Today's New York Times reports, "Questions Left for Mississippi Over Doctor’s Autopsies." It's written by Campbell Robertson.
For a long time, if a body turned up in Mississippi it had a four-in-five chance of ending up in front of Dr. Steven T. Hayne.
Between the late 1980s and the late 2000s, Dr. Hayne had the field of forensic pathology in Mississippi almost to himself, performing thousands of autopsies and delivering his findings around the state as an expert witness in civil and criminal cases. For most of that time, Dr. Hayne performed about 1,700 autopsies annually, more than four for every day of the year and nearly seven times the maximum caseload recommended by the National Association of Medical Examiners.
During the past several months, in courthouses around Mississippi, four new petitions have been quietly submitted on behalf of people in prison arguing that they were wrongfully convicted on the basis of Dr. Hayne’s testimony. Around 10 more are expected in the coming weeks, including three by inmates on death row.
The filings, based on new information obtained as part of a lawsuit settled last spring, charge that Dr. Hayne made “numerous misrepresentations” about his qualifications as a forensic pathologist. They say that he proposed theories in his testimony that lie far outside standard forensic science. And they suggest that Mississippi officials ignored these problems, instead supporting Dr. Hayne’s prolific business.
For many around the state, the Hayne era is considered to be over and any problems fixed. In 2008, amid growing controversy, the state severed ties with Dr. Hayne, who to this day insists that he was treated unfairly. Mississippi officials have since shown almost no inclination to review his past cases.
The recent lawsuits suggest that in only a limited number of cases did a verdict most likely hinge on Dr. Hayne’s testimony. But without any systematic review, it remains a question as to what that number may be.
Related posts are in the forensics category index.