Criminal Justice

Jackson's Clarion-Ledger Confronts Dr. Hayne

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Over the weekend, Mississippi's largest newspaper confronted controversial medical examiner Dr. Steven Hayne about some of the inconsistencies and inaccuracies in his CV. First, there's the matter of his alleged "board certification." If you'll remember, Hayne told a Jackson TV station last fall that he was board certified in forensic pathology but "couldn't remember" the name of the organization that had certified him. Since then, he's been clinging to an organization called "The American Board of Forensic Pathology," which sounds much like the organization he should have a certification from, but that actually no longer exists.

The American Board of Forensic Pathology sounds official in name but doesn't appear on a list of possible certifications put out by the National Association of Medical Examiners. A Google search for the board turned up only 10 listings.

When the board did exist in the early 1990s, it was administered through a little-known organization, the American Academy of Neurological and Orthopedic Surgeons, whose Web site includes a link to books of Persian poetry written by its chairman.

But in 1995, the academy decided to limit its certification to clinical orthopedic surgery, clinical neurosurgery, neurology and clinical spinal surgery.

All other boards and the certifications the academy offered went away, said Nick Rebel, the academy's executive director.

Hayne said he didn't know the American Board of Forensic Pathology ceased to exist.

But when questioned in a 2004 murder trial if he knew the academy no longer offered board certification in forensic pathology, he replied, "I'm aware of that."

Rebel said no one these days can claim to be "board certified" by the American Board of Forensic Pathology.

Hayne said he believed the board's nonexistence had no effect on his qualifications.

The doctor who proffered the test to Hayne was neurologist, not a forensic pathologist, and was later stripped of his medical license. The article then moves to Hayne's failure to pass the forensic pathology exam of the American Board of Pathology, universally regarded as the only legitimate certifying organization for medical examiners.

This board certified Hayne in anatomical and clinical pathology, but he failed the exam for forensic pathology in 1989. About 80 percent of first-time test takers pass the examination, according to board officials.

Hayne said he failed because he angrily walked out of the exam.

"The questions were absurd, counselor, ludicrous, absolutely absurd," he testified in the 2004 trial. "I convey to the jury the last question, the final straw that broke the camel's back. … The question was specifically: 'What color is most associated with death?' And it included the color black or white, the color red, the color green.

"In Western civilization, black is associated with death. In the Orient, white is associated with death. Green is a color of decomposition, certainly associated with death. … Blood is obviously associated with death … To me, it was just the final absurd question. So I got up, handed my paper to the proctor and said, 'I leave, I quit. I'm not going to answer this type of material.' "

After reading Hayne's version of this event in The Clarion-Ledger, board officials contacted the newspaper.

"As the executive director of the American Board of Pathology I was surprised by Dr. Hayne's description of the 'stupid question' (related to colors associated with funerals) on his forensic pathology examination that caused him to walk out of the exam," Dr. Betsy Bennett said by e-mail. "Dr. Hayne took the forensic pathology examination in 1989. I pulled the text of this examination from our files, and there was no question on that examination that was remotely similar to Dr. Hayne's description."

Hayne responded, "She is flat wrong. She doesn't know what she's talking about."

He said he would stake his reputation and career on that question appearing on the test, saying, "It's like remembering where you were when men landed on the moon."

I would think this would be a pretty easy thing to prove, particularly if copies of the exam are still around. If there's no such question, Hayne's lying, and has been using the "color question" as an excuse for his failing the exam. Of course, even if the question was on the test, it doesn't excuse his misleading statement given thousands of times in court that he's "board certified" in forensic pathology when in fact he failed the exam given by the only organization understood by his colleagues to be the gold standard for certification in the field.

My expose of Hayne for reason here. List of prior articles and blog posts on Hayne here.

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  1. Time for a “leak” from the certifying board. An original test would be nice.

  2. Somebody (*coughcough*Radley*cough*) needs to get a copy of that test and publish a scan to the Web.

  3. I was setup to fail! Fail, I tell you! The questions were ludicrous! You ALL would have walked out of the certification test as well. Besides, all you really need is a magic eight ball and a scapel to do an autopsy.

  4. Good riddance to bad rubbish. Now what about all the people he helped put behind bars? And what about the prosecutors and the rest of the system that was all to happy to have a puppet whose strings they could pull?

  5. Like all snake oil salesmen, Dr. Hayne’s jig is about up (and about time).

    The state of Mississippi and forensic pathologists everywhere owe you their thanks Radley.

  6. There are arguably absurd or irrelevantly questions on almost every test I’ve ever taken. When a normal person comes across such a question while taking a test, he/she simply answers it to the best of his/her ability and moves on. Hayne is trying to paint himself as being SO principled with such strength of character that he couldn’t even associate with an organization that would allow such absurd questions on their tests.

  7. THIS is investigative journalism at its best. It looks like a fraud, who has been responsible for the potentially wrongful incarceration of far too many will finally be stopped. While he likely won’t get what he deserves (which is anything that could be imagined), at least it looks like this will finally come to an end.

    BRAVO Radley Balko!

  8. Hayne said he believed the board’s nonexistence had no effect on his qualifications.

    Well, not according the the board itself.

    Also, I have never seen any kind of board certification that didn’t have to be renewed periodically. Even if the cancellation of the program by the board didn’t automatically nullify certifications, they would expire over time.

  9. Mr. Balko,
    Good work in digging up the awful truth and keeping the pressure on. That the Clarion Ledger is actually now asking the “hard” questions of Dr. Hayne is a monumental step. Hopefully the next step is a repeal of his office and a criminal suit resulting in jail time. Thanks for the update.

  10. Since then, he’s been clinging to an organization called “The American Board of Forensic Pathology,” which sounds much like the organization he should have a certification from, but that actually no longer exists.

    Hi everybody!

    I just stopped by to say this board is totally 100% legitimate, and my good friend Dr. Hayne is one of the best aut… cor… body-chopping guys around, and very generous with his organs! Call me for some great rates on slightly used hair, livers or hearts!

    Now, who has a golf cart I can borrow? I need to perform a transdermal electromicide, stat!

  11. Thank you, Mr Balko! It looks like your hard work is finally starting to pay off. The corruption of justice by this cockroach and the foul prosecutors who have used him to convict innocent citizens is finally becoming widely known. Each and every single case Hayne has been involved in now needs to be reviewed by parties not complicit in this totally untrustworthy system.

  12. Great work Mr. Balko!

    May I suggest a follow up call/email to Dr. Bennet at the ABP? Ask her if the “color associated with death” question ever appeared on the certification exam. If so, what years? How was it worded? What was the ‘correct’ answer?

  13. it has been gratifying to follow this story, mostly from mr. balko’s corner. good work.

    i too would like to see the question in its original context.

  14. Also, I have never seen any kind of board certification that didn’t have to be renewed periodically. Even if the cancellation of the program by the board didn’t automatically nullify certifications, they would expire over time.

    Recertification for pathology by the ABP only began two years ago.

  15. It is refreshing to read some good news on a monday. Usually a monday Balko post is not a happy experience. I’m looking forward to the day Hayne is completely barred from any association with the justice system.

    When that happens, does Radley carve a notch in his pen or paint a silhouette on his laptop?

  16. J sub D | April 28, 2008, 5:56pm | #
    It is refreshing to read some good news on a monday. Usually a monday Balko post is not a happy experience. I’m looking forward to the day Hayne is completely barred from any association with the justice system.

    When that happens, does Radley carve a notch in his pen or paint a silhouette on his laptop?

    Silhouette of…?

  17. Silhouette of…?

    Damn, KD. I can’t think of a symbol for injustice to use. Any ideas?

  18. I say we all get together on a certain date with Radley, The Innocence Project, the attorneys of the accused inmates and anyone else who gives an AMERICAN DAMN, and sit on the steps of the Medical Exam Board. The NEXT day we can sit on the steps of the GOVERNOR’S MANSION…and so forth, until we get some ANSWERS!
    How about it? Any takers? Or is everyone posting in here blowing hot air?

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