Criminal Justice

Hayne/West Story Hits Mississippi Media

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The Hattiesburg American and the Jackson Clarion-Ledger both pick up my story we posted at Reason last week about a 1993 video of a bite mark examination on a 23-month old Louisiana girl named Haley Oliveaux. The video implicates Mississippi forensic experts Michael West and Steven Hayne in possible evidence tampering and perjury. The video shows bite marks appearing on Oliveaux on the second day of the examination that weren't there on the first, and it shows West repeatedly jamming and forcing a dental mold of suspect Jimmie Duncan's teeth into Oliveaux's corpse.

I want to focus on a few points from the Clarion-Ledger article, including a reaction from Hayne, Mississippi's now-terminated medical examiner who performed the Oliveaux autopsy with West, testified at Duncan's trial, and someone I've been investigating for a few years, now.

Here is Hayne's response:

Brandon pathologist Steven Hayne, who performed the autopsy in Mississippi, vehemently denies the suspicion that bite-mark expert Dr. Michael West of Hattiesburg did anything to tamper with the child's cheek to produce the marks. "This is so patently absurd, it's ludicrous," Hayne said…

Hayne said the abrasion "was there before. It just became more evident. We see that all the time."

If by "we," Hayne means he and West, he may well be correct. If by "we" he means he and other medical examiners, he's flat wrong. The experts I consulted with for the article say that abrasions form immediately after they're inflicted. They don't appear, or become more apparent, hours or days after death. That can sometimes happen with bruising, but not with an abrasion, which is what we see on Oliveaux's cheek.

Moreover, even giving Hayne and West the benefit of the doubt on the cheek mark that appears between the first and second days of the examination, the last 20 minutes of the video show West repeatedly jamming the dental mold into Oliveaux's body, over and over, more than 50 times. You'd be hard-pressed to find a single forensics professional—other than Hayne or West—who would argue that this is an acceptable way of analyzing forensic evidence. Those I spoke with called it criminal evidence tampering.

I'm also not sure about the explanation offered in the article that the removal of medical tape might have caused the mark on the cheek. Even if true, that explanation would still mean Hayne and West misidentified the mark as a bite mark, and you'd still have the matter of West's violation of Haley Oliveaux's corpse with the dental mold. But the problem with the tape theory is that in the first five minutes of the video, the tape has already been removed from Oliveaux's face, and there are no visible marks on her cheek.

It's also unfortunate that thus far, Mississippi Public Safety Commissioner Steve Simpson seems to have no interest in investigating the video. You have to wonder what sort of evidence it would take for Simpson to begin an investigation into these two.

Here's the most unsettling line in the article:

Hayne said he is now doing autopsies in Louisiana, plus private cases he handles.

So Louisiana coroners and district attorneys are apparently still giving Hayne work, even after all that has come out about him in the last year.

My story in the April issue of Reason will address some of the other evidence against Jimmie Duncan that's discussed in the Clarion-Ledger article.