Civil Liberties

Reason's Reporting on Steven Hayne and Mississippi's Criminal Forensics System


In October 2006, Reason published an article by Radley Balko about the case of Cory Maye, a man sentenced to death after shooting a police officer during a paramilitary-style drug raid on his home. The conviction was based in part on the testimony of a controversial Mississippi medical examiner named Steven Hayne, who claimed that bullet trajectories extrapolated from the victim contradicted Maye's account of events. Maye was subsequently removed from death row pending a new sentencing hearing. Click below to watch's award-winning 30-minute documentary on the case (go here for embed code and related materials).

In January 2007, Balko's reporting was cited by the Mississippi State Supreme Court in tossing out Hayne's testimony in the murder-conspiracy case of Tyler Edmonds, who was 13 at the time of his sentencing. Hayne had claimed that his examination revealed two sets of hands on the murder weapon. Edmonds was retried in November 2008, and acquitted.

In November 2007 Reason published an investigative feature on Hayne himself, revealing that for nearly two decades the questionable examiner had performed the vast majority of the state's criminal autopsies, at a rate of roughly four per day. In January 2008, Mississippi officials announced that two men who had been implicated by Hayne's science, Kennedy Brewer and Levon Brooks, would be released from prison after DNA testing confirmed they didn't commit the rapes and murders for which they were convicted. Trial testimony from Hayne and disgraced Mississippi bite mark analyst Michael West had been critical in securing both convictions.

In August 2008, after mounting public pressure, Mississippi officials announced that Hayne would no longer be performing criminal autopsies. Still, Mississippi officials refuse to investigate prior cases in which Hayne and West have testified, which combined number well into the thousands.

Below is a complete archive of Balko's Reason reporting on Hayne.