Criminal Justice

Good News in Mississippi?

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The Innocence Project seems to think so.

Governor Haley Barbour has appointed Steven Simpson, a judge from the Gulf Coast, to head up the state's Department of Public Safety. That's the agency that oversees the crime lab and the medical examiner's office. The new appointee has promised to make it a priority to get both agencies in order.

Judge Simpson is a former prosecutor and law enforcement officer. He comes from one of just a couple of areas of the state that hasn't regularly used Dr. Steven Hayne for autopsies. Though I'm told the guy they do use down there is nearly as bad, my sources in Mississippi say that on the whole, Simpson's appointment is probably good news.

The other news is that the state legislature has appropriated (pdf) a barely-adequate budget to fund the state medical examiner position, something they haven't done in more than a decade. The total budget for salaries, benefits, supplies, and so forth is just under $1 million. That should be at least enough to attract some decent candidates for the head position and run a bare-bones office, though probably not enough to adequately staff it.

Rep. Bob Evans' amendment that would have withheld funding from the entire Department of Public Safety until a new state medical examiner is hired didn't make it through the conference committee.

Still, if the new salary is high enough to at minimum attract a qualified, professional candidate with some integrity, it would likely spell the end of Dr. Steven Hayne's autopsy practice. That's a step in the right direction.