A few new items on the Dr. Steven Hayne debacle in Mississippi.
• The Hattiesburg American—Mississippi's second-largest newspaper—asks DAs around south-central Mississippi if they're still using Dr. Steven Hayne to perform autopsies, in spite of the allegations against him to come out over the past several months. Not surprisingly, all of them said they have no problem with Hayne, and plan to keep using him. At this point, I think you could make a pretty good case that continuing to use Hayne amounts to a breach of ethics.
The paper's editorial board was concerned enough about the responses that they fired off a separate editorial denouncing the prosecutors.
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?
The DA's have been asked by the Innocence Project to turn over any documents pertaining to Hayne, including official reports on autopsies.
We hope they are complying. They must, if they believe in justice.
Meanwhile, the Legislature has funded $500,000 this year for a state medical examiner. The state has been without one since 1994 and if more of Hayne's work is found to be faulty, the state will have no one but itself to blame.
Again, it's not surprising. If any of these prosecutors were to admit to having reservations about Hayne, they'd have to admit his testimony may have tainted some of their convictions. Additionally, Hattiesburg is in Forest County, Mississippi. That's the home of Dr. Michael West, who was also once coroner of Forest County. The good ol' boy network runs thick in what locals call the "Pine Belt." One of the DAs interviewed for the article, Jon Mark Weathers, used Hayne in at least one civil before he became a prosecutor.
• Another case has surfaced in which Hayne issued a questionable autopsy report. A woman was jailed for more than a year and lost custody of her kids after Hayne determined her infant daughter died of alcohol poisoning. Hayne based that diagnosis on a toxicology report showing the child died with an astonishing blood-alcohol level of 0.4.
Problem is, a review of Hayne's work by Dr. Leroy Riddick of Alabama determined that there were no other signs of alcohol poisoning, and that Hayne had every reason to question the results from the lab. Subsequent tests showed much, much lower blood-alcohol levels, as low as .02. Riddick says the child died of interstitial pneumonia and myocarditis. The mother was to be charged in the death of her son. I'm told that the charges will now likely be dropped.
• Finally, there's more detail on an odd case of swapped bodies in Clarksdale, Mississippi. In that case, a mother who'd had lingering suspicions about the body county officials told her was her daughter's finally succeeded in having the body exhumed and DNA tested. Testing showed the body was not her daughter, and in fact may have been of a different sex. Hayne performed the autopsy, which also had the daughter's height off by half a foot. To be fair, while something clearly went very worng with Mississippi's autopsy system, here, it isn't yet clear if the mistake was Hayne's. It's at least possible that the county coroner mixed up the bodies before delivering them to Hayne.