The A.P. on Mississippi's Forensics Problems


It's good that the Mississippi's troubled forensics system is getting national exposure, but this passage from the A.P. concerning shady medical examiner Dr. Steven Hayne, bite mark fraud Dr. Michael West, and District Attorney Forrest Allgood isn't quite accurate. The writer is referring to the two recent exonerations in Mississippi involving West, Hayne, and Allgood.

Hayne said he has done nothing wrong, and he remains on the job. "All I did was present the facts that I saw," Hayne said. "I did the post-mortem examinations. I didn't link them or exclude them."

The district attorney who prosecuted both defendants, Forrest Allgood, disputed any suggestion that his office knowingly sent the wrong men to prison.

"It torments the innocent individual, undermines the public confidence in the justice system, and the bad guy is still running loose," he said. "Why people would believe that's something we would want to do is beyond me."

Allgood said he has not used West as a forensic expert since the mid-1990s. He said West was once considered one of the world's foremost authorities in his field, lecturing in China and England.

"Subsequently the whole situation turned into a train wreck," the district attorney said.

Allgood simply isn't telling the truth, here. He continued to rely on West's testimony in the Kennedy Brewer case until the state attorney general forced him off the case in 2006. Brewer was exonerated by DNA evidence in 2001. Because Allgood refused to let go of West's testimony about Brewer's bite mark's on the victim's chest, Brewer remained in prison for an additional six years. Relying solely on West's testimony, Allgood maintained that though Brewer may not have raped the girl, he still likely bit her.

Allgood has now convicted three people (that I know of) of murder who were later exonerated. Two were sentenced to death. And it was Allgood who put on Dr. Hayne's absurd "two hands on the gun" testimony in the Tyler Edmonds case.

Allgood's also wrong about West being a "foremost authority" in his field. West was popular among prosecutors. He was never respected by his peers. West was first exposed as a fraud in the National Law Journal in 1994. Stories in 60 Minutes, Time, and Newsweek followed in the mid-1990s. There's no way Allgood couldn't have known about West's reputation. And he continued to use him well into the 2000s.

Hayne's now trying to distance himself from West, too. But these two have always been in cahoots. West frequently helps with Hayne's autopsies, and often videotapes them. The two have collaborated on journal articles about bite mark evidence. And when one has had his credibility questioned on the stand or in depositions, he often cites the other to vouch for him.

All three need to be investigated.