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* * * * *Innocence Project Asks State Board to Revoke Steven Hayne’s Medical License Based on Repeated Autopsy Misconduct
1,000-page formal allegation with Mississippi State Board of Medical Licensure seeks to stop Hayne from conducting autopsies and practicing medicine
(JACKSON, MS; April 8, 2008) – Based on evidence that Steven Hayne, who conducts 80% of autopsies in Mississippi, has committed fraud and misconduct that sent an unknown number of innocent people to prison, the Innocence Project and the Mississippi Innocence Project today filed a formal allegation to revoke his license to practice medicine in Mississippi.
The allegation filed today with the Mississippi State Board of Medical Licensure outlines several violations – spanning two decades – of the Mississippi state law that regulates medical practice. Hayne’s practices have been questioned for several years and have come under increasing scrutiny after two men – Kennedy Brewer and Levon Brooks, both of Noxubee County, Mississippi – were exonerated this year, 15 years after Hayne’s testimony helped convict them of capital crimes they did not commit.
If the State Board of Medical Licensure revokes Hayne’s medical license, he will not be able to conduct any autopsies for law enforcement in Mississippi or practice medicine in any other context in the state. Under the law, a doctor’s medical license is revoked if he or she engages in “incompetent professional practice, unprofessional conduct, [and] other dishonorable or unethical conduct that is likely to deceive, defraud, or harm the public.” The law also requires doctors to be “honest in all professional interactions including his or her medical expert activities” and directs medical experts “not [to] make or use any false, fraudulent, or forged statement or document.”
“Steven Hayne’s long history of misconduct, incompetence and fraud has sent truly innocent people to death row or to prison for life. This is precisely why regulations are in place to revoke medical licenses. Steven Hayne should never practice medicine in Mississippi again, and the complaint we filed today is an important step toward restoring integrity in forensic science statewide – and restoring confidence in the state’s criminal justice system,” said Peter Neufeld, Co-Director of the Innocence Project. The Innocence Project is a national organization affiliated with Cardozo School of Law; the Mississippi Innocence Project is based at the University of Mississippi School of Law.
The allegation filed today with the Mississippi State Board of Medical Licensure includes a 14-page summary letter and 1,000 pages of supporting documents, including trial transcripts and autopsy reports from several cases. The allegations that merit revoking Hayne’s medical license include:
Hayne misrepresents his credentials, claiming under oath to be the “chief state pathologist for the Department of Public Safety” (a position that does not exist) and claiming under oath to be “board-certified” in “forensic pathology” (when in fact he is not properly board-certified in forensic pathology). Papers filed with the Board today include several transcripts of testimony where Hayne has made these false claims.
Hayne testified falsely in Levon Brooks’ trial, leading to his wrongful conviction and sentence of life in prison without parole. The victim in the case had marks on her body, and the prosecution’s central theory of the crime was that they were human bite marks inflicted before the victim died. Hayne testified that marks on the victim’s hand in the case occurred prior to her death – a conclusion that is “simply wrong,” according to the allegation, and has no scientific basis.
Hayne testified falsely in Kennedy Brewer’s trial, leading to his wrongful conviction and death sentence. Just as it was in Brooks’ case, Hayne’s motive was to falsely claim that marks on the child’s body were inflicted by the assailant before she died. Even though the marks clearly were caused after the victim died, Hayne’s false assertion would support the prosecution’s central theory of the case. Hayne claimed in the autopsy report that he took biopsies from the so-called bite marks (to determine whether they occurred prior to her death), but testified at Brewer’s trial that he didn’t take biopsies of the marks. The most logical conclusion is that Hayne realized the biopsies would not support the false theory that the marks occurred before the victim’s death, so Hayne improperly stopped analyzing them. Hayne also testified in Brewer’s trial that the marks were caused by human teeth, rather than the expected decomposition or insect activity that regularly occurs after death. There was no scientific basis for Hayne’s testimony.
Hayne testified falsely in Tyler Edmonds’ trial, leading to his conviction and death sentence. Hayne claimed that he could tell from a bullet wound in the victim’s head that it was more likely that two people (rather than one person) had fired the fatal shot together. The Mississippi Supreme Court found Hayne’s testimony in the case “scientifically unfounded” and noted that his conclusion was not based on scientific methods or procedures.
Hayne issued an autopsy report – with no medical or scientific basis – supporting the prosecution case against Tina Funderburk, who is being charged with her daughter’s murder. An expert who Hayne himself brought into the case said the cause and manner of death could not be determined, but Hayne nevertheless examined the meager skeletal remains and said the child died from compression of the head and suffocation.
In four other cases, Hayne may have made false findings and potentially testified falsely under oath. In two of those cases, Hayne examined skeletons and said he could tell that the victims were strangled (even though the skeletons had no muscles). In another one of the cases, Hayne claimed in an autopsy report that he examined organs – when in fact it appeared the organs had not been touched.
“We have only presented the tip of the iceberg to the State Board of Medical Licensure, but this evidence shows Steven Hayne’s unprofessional, dishonorable and unethical conduct that has deceived, defrauded and harmed the public,” said W. Tucker Carrington, Director of the Mississippi Innocence Project.
The complaint filed today says, “We believe the conduct in this complaint alone is sufficient to justify immediate revocation of Dr. Hayne’s license … His work compromises the accuracy and integrity of medicine and criminal justice throughout the state. We urge you to put an end to his misconduct through an expeditious, thorough investigation of his work and revocation of his license.”
The Innocence Project and the Mississippi Innocence Project continue asking the state’s Commissioner of Public Safety to appoint and help secure funding for a State Medical Examiner. The State Legislature created the position in the 1980s to provide assistance and oversight for medical examiners across the state. The position has been vacant for over a decade, leaving no oversight of Hayne’s autopsies and no system for training and recruiting qualified pathologists to conduct autopsies in Mississippi.
For the summary letter of today’s allegation, go to: http://www.innocenceproject.org/docs/Letter_to_Medical_Board.pdf
For more on the Brewer and Brooks cases, go to: http://www.innocenceproject.org/Content/1175.php
For the letter from the Innocence Project and the Mississippi Innocence Project to the Commissioner of Public Safety, urging him to fill and help fund the State Medical Examiner position, go to: http://www.innocenceproject.org/Content/1173.php
For an op-ed earlier this month from a former Commissioner of Public Safety, calling on officials to fill and fund the State Medical Examiner position, go to: http://www.clarionledger.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080330/OPINION/803300302/1046
For more background on Steven Hayne, see “CSI Mississippi,” a Reason Magazine investigative report by Senior Editor Radley Balko, at http://www.reason.com/news/show/122458.html.
Director of Communications
The Innocence Project
100 Fifth Ave., 3rd Floor
New York, NY 10011
www.innocenceproject.orgMORE on Hayne ... Reason Magazine, November 2007
In a remarkable capital murder case earlier this year, the Mississippi Supreme Court, by an 8-to-1 vote, tossed out the expert testimony of Steven Hayne. The defendant was Tyler Edmonds, a 13-year-old boy accused of killing his sister’s husband. Hayne, Mississippi’s quasi-official state medical examiner, had testified that the victim’s bullet wounds supported the prosecution’s theory that Edmonds and his sister had shot the man together, each putting a hand on the weapon and pulling the trigger at the same time.MORE on Hayne ... Reason Magazine, November 2007
“I would favor that a second party be involved in that positioning of the weapon,” Hayne told the jury. “It would be consistent with two people involved. I can’t exclude one, but I think that would be less likely.”
Testifying that you can tell from an autopsy how many hands were on the gun that fired a bullet is like saying you can tell the color of a killer’s eyes from a series of stab wounds. It’s absurd. The Mississippi Supreme Court said Hayne’s testimony was “scientifically unfounded” and should not have been admitted. Based on this and other errors, it ordered a new trial for Edmonds.
Labels: Charles Eddie Moore, civil rights, Cleve McDowelll, cold cases, James Ford Seale, Mississippi