Criminal Justice

More from Mississippi

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A reader sends the following exchange, taken from a murder trial in Hattiesburg, Mississippi this week. A defense lawyer is in the process of mounting a challenge to the prosecutor's attempt to use embattled Mississippi medical examiner Dr. Steven Hayne as an expert witness.

"Is board certification required to be a forensic pathologist?" she asked.

"No," he replied.

"What do you have to do to be a forensic pathologist?" Polk-Payton said.

"You have to (have) forensic training," Hayne responded.

[…]

Hayne testified Tuesday that he performs between 1,500 and 1,600 autopsies a year. He said a suggested professional standard is 250 autopsies a year.

"About how many hours a day do you think you work?" Polk-Payton asked.

"I usually start work at about 8:15 in the morning," Hayne answered. "Last night I got to bed at actually 2:30 this morning."

Hayne testified that he only sleeps 3 1/2 to four hours a night, as a result of his work schedule.

"I don't like to sleep. That's the way I am, some people need sleep, some don't—I don't need it," Hayne, 66, said.

Moments later, Forrest County Circuit Judge Bob Helfrich interjected.

"Dr. Hayne will be accepted by this court as an expert witness," Helfrich said.

And so it goes. I'm told that over the last 6-8 months, defense attorneys across the state are have been challenging Hayne with questions like these. Thus far, not a single judge has declined to certify Hayne as an expert.

Helfrich, incidentally, is a former assistant district attorney for Forrest and Perry counties in Mississippi. If he had any homicide cases during his time in the DA's office, Hayne was almost certainly the doctor who performed the autopsy.

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  1. Well, hell, you can’t expect these judges to turn their backs on their old buddy now, can you?

  2. You really couldn’t make that shit up. I do have to say that I have known some people who were fine with no sleep, so I’m not sure that should be held against him (though I can think of some other things that should be held against him, preferably at the temple, Bronwyn-style).

    Actually, I think Whitey Herzog was/is famous for only sleeping four hours a night, and he seems to have competently executed his various duties. Me, I need my 7-8 hours. Oddly, I lose my ability to hear pitches accurately if I don’t get enough sleep, and since I spend a lot of my time transcribing music that is not good.

  3. I recall reading somewhere that the standard for “expert witness” is actually quite low – it just means “knows more about the subject than the average person”.

    I think it’s a safe bet that regardless of his flaws, Hayne does know more about autopsies than the average person.

  4. Can somebody sneak a drug test from this dude’s sewer and see WTF he’s on that lets him sleep that little?

  5. I thought Mississippi did in fact require board certification to be a forensic pathologist. If so, Hayne perjured himself.

  6. 1500 autopsies a year????? Where are all the dead people coming from? Aren’t there any other medical examiners in Mississippi? Assuming he takes weekends off, this guy is performing 6 autopsies per day.

  7. Hayne’s about as thorough in an examination as a congreeeman is in examining the legislation he’s voting on.

    Cloee enough for government work.

  8. congreSSman

  9. Is the exchange above in front of the jury? If not can the defense present these facts to a jury? I’m pretty sure this answer is no. but if either one was yes, I would accept that as being sufficient. It would still put the question of who is an ‘expert’ in the hands of a jury, as well as an assessment of work practices.

  10. Oddly, I lose my ability to hear pitches accurately if I don’t get enough sleep, and since I spend a lot of my time transcribing music that is not good.

    It’s not that odd. Many neurologists believe that sleep serves a recuperative purpose for fatigued neuronal circuits (caused by gradual depletion of neurotransmitters available for the synapse); since you apparently task your pitch recognition circuits heavily, it should be no surprise that sleep benefits that area and a lack of sleep would be noticeable in that same area.

  11. Nigel,
    “Can somebody sneak a drug test from this dude’s sewer and see WTF he’s on that lets him sleep that little?”

    At the least a PI could tail him for awhile, just to see how much time he spends in the office.

  12. You would think if this guy had a shred of decency he’d retire.

  13. Lesson 1: Don’t ever go to or through Mississippi.

  14. LMNOP: It’s not that odd. Many neurologists believe that sleep serves a recuperative purpose for fatigued neuronal circuits (caused by gradual depletion of neurotransmitters available for the synapse); since you apparently task your pitch recognition circuits heavily, it should be no surprise that sleep benefits that area and a lack of sleep would be noticeable in that same area.

    Yep, I think you are almost certainly correct, though I hadn’t thought about it that way before. It’s funny that you say that because it is almost a mirror of a conversation I had with a young powerlifter two days ago.

    Kid is a bit of a genetic freak (most people would end up crippled if they tried to lift the way he does) and has been adding 5 pounds a week to his deadlift for a long time. He finally hit his wall. It’s really hard to convince him that his CNS is an actual physical entity, that it has limits, and that he has reached a point at which he has to do conjugate training to progress.

    I’ve actually been trying to integrate an understanding of CNS fatigue into my day-to-day life for a while, but it had never occurred to me that pitch recognition tasked my CNS. It’s odd because to me, on a good day, hearing pitch differences is like seeing colors. It’s really weird when you suddenly have a hard time telling the difference between red and orange.

  15. “Dr. Hayne will be accepted by this court as an expert witness,” Helfrich said.

    This actually doesn’t surprise me. When a judge has someone who’s regularly used and accepted as an expert witness in his court, a constant barrage of new questioning on his “expertness” is usually not tolerated by the judge.

    The point being that a direct challenge to Hayne on his credentials, in a discreet format specifically organized to challenge Hayne must take place. After that he might have his credentials officially demoted. Using innuendo during a court proceeding having nothing to do with Hayne will probably never work.

  16. This doesn’t surprise me. With Hayne’s track record?well let’s consider WHO is keeping score. The DA’s. Yep, the “Little Rascals” have a monopoly on the court system in Mississippi.

    Hayne is making a KILLING, (don’t pardon the pun) doing autopsies on the ‘side’ at about $550.00 a pop.

    This Helfrich guy must have his head on an autopsy slab himself ( he has to be brain-dead) if he is accepting Hayne’s testimony in light of the latest controversy over this incompetent, unethical and unqualified quack.

    What the hell is it gonna take? A judge’s own INNOCENT loved one laying on an execution gurney and one plunger away from death based on Hayne’s testimony?

    Hayne cannot even ‘recall’ WHO certified him?AND he has PERJURED himself a thousand times on the stand already claiming to be something he isn’t. He can’t even pass the freakin’ State Medical Exam.

    If Hayne is ‘qualified’ as an expert witness then my training as a paramedic should qualify me to be a brain surgeon!

    Clearly, this goes much deeper than the amount of sleep Hayne gets.

    Personally I don’t see how the man SLEEPS at all. Obviously he has no conscience at all.

    Problem is that the ‘powers that be’ in Mississippi KNOW that once they acknowledge Hayne is unqualified and incompetent it will open the floodgates of cases to be re-opened and re-tried with many exonerations thus creating ‘wrongful conviction’ lawsuits and they will have to open their creaky wallets and PAY UP!

  17. I wrote off Mississippi as irrecoverable long ago. I suggest we nuke it from orbit (apologies to the Reason readers from Mississippi)

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