Criminal Justice

Jackson's Clarion-Ledger Confronts Dr. Hayne


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.