The Hayne, West Taint Spills Into Louisiana, Too


Last week, I spoke with a defense attorney in Louisiana who is preparing a challenge to a death penalty case involving shady Mississippi medical examiner Dr. Steven Hayne and "forensic odentologist" Dr. Michael West. In fact, there are two pending Louisiana death penalty cases where in what now seems to have been a familiar pattern, Dr. Hayne was called in to perform an initial autopsy, then called in Dr. West to search the victim for "bite marks" he could then trace back to the guy the prosecutors were after.

I'll have more on the particulars of this case in a sec. But first, I want to look at how Hayne was able to extend his reach into Louisiana, despite an already growing number of complaints against him in Mississippi, and despite him not being board certified in forensic pathology. From an October 1993 article in the Baton Rouge Advocate:

Some north Louisiana law enforcement agencies are sending bodies to Mississippi, where they say autopsy results can be obtained more quickly.

Dr. George McCormick, a Bossier City forensic pathologist who also is the Caddo Parish coroner, has been performing autopsies for Ouachita Parish since the mid-1980s. But in May, representatives from the 4th District Attorney's Office, the Monroe Police Department, the Ouachita Parish Sheriff's Office and Ouachita Parish Coroner Claude Smith decided to start sending bodies to forensic pathologist Steven Hayne with the Rankin (County) Medical Center near Jackson, Miss., Monroe Police Chief Joe Stewart said. "We felt we could get our reports back faster," Smith said.

At the time, Dr. McCormick and the two pathologists who worked for him were doing about 800 autopsies a year between the three of them. Hayne at the time was doing around 1,000 by himself in Mississippi, and still reaching into Louisiana to take on more. Seems he was able to woo a fair number of prosecutors in that state, too. McCormick was already wary of Hayne's practices, and sounded this prescient warning:

Hayne is as qualified as McCormick "from an investigative point of view," Stewart said.

But McCormick said he has some concerns. "I do not know that Dr. Hayne will do bad work, but I have some serious questions. I will be looking at his work," he said. McCormick refused to say what questions he has about Hayne. But "bad pathology is the worst thing that can happen in the justice system."

According to my sources, McCormick, who died in December 2006, started a file documenting what he thought to be Hayne's abuses and lapses in professional standards. It apparently grew rather thick. In 1995 he tried to file an ethics complaint (pdf) against Hayne with the American Board of Medical Specialties. As far as I can tell, McCormick's complaint didn't get very far. To be fair, it's probably safe to say that McCormick was in part upset about losing business to Hayne. And after his death, there were some questions about McCormick's practices too (though his transgressions weren't nearly as egregious as Hayne's). Unfortunately, when McCormick died in December 2006, his file on Hayne apparently died with him. I haven't been able to track it down.

One of the first cases Hayne and West worked on in Louisiana was that of Jimmie Christian Duncan. Duncan was initially charged with negligent homicide after his girlfriend's child drowned in a bathtub while in his care. Hayne claimed in his autopsy to have found evidence of sexual abuse and bruises he said indicated an intentional drowning. He then called in West, who once again managed to find bite marks no one else had noticed. Because of Hayne and West (as well as testimony from a jailhouse snitch), the charges against Duncan were elevated to first-degree murder. He was convicted and sentenced to death. Duncan's attorneys asked Dr. McCormick to review Hayne's work, and not surprisingly, McCormick found Hayne's autopsy report lacking. But the courts weren't interested. From a February 1994 article in the Advocate:

Attorneys for a man accused of raping and drowning a toddler in December have asked for permission to exhume the victim's body for a second autopsy.

Peter Edwards and John Focke, who are representing Jimmie Christian Duncan, said that the Brandon, Miss., forensic pathologist who performed the original autopsy is not certified by the American Board of Pathology. The original autopsy was performed by Steven Hayne, a forensic pathologist in Rankin County, Miss. Duncan's attorneys are asking that a second autopsy be performed by Caddo Parish Coroner George M. McCormick II.

But District Attorney Jerry Jones said the pathologist is qualified, and Jones will fight any attempt to exhume the body.

The DA won. The court ruled against an exhumation, and Duncan was convicted, thanks in large part to Hayne and West—with no one from the defense team given an opportunity to check their work. Duncan is currently represented by Louisiana's Office of Capital Post Conviction Project, where staff have since found more evidence suggesting Duncan's innocence, and more problems with the testimony from Hayne and West. I'll report back when they've wrapped up their investigation.

The point here is that there have been ample warnings about Hayne and West going back nearly two decades. Not only were those warnings not heeded, they seemed to have actually made Hayne and West more desirable in the eyes of many prosecutors.

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  1. The Hayne, West Taint

    Cue ecstatic URKOBOLD posting in 3…2…

  2. What are the total number of years innocents have been incarcerated as a result of Hayne and West? Whatever it is, that should be their sentence, each. If it is expected they will die before their sentences are up, they should be continually poked by a spork to make up for it.

  3. If it can be proved that these fuckers made shit up to convict people as a service to the prosecution, I can get behind the death penalty in this case.

    However, I probably wouldn’t have to as somebody they put in prison, or somebody related to them, would probably take care of that anyway.

  4. So what’s the financial gain potential in the relationship between Hayne and West or between Hayne and the state?

    West would have been paid for his consultations. How much did all that come to? Perhaps Hayne is simply corrupt out of greed.

    Not sure if you’re aware but in small towns in the past, autopsies were often paid for on a case by case contractual bases because forensic autopsies were rare. I wouldn’t be surprised to find Mississippi still retains vestiges of that old system. Its possible Hayne has incentive to start an autopsy mill and that telling the prosecution what it wants to hear serves as a means of preventing those with the most outside contact with him from asking to many questions. The fact that he does 1000 autopsies a year personally makes me think he has a direct motive for doing so. After all, if he were doing so for other reasons, he wouldn’t really have a motive to do all the procedures himself.

    A 1000 autopsies a year, nearly 3 a day, is just ridiculous. Including test and paperwork, your looking at something like a minimum of 6 hours of work per case just for the pathologist alone. Carefully dissecting a body is tedious work despite what you see on TV.

  5. Espisarch,

    If it can be proved that these fuckers made shit up to convict people as a service to the prosecution, I can get behind the death penalty in this case.

    IIRC in Texas, murder under the color of authority is a capital crime. Knowingly lying in Death Penalty case would certainly qualify. The same rule might apply in Mississippi.

  6. Shannon, according to Radley’s other articles about Dr. Hayne, the 1000 per year is rather low. He’s frequently cited 1500-1800 autopsies per year for Dr. Hayne, with the same conclusions you came to.

    Additionally, it seems to be a dual incentive for having an autopsy mill. Like you mention, he gets paid for each one, and apparently guards that business very tenaciously. Additionally, he seems very willing to come up with what the prosecutors want as a cause or circumstance of death, making him desirable. And being buddies with all the DA’s gives him both a large amount of power in the state and seemingly a large amount of cover. None of them are particularly willing to investigate him for what might be criminal wrongdoing, because he’s been on their side so much.

    Truly a sad state of affairs.

  7. It’s good to see Rodney Balko’s story in Slate today.
    Why isn’t this on some of those “investigative” news shows?

  8. I hate to be the one to say this, but perhaps it is time to get the feds involved.
    As a Philly resident, I had been unfortunate in having to live through the Street administration, and, sadly, the corruption was so entrenched that only outsiders (Feds) could come in and actually start a real investigation.
    From what I’ve been reading for the past 9 months or so here about this situation in MS, it looks rotten to the core.

  9. It’s good to see Rodney Balko’s story in Slate today.

    Better than that, if you look in their right-hand margin, his is the second most emailed story on that site at this time.

  10. VM will be so pleased by this title. Not so much at the subject matter, though.

  11. Highway,

    Thanks, I must have missed that. It’s a good point to bring out because when people are trying to decide the merit of an accusation they really want a clear motive.

    It doesn’t get much clearer than money, sex or status.

  12. Wow, that’s a big taint covering two states.

    So it’s a win-win to them. The prosecutor gets his conviction, the “doctor” gets rich and nobody gets hurt (at least nobody that matters as far as they are concerned).

    Total scum.

  13. Note that Dr. Hayne does work with assistants (with associated bad practices, apparently), so it’s not him doing ALL the work. But it’s still him putting his name on all those autopsies.

  14. Keep putting this in front of as many eyeballs as possible. These guys must go down. (figuratively… and probably literally… on each other)

  15. Where’s Jack McCoy when we really need him?

  16. Where’s Jack McCoy when we really need him?

    Heck with McCoy, put West in the tank for 10 minutes with Det. Goren and he’d be toast.

  17. From what I’ve been reading for the past 9 months or so here about this situation in MS, it looks rotten to the core.

    Let us pray for a Category 5 Hurricane to demolish the Mississippi coast.

  18. Can a defense attorney challege their credibility by bringing up people wrongfully convicted by their testimony at trial?

  19. You’re on a roll, Radley. Way to go, Dude.

    Extra, bonus snarkage points for working the word “taint” into the lede.


    If it can be proved that these fuckers made shit up to convict people as a service to the prosecution, I can get behind the death penalty in this case.

    Realistically, though, I can’t recall a single recent case where a cop, prosecutor or someone in a similar position got more than a slap on the wrist. Better than nothing, though.

    However, I probably wouldn’t have to as somebody they put in prison, or somebody related to them, would probably take care of that anyway.

    Even the cops (etc) that do get “time” are often segregated into special facilities or units to protect them from the general inmate population.

  20. Vic, I’m guessing a prosecutor would object and a judge would sustain the objection, but the defense attorney should say it anyway so the jury hears it.

    Michael, it happened. Katrina was a Cat 5 and it hit the MS coast. These bastards survived it.

  21. “””These bastards survived it.”””

    Yeah, fortunately for them, Jackson Mississipi is not close to the coast.

  22. “Jackson Mississipi is not close to the coast.”

    I know where it is. Point being, I don’t want the poor shlubs of Biloxi to suffer through another Cat 5 so two or three evil pricks can die a miserable death. I say take ’em out back, and beat the living shit out of them.

  23. Why does Hayne, West hate innocent people?

  24. You know, if you pronounced Hayne like Han-ye, and put it with West…

    Ah, nevermind.


    Hayne should investigate this case in Louisiana

  26. Is it just me or are Radley’s posts the most depressing and infuriating on H&R?

  27. Isn’t it “odontologist” rather than “odentologist”?

    So bite me.

  28. Point being, I don’t want the poor shlubs of Biloxi to suffer through another Cat 5 so two or three evil pricks can die a miserable death. I say take ’em out back, and beat the living shit out of them.

    If that is not compassion, I don’t know what is.

  29. I have been told by an attorney I’m working with on a child’s case who got life, that the public defender system in Mississippi is admittedly broken. How do you still give death sentences under an “admittedly” broken system? I am furious not only because Hayne testified as the only expert witness in the case I’m involved in, but that nothing is being done about it in future cases. Thanks to Radley Balko and the MS IP for all their hard work fighting evil. someone has to do it.

  30. I don’t understand why DAs fight so hard against exhumations, DNA tests, etc. If the DA honestly believes the person is guilty, does it not follow that the exhumation, DNA test, etc will confirm that guilt? It seems to me that the only reason to fight such post-conviction acts is that the DA doesn’t actually believe the convict is guilty and that the new evidence will prove their innocence.

  31. Thanks to you, Radley, for helping to shed light on this issue. We are working hard here at the MS Innocence Project on several cases involving Hayne’s testimony. Thanks to everyone for keeping up with this.
    Director of Programs, MIP

  32. Bob, DA’s are sooooo important, and soooo full of themselves, it’s wrong to second guess them. Outright disrespectful to authority!

  33. It’s Mississippi. Is anyone really surprised?

  34. Mr. Balko, Dr. McCormick died September 20, 2005. The article is nice just wanted to add that correction. He tried very hard to stop Dr. Haynie. Despite what anyone thinks he was an excellent pathologist for years and since his death, the autopsies being done now are not worth SHIT!!!! Arkansas cases are shitty and they don’t perserve enough evidence and specimens. If there is something needed later, you are shit out of luck. LSUHSC-Shreveport are performing autopsies and the doctor there didn’t return to New Orleans and we all are wondering why. “NOT” I do agree about the exhumation. If a second autopsy needs to be performed then there should be an exhumation. The coroner could actually overrule the DA and ask for that body to be exhumed. OOPS, I’m sorry that would probably make him/her look bad as well. You know, Dr. McComick could be an asshole sometimes ok a lot of times but he cared about the dead and spoke for them no matter what.

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