Patricia Moore: A Continuing Forensics Scandal in Texas


In the late 1990s, Harris County, Texas, medical examiner Patricia Moore was repeatedly reprimanded by her superiors for pro-prosecution bias. Yet she was still able to keep her position doing official autopsies for the county until 2002. In 2004, a statistical analysis showed Moore diagnosed shaken baby syndrome (already a controversial diagnosis) in infant deaths at a rate several times higher than the national average. Roger Koppl and I noted her case in recommending statistical analysis as one way of checking the integrity of state forensic specialists.

One woman convicted of killing her own child because of Moore's testimony was freed in 2005 after serving six years in prison. Another woman was cleared in 2004 after being accused because of Moore's autopsy results. In 2001, babysitter Trenda Kemmerer was sentenced to 55 years in prison after being convicted of shaking a baby to death based largely on Moore's testimony. The prosecutor in that case told the Houston Chronicle in 2004 that she had "no concerns" about Moore's work. Even though Moore's diagnosis in that case has since been revised to "undetermined," and Moore was again reprimanded for her lack of objectivity in the case, Kemmerer remains in prison.

Now another innocence claim has been filed in a case where Moore diagnosed shaken baby syndrome. According to the Chronicle, the Harris County Medical Examiner's Office has "quietly rewritten" the results of a 1998 autopsy performed by Moore that was used to convict a nurse of killing a child in her care. The revision downgraded Moore's homicide conclusion to an "undetermined" cause of death. So far, the prosecutors in that case are standing by their conviction.

According to the Chronicle, Moore today works for a private firm that performs official autopsies for six Texas counties.