Civil Liberties

Breaking, Bizarre News in Mississippi


First, the good news. The Mississippi House of Representatives has passed the bill requiring anyone doing autopsies in the state to be board certified in forensic pathology by the American Board of Pathology. The bill now goes to Gov. Haley Barbour. As I reported last week, the bill faced opposition from Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood, who sent an email urging lawmakers to defeat it, and has been active in trying to bring back disgraced medical examiner Steven Hayne (Hayne is not board certified).

One more item from that story: Hood told the Sun Herald newspaper last week that Hayne "has also worked on the defense side of cases in which he was involved," attempting to deflect the criticism that Hayne is a shill for prosecutors. Over the last several days, I've contacted a half dozen defense attorneys in Mississippi to see if they know of any cases in which Hayne has testified for the defense. A few have been in practice for 20 years. Of the six, just one could remember a single case from the early 1990s, before Hood was a DA. I called Hood's office to ask for a list of cases in which Hayne testified for the defense during Hood's time in the district attorney's office. They haven't yet responded.

Now for the really weird news: Tennessee Chief Medical Examiner Bruce Levy was arrested in Mississippi on a drug charge last night. Levy is also the owner of Global Forensics, the Nashville company that has been doing Mississippi's autopsies since Commissioner of Public Safety Steve Simpson effectively fired Steven Hayne in 2008. According to Jackson TV station WAPT, Levy was arrested after receiving a package of marijuana delivered to his hotel room by undercover officers with the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics. According to early reports, the amount of marijuana in the package was small, but just enough to trigger a felony charge. Levy was in Mississippi to testify in a case for which he performed the autopsy.

So on the night before the Mississippi House was to vote on a bill that would ban Steven Hayne from doing any more autopsies in the state—a bill vigorously opposed by the state's attorney general, district attorneys, and coroners—the state's anti-drug police agency conducts a pot sting on the owner of the firm that has replaced Hayne. Sometimes these things really are mere coincidence. But that's pretty incredible timing.