editorial quotes three different district attorneys who say that they have found no problems with Dr. Hayne's work and are sure that he hasn't been a problem in their district. This response comes despite the fact that Dr.Hayne claims to perform on average 1500 autopsies each year. The recommended average by the National Association of Medical Examiners is 250 per year with an absolute maximum of 325. Given these numbers, the author of the editorial asks, how can the district attorneys be confident in the results?
"I have found him to be competent. I think he's qualified and I have encountered no problems or irregularities," said Jon Mark Weathers, district attorney for Forrest and Perry counties.

Jones County District Attorney Tony Buckley concurred.

"I don't think any of his actions he's being investigated for affects our district, in my opinion," Bowen said. "I just don't see a problem with him in this district."

Covington County District Attorney Eddie Bowen also said he had no issue.

This strikes as three ostriches putting their heads in the sand. How can these DA's be at all confident in Hayne's work given the information that has come out about the pathologist?

I hope that the only motivation behind these reactions is a desire to maintain a calm working environment. However, I can't help but suspect that due to the high potential for rampant lawsuits these DAs along with other state officials may want to avoid exposing flaws in their system and therefore uncovering large numbers of wrongful convictions. I realize that most state governments are strapped for cash and that a large number of overturned convictions could be a public relations nightmare as well as a financial one, but freeing innocent people is just simply more important than all of that.

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