Trial postponed in defamation suit filed by Dr. Joseph Czaja against prosecutor

Dr. Joseph Czaja

Dr. Joseph Czaja

In April 2012 I wrote about the defamation lawsuit filed by Dr. Joseph Czaja, a forensic pathologist, against Mike Shipman, prosecuting attorney for Wayne County Indiana.  The case was supposed to go to trial on March 4, 2013, but the trial has been delayed because Dr. Czaja’s attorney has asked for a 60 day continuation to respond to a motion for summary judgement filed by Shipman.

Dr. Czaja filed suit after Shipman allegedly defamed him (Czaja) following the dismissal of murder charges against the boyfriend of Erin Stanley, a 16 year old girl found dead in her bed, whom Shipman was prosecuting.

Here is a little background from my previous post:

The story begins in September 2007, when a 16 year old girl was found dead in her bed.  The coroner contacted Dr. Czaja to perform the autopsy, and also informed him that the organ/tissue procurement team wanted to begin harvesting immediately.  Dr. Czaja very correctly told the coroner that no one was to touch the body until he had a chance to examine it first.  When Dr. Czaja arrived to commence the autopsy, he discovered the organ/tissue team had already started their work and that the decedent’s eyes had already been removed.  During the course of the autopsy, Dr. Czaja noted there was significant damage to the decedent’s neck area and trachea, which led him to assign asphyxiation due to strangulation as the cause of death and homicide as the manner of death.

[Read more…]

DNA evidence from at least 26 rape cases mishandled by medical examiner technician


Over 800 rape cases are being reexamined for DNA after a lab technician in the New York City medical examiner’s office was found to have mishandled evidence.  So far, the review has uncovered 26 cases where DNA evidence was detected after the technician claimed none was present.

The technician had two responsibilities when processing rape kits: She had to snip cuttings from swabs taken from victims’ bodies and place them in test tubes for DNA analysis by more experienced lab workers.

She also inspected the victims’ clothing, usually underwear, for stains that might indicate DNA. Sometimes she overlooked stains, the review found. At other times, she identified stains, but then botched the chemical test used to detect semen and reported finding nothing.

The review was undertaken when the technician in question, who worked in the office for nine years, enrolled in classes to become a DNA analyst and her supervisors kept having to correct deficiencies in her work.

In the course of reviewing the technician’s work, supervisors discovered another problem. Sixteen pieces of evidence, generally swabs sealed in paper envelopes, were found in the wrong rape kit, commingling DNA evidence from 19 rape investigations…

The review will ultimately include 843 cases, but so far only 412 have been re-examined.  That is a 6.31% error rate at this point, far too high for something supposedly as precise as DNA analysis.

In seven of the 26 cases, the review led to the assembly of an entire DNA profile and one case led to an indictment a decade after the rape occurred.

The office handles 1,500 rape cases a year and employs 48 technicians.  According to its website, the Department of Forensic Biology within the ME’s office handles evidence from both living and deceased persons and presumably crime scenes as well.

At this point, all of the technician’s errors resulted in false negatives, not false positives, and no one was wrongfully convicted as a result, at least according to the director of Forensic Biology at the office.


This is obviously a massive problem.  The errors this person made have not only made it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to solve a far-too-large number of rapes, but has called into question the reputation and findings of the entire ME office.

There is no word yet on any civil suits that have surfaced as a result of this issue, but I imagine many of the victims whose cases were mishandled will at least entertain the thought.

While it would be easy to pin this solely on the technician in question, I have to wonder about the supervision within the office and whether this is more of a systemic issue than we realize right now.  Humans are and always will be human and we all make mistakes, which is why supervision, either by a peer or a superior, is so important.

It also serves as a reminder that technicians often have the most critical duties in a laboratory, and the importance of their work should never be underestimated.

Source:  New York Review Finds DNA Evidence Was Mishandled in 26 Rape Cases –


The New York City medical examiner’s office is undertaking an unusual review of more than 800 rape cases in which critical DNA evidence may have been mishandled or overlooked by a lab technician, resulting in incorrect reports being given to criminal investigators.

Supervisors have so far found 26 cases in which the technician failed to detect biological evidence when some actually existed, according to the medical examiner’s office. In seven of those cases, full DNA profiles were developed — in some instances, evidence that sex-crime investigators did not see for years, hampering their ability to develop cases against rape suspects.

In one of those instances, the newly discovered DNA profile matched a convicted offender’s sample, leading to an indictment a decade after the evidence was collected, according to Dr. Mechthild Prinz, the director of forensic biology at the medical examiner’s office.

In two other instances, the new DNA profiles were linked to people either already convicted or under suspicion.

The scope of the problem has yet to be determined; at several points over nearly two years, supervisors in the medical examiner’s office thought they had gotten to the bottom of the technician’s errors, only to find that the trail went further.

“This is the first time we’ve had anything like this,” said Ellen Borakove, a spokeswoman for the office of the chief medical examiner.

For the entire article, click here.

Did forensic pathologist Dr. Steven Hayne admit to perjury?

Dr. Steven Hayne

Dr. Steven Hayne

Back in May I wrote about Dr. Steven Hayne, former chief medical examiner for the state of Mississippi, who had recently settled a defamation suit with The Innocence Project for $100,000.  Well just this week, the New York Times published a nice update on Dr. Hayne and his situation.  In addition, I also ran across some fascinating reporting related to Dr. Hayne’s claims as to why he was never board certified in forensic pathology.

First, some of the more interesting parts from the NYT article:

-For approximately 20 years, Dr. Hayne claims to have performed around 1,700 autopsies per year (The National Association of Medical Examiners will not accredit any program in which a pathologist performs more than 325 autopsies per year).  Dr. Hayne stated his motivation as a “fee-based contractor” differed from salaried medical examiners.  “They could do one or 500, they get paid the same amount. Is there any incentive to do a heavy load?”  Dr. Hayne allegedly charged $500 per autopsy, which amounts to $850,000 per annum at that rate.

-Dr. Hayne testified he could tell, using a cast made of the face of an exhumed little boy who had been suffocated, that the boy had been suffocated by a male with a large hand.  The boy had been exhumed because his 3 year old brother told police, weeks after the burial, that his mother’s boyfriend had killed him.  The boyfriend, who presumably was large-handed, went to jail.  Dr. Hayne told the NYT he was being “innovative” in that case and that he perhaps should have published his work.

-The Innocence Project is working hard to uncover all cases in which Dr. Hayne’s testimony was extremely important because the state of Mississippi has, unsurprisingly, not initiated its own investigation.

-Dr. Lloyd White, the Mississippi ME before Dr. Hayne, says the problems in Mississippi do not rest solely with Dr. Hayne.  Dr. White stated a Mississippi prosecutor once told him, “These guys may not have done it but they’re bad guys and they have to go to prison…”.

Radley Balko

Radley Balko

The NYT article also refers to Radley Balko, a writer for The Huffington Post who has followed Dr. Hayne and written numerous articles about him.  Back in November 2012, Mr. Balko wrote an article entitled, “Steven Hayne admits to perjury“.  It is a great article I suggest everyone read.

To summarize, Dr. Hayne has long held the reason he was never board certified in forensic pathology is because he walked out of the exam.  Why did he do that?  From an article Mr. Balko wrote in 2008:

He said the American Board of Pathology hasn’t certified him because he walked out of the examination. He said he got angry at what he regarded as a stupid question – ranking in order what colors are associated with funerals instead of asking questions about forensic pathology.

“I’ve got a temper. I don’t put up with crap like that,” he said. “I walked out and took another examination from another board.”

Dr. Betsy Bennett, executive director of the American Board of Pathology, contacted the Clarion-Ledger (the paper from where the above quote came) and said she pulled the forensic pathology board exam from 1989, the year in which Dr. Hayne sat for it, and said there were no questions even remotely like that on the exam.

Dr. Hayne said Dr. Bennett was “flat wrong” and that she didn’t know what she was talking about.

Fast forward to November 2012, when the Clarion-Ledger published a story about a deposition Dr. Hayne participated in with The Innocence Project where he admitted, under oath, that he walked out of his board exam all those years ago because he was failing it, not because of a “stupid question”.

Dr. Hayne has allegedly testified under oath in at least one murder trial that he is not board certified in forensic pathology because of the “stupid question”, and this latest bit of information seems an awful lot like an admission of perjury.

Opponents/skeptics of Dr. Hayne are hoping the state will now have no choice but to take a long, hard look at his work for the past 20 years on the theory that, if Dr. Hayne lied about his qualifications, there is a good chance that lie is not an isolated occurrence.

I seriously doubt this will be the last we’ll hear of Dr. Hayne.

Source:  Questions for Mississippi Doctor After Thousands of Autopsies –


JACKSON, Miss. — For a long time, if a body turned up in Mississippi it had a four-in-five chance of ending up in front of Dr. Steven T. Hayne.

Between the late 1980s and the late 2000s, Dr. Hayne had the field of forensic pathology in Mississippi almost to himself, performing thousands of autopsies and delivering his findings around the state as an expert witness in civil and criminal cases. For most of that time, Dr. Hayne performed about 1,700 autopsies annually, more than four for every day of the year and nearly seven times the maximum caseload recommended by the National Association of Medical Examiners.

During the past several months, in courthouses around Mississippi, four new petitions have been quietly submitted on behalf of people in prison arguing that they were wrongfully convicted on the basis of Dr. Hayne’s testimony. Around 10 more are expected in the coming weeks, including three by inmates on death row.

The filings, based on new information obtained as part of a lawsuit settled last spring, charge that Dr. Hayne made “numerous misrepresentations” about his qualifications as a forensic pathologist. They say that he proposed theories in his testimony that lie far outside standard forensic science. And they suggest that Mississippi officials ignored these problems, instead supporting Dr. Hayne’s prolific business.

For many around the state, the Hayne era is considered to be over and any problems fixed. In 2008, amid growing controversy, the state severed ties with Dr. Hayne, who to this day insists that he was treated unfairly. Mississippi officials have since shown almost no inclination to review his past cases.

The recent lawsuits suggest that in only a limited number of cases did a verdict most likely hinge on Dr. Hayne’s testimony. But without any systematic review, it remains a question as to what that number may be.

“There are hundreds of cases that have to be reconsidered,” said Dr. James Lauridson, a former state medical examiner in Alabama, who provided an affidavit in one of the recently filed cases. Dr. Lauridson said Dr. Hayne was an extreme example of a familiar problem: a forensic analyst with inadequate training who was given far too much deference in the courts.

“After you do that long enough, your initially shaky opinions become way out of the mainstream,” Dr. Lauridson said. “That is what happened to him.”

For the complete NYT story, click here Questions for Mississippi Doctor After Thousands of Autopsies –

Man wins lottery, poisoned with cyanide; Dr. Cina requests exhumation

Urooj Khan (AP Photo)

Urooj Khan (AP Photo)

The manner of death of a Chicago man found dead in his home last July, just weeks after winning the lottery, has been changed to homicide after toxicology tests showed a lethal amount of cyanide in his body.  Dr. Stephen Cina, the Cook County Medical Examiner, has requested the man’s body be exhumed for a full autopsy.

Mr. Urooj Khan, 46, died suddenly before he could collect his winnings from the $1 million prize, which he had chosen to take as a $425,000 (after taxes) lump payment.  The check for the winnings was reportedly written the day before he died.

At the time, there was nothing unusual about the circumstances, and so it was labeled a natural death and an autopsy was not performed.

About a week later, a relative of Mr. Khan, who is unknown to authorities even now, requested the police look at the death a little closer.  It took until December, but toxicology tests showed Mr. Khan had a lethal amount of cyanide onboard when he died.

Dr. Cina will formally request the exhumation in the next few days.

The police have so far questioned Mr. Khan’s wife, who stated Mr. Khan had no enemies.

The Chicago Chief of Police says he has never seen a case like this in his 32 years in law enforcement.


Stephen Cina, MD

I found this story to be interesting, given the well known lottery-winner’s curse, and it involves Dr. Cina, a forensic pathologist whom I have written about before.

It is not clear whether the authorities knew of Mr. Khan’s recent lottery windfall when he died.  I would like to think they would have been more thorough at the time if they had, but as with all things, hindsight is 20/20.

Cyanide poisoning can be tricky to identify, as it is not a component of normal toxicology testing (at least to my knowledge) and not everyone can detect the board-fodder odor of bitter almonds.  The cherry red skin color characteristic of cyanide poisoning can be obscured in people with increased skin pigmentation and furthermore, the same color can also be seen in bodies that have been refrigerated, thereby making the finding easy to overlook.

I’m sure more will come out about this case following the autopsy.

Source:  Medical examiner seeks to exhume lottery winner Urooj Khan’s body cyanide probe –


The widow of a West Rogers Park man who died of cyanide poisoning weeks after winning a $1 million lottery jackpot was questioned extensively by Chicago police last month after the medical examiner’s office reclassified the death as a homicide, her attorney told the Tribune on Tuesday.

Authorities investigating the death of Urooj Khan also executed a search warrant at the home he had shared with his wife, Shabana Ansari, according to Steven Kozicki, her attorney. Ansari later was interviewed by detectives for more than four hours, answering all their questions, the attorney said.

“She’s got nothing to hide,” Kozicki said.

The mystery surrounding Khan’s death — first reported by the Tribune Monday — has sparked international media interest.

Cook County authorities said Tuesday that they plan to go to court in the next few days for approval to exhume Khan’s remains at Rosehill Cemetery. In a telephone interview Tuesday, Medical Examiner Stephen J. Cina said he sent a sworn statement to prosecutors laying out why the body must be exhumed.

“I feel that a complete autopsy is needed for the sake of clarity and thoroughness,” Cina said.

Sally Daly, a spokeswoman for the state’s attorney’s office, confirmed that papers seeking the exhumation would be filed soon in the Daley Center courthouse.

Khan, who owned a dry cleaning business on the city’s North Side, died unexpectedly in July at 46, just weeks after winning a million-dollar lottery prize at a 7-Eleven store near his home. Finding no trauma to his body and no unusual substances in his blood, the medical examiner’s office declared his death to be from natural causes and he was buried without an autopsy.

About a week later, a relative told authorities to take a closer look at Khan’s death. By early December, comprehensive toxicology tests showed that Khan had died of a lethal amount of cyanide, leading the medical examiner’s office to reclassify the death a homicide and prompting police and prosecutors to investigate.

While a motive has not been determined, police have not ruled out that Khan was killed because of his big lottery win, a law enforcement source has told the Tribune. He died before he could collect the winnings — about $425,000 after taxes and because he decided to take a lump-sum payment.

According to court records obtained by the Tribune, Khan’s brother has squabbled with Ansari over the money in probate court. The brother, Imtiaz, raised concern that because Khan left no will, his 17-year-old daughter from a previous marriage would not get “her fair share” of her father’s estate. Khan and Ansari did not have children.

Al-Haroon Husain, an attorney for Ansari in the probate case, said the money was all accounted for and the estate was in the process of being divided up by the court. Under Illinois law, the estate typically would be split evenly between the surviving spouse and Khan’s only child, he said.

Kozicki, Ansari’s criminal defense attorney, said his client adored her husband and had no financial interest in seeing harm come to him.

“Now in addition to grieving her husband, she’s struggling to run the business that he essentially ran while he was alive,” Kozicki said. “Once people analyze it, they (would) realize she’s in a much worse financial position after his death than she was before.”

Reached by phone Tuesday evening at the family dry cleaners, Ansari denied reports that she had fed her husband a traditional Indian meal of ground beef curry before he died. She said he wasn’t feeling well after awakening in the middle of the night. She said he sat in a chair and soon collapsed. She then called 911.

Chicago police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, speaking Tuesday at an unrelated news conference, remarked that he had never seen a case like this in 32 years in law enforcement.

“So I’ll never say that I’ve seen everything,” he told reporters.

Lawsuit against forensic pathologist Dr. Matthias Okoye dismissed…again

Matthias Okoye, MD, JD

Matthias Okoye, MD, JD

A judge has dismissed (for the second time) a lawsuit against a forensic pathologist that claims the pathologist, Dr. Mathias Okoye, acted with malice when he labeled a death a homicide.

wrote about this case at the end of March.  The plaintiff in the case, Carla McKinney, owned and ran a daycare business.  A three and a half month old male, Chase Madsen, died while under her care; Dr. Okoye labeled the death a homicide.

Ms. McKinney was arrested and charged.  At some point after that, two additional forensic pathologists were consulted (I don’t know who retained them, but I am presuming Ms. McKinney did) and determined the death was due to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

A year after she was arrested, the case against Ms. McKinney was dropped.  Prosecutors claim they would not have been able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Ms. McKinney murdered the child.  Ms. McKinney then filed a lawsuit against Dr. Okoye, claiming he acted with malice when he labeled the death of the infant a homicide.

She sought $275,000 in damages for lost revenue from not being able to run a daycare business after she was placed on a child abuse register.

The suit against Dr. Okoye was originally dismissed by Lancaster County District Judge Paul Merritt when he decided Dr. Okoye had absolute immunity from prosecution due to the fact Dr. Okoye is an agent of the state under contract as a forensic pathologist and essentially works with the prosecuting attorney.

The case was appealed to the Nebraska Supreme Court, which found Dr. Okoye was not entitled to absolute immunity and could be sued.  In my post I agreed with the Supreme Court decision:

If forensic pathologists are indeed operating in tandem with prosecutors, then we have a potentially flawed system.  A forensic pathologist’s duty is not to the prosecutor; it is to the deceased patient and to society at large.  To say a forensic pathologist is working with a prosecutor is to say that the forensic pathologist has potentially lost objectivity.  One cannot fit the autopsy findings to conclusions a prosecutor may have reached prior to completion of the autopsy; the facts must speak for themselves.

The Supreme Court did not say Ms. McKinney had a legitimate case; it merely said she deserves to have her day in court.

The case was sent back to Judge Merritt, who dismissed the case a second time, claiming “reasonable minds could not conclude Okoye acted with malice when he prepared the autopsy report.”  Judge Merritt stated the prosecuting attorney said that although the autopsy findings were part of her decision to press charges against McKinney, they were not the sole factor.  Additionally, Dr. Okoye reportedly did not pressure the attorney to charge McKinney.

In an additional twist to this saga, Dr. Okoye, who also holds a law degree, is suing Ms. McKinney for legal fees he incurred from defending himself against what he calls a frivolous lawsuit.

Clearly I do not know all the details of this case, but I find it very hard to believe Dr. Okoye acted with malice when he labeled the death a homicide.  He may have made a very serious error, but an error is quite different from pre-planned malice.

Source:  Judge rules against Lincoln woman in case against coroner : News-crime


For the second time, a judge has ruled against a former Lincoln child care provider who sued Dr. Mathias Okoye over his autopsy on a baby who died in her care.

Carla McKinney was arrested and charged in the Oct. 17, 2007, death of Chase Madsen at her in-home day care after Okoye concluded his death was a homicide.

Prosecutors dropped the case against her a year later, believing it was unlikely they could prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that McKinney was guilty of child abuse resulting in death.

Two other forensic pathologists had come to the conclusion the 3 1/2-month-old boy died quietly in his sleep of asphyxiation related to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

McKinney said she was falsely accused and sued Okoye and Nebraska Forensic Medical Services in 2010 for malicious prosecution, seeking $274,935 in anticipated lost income over the rest of her life, plus unspecified general damages. She alleged Okoye’s opinions had been false and misleading and were made “carelessly and maliciously” without regard to scientific and medical evidence.

She said she lost her business, Country Goose Child Development, remains on a child abuse registry and never can be a child care provider again. McKinney had run a day care out of her home since 1988.

In an order this week, Lancaster County District Judge Paul Merritt said McKinney would have had to establish that she had been charged; that Okoye had caused the charge to be filed; that the case ended in McKinney’s favor; that Okoye lacked probable cause to institute the proceedings; that he acted with malice; and that McKinney suffered damages.

While there was no dispute McKinney was charged or that the case later was dismissed, there were issues with the other claims.

Merritt said Amy Jacobsen, the deputy Lancaster County Attorney who filed the charge, said although Okoye’s findings were a factor in her decision to charge McKinney with child abuse resulting in death, she would not have filed it based on the autopsy alone.

He said Okoye had not actively persuaded and induced Jacobsen’s decision.

And, based on the evidence presented, Merritt said reasonable minds could not conclude Okoye acted with malice when he prepared the autopsy report.

This is the second time Merritt has dismissed the case.

The first time, he granted a defense request to dismiss the case based on absolute testimonial privilege because Okoye had given his opinions as part of a contract with the county to provide forensic pathology services and expert opinion.

McKinney appealed.

A year ago, the state’s high court agreed the case came down to whether a person who gives information to a prosecutor that results in a criminal prosecution should get the same privilege from being sued for malicious prosecution that a prosecutor gets.

In a split decision, the majority found that Okoye was not entitled to that privilege, which sent the case back to Merritt’s courtroom.

Now, on a counterclaim calling McKinney’s lawsuit frivolous, Okoye is asking for attorney fees.

Forensic pathologist ends relationship with county

Dr. Michael Sikirica

Back in early April I did a short post about how the executive in Oneida County New York was looking to end the long-standing coroner system and introduce a medical examiner system.  As a result of this decision, Dr. Michael Sikirica, the forensic pathologist who has provided autopsy services for many years to the county, has recently announced his intention to quit.

According to the executive, Dr. Sikirica was loyal to the coroners and would only stay if they stayed.

The District Attorney, Scott McNamara has brought on the medical examiner of a nearby county to perform forensic pathology services in Dr. Sikirica’s place.

The executive is ending the coroner system because:

… for years coroners had failed to file key paperwork on time. The problems resulted in a lawsuit from the state, as well as late payments to outside contractors, including those who transport bodies.

St. Elizabeth Medical Center also threatened to stop serving as the county’s morgue because of administrative issues. Also, some critics of the coroners, including McNamara, said they had sought Sikirica’s more expensive services more often than necessary.

St. Elizabeth Medical Center is apparently where Oneida County’s autopsies are performed.


Source:  Pathologist ends relationship with county – Utica, NY – The Observer-Dispatch, Utica, New York



In another chapter of the ongoing saga of the Oneida County coroners, the forensic pathologist who has worked for the county for many years has quit.

County Executive Anthony Picente said Friday Dr. Michael Sikirica told him last week that he would cease working for the county Monday because Picente is replacing the coroners with a medical examiner.

“He was loyal to the coroners,” Picente said. “He said he would stay if I kept the coroners. I said I had crossed that bridge already.”

Picente said District Attorney Scott McNamara already has set up an agreement with Onondaga County’s medical examiner for the services that Sikirica provided.

It’s also possible Onondaga County will continue the role after January 1, when the coroner system officially ceases. Picente said he is also in discussions with some other possible providers and will probably announce a plan when he makes his 2013 budget proposal this coming Friday.

Picente said he had known Sikirica was leaving since August but believed the doctor was retiring. It wasn’t until the face-to-face meeting that he heard Sikirica, who also serves as Rensselaer County medical examiner and does autopsies for a number of counties, was separating from Oneida County, he said.

Sikirica could not be reached for comment.

Picente proposed eliminating the current system, with its four separately elected coroners, earlier this year. The county Board of legislators approved the move in May with a change to the county charter.

The move came amid revelations that for years coroners had failed to file key paperwork on time. The problems resulted in a lawsuit from the state, as well as late payments to outside contractors, including those who transport bodies.

St. Elizabeth Medical Center also threatened to stop serving as the county’s morgue because of administrative issues. Also, some critics of the coroners, including McNamara, said they had sought Sikirica’s more expensive services more often than necessary.

Sikirica performs the county’s more complicated autopsies, including those that are related to violent deaths. Other autopsies are performed by pathologists from St. Elizabeth Medical Center.

It’s up to the coroners to decide whether to request Sikirica’s services, St. Elizabeth’s or no autopsy at all.

Sikirica’s forensic autopsies cost between $1,000 and $1,400. St. Elizabeth’s cost between $600 and $700, county records show.

Depending on the type of autopsy, the cost of autopsies performed by Onondaga County could range from $565 to $1,800. Picente said it is rare that an autopsy would as much $1,800.

Because the coroners are separately elected, Picente does not have authority over them, though the county pays for their roughly $500,000 annual budget.

Coroner Kevin Barry said he understands Sikirica’s wish to end his relationship with Oneida County, but it’s a loss for the county.

“I feel bad he is leaving,” he said. “He would be a great asset for Oneida County.”

Dr. Michael Berkland arrested for keeping human organs in storage locker

Booking photo of Michael Berkland, DO

On September 2, 2012, I posted a quick story about a large number of human organs being found in a storage locker in Florida previously rented by a forensic pathologist, Dr. Michael Berkland.

No charges had been filed against Dr. Berkland when I wrote the original post, and it was not clear whether he had broken any laws.

Well, things have changed.  Dr. Berkland was arrested on September 7, 2012 and charged with “…improper storage of hazardous waste, keeping a public nuisance and driving with a suspended license.”

An attorney for the state says more charges may be filed.

According to ABC News, Dr. Berkland faces up to 5 years in prison.

In addition to the criminal charges he faces, I have to wonder if the families of those whose organs Dr. Berkland allegedly stored in the locker will come after him with civil suits.

Readers will of course recall the very recent $2 million verdict against a Florida hospital, a pathologist and the pathologist’s practice for the way in which they handled the organs of the plaintiff’s mother after her autopsy.  That case was a little different because the organs in question were destroyed, whereas these were kept.

Seeing as some of the organs in the storage locker were found in soda cups and food containers, I imagine there could be many unhappy families out there.

Dr. Berkland was released on $10,000 bond.


Source:  Dr. Michael Berkland, former medical examiner, arrested for storing human body parts in Fla. storage unit – Crimesider – CBS News


(CBS/AP) PENSACOLA, Fla. – Police arrested former medical examiner Michael Berkland on Friday for allegedly keeping crudely preserved human remains in a rented storage unit in Florida last month.

Berkland, 57, was charged with of improper storage of hazardous waste, keeping a public nuisance and driving with a suspended license. He was released on $10,000 bail.

State Attorney Bill Eddins said more charges may be filed. Berkland’s attorney, Eric Stevenson, reportedly said that he and Berkland will start preparing their defense next week.

Crudely preserved brains, hearts, lungs and other organs and specimens were discovered in more than 100 containers last month in a Pensacola storage unit that Berkland rented for about three years. The unit was auctioned off after Berkland defaulted on his payments, according to an arrest affidavit.

Ten cardboard boxes stacked in a corner of the unit contained “numerous individual containers with … human remains stored in a liquid substance,” according to the affidavit.

Berkland declared the contents to be household goods, furniture, boxes, sporting goods and landscaping equipment. A man who bought the unit’s contents discovered the human organs after becoming overpowered by a strange smell while sifting through the items, authorities said.

Most of the containers were labeled. About half the containers were medical grade and the other half included soda cups and plastic food containers, according to the affidavit.

Authorities said the organs were stored in a liquid solution containing formaldehyde and methyl alcohol.

“The remains included tissue samples and dissected organs. (Investigators) also advised that there were numerous whole organs, including hearts, brains, a liver and a lung,” according to the affidavit.

Berkland worked at the District 1 Medical Examiner’s Office in Pensacola from 1997. He was fired in 2003 for not completing autopsy reports. Berkland’s license to serve as a medical examiner in Florida was also withdrawn.

Before arriving Florida, Berkland was fired as a contract medical examiner in 1996 in Jackson County, Missouri, in a dispute over his caseload and autopsy reports. His doctor’s license was ultimately revoked there.

The Penasacola’s medical examiner’s office said the organs found in the storage unit appear to have come from private autopsies Berkland performed between 1997 and 2007 at funeral homes in the Florida Panhandle and in Tallahassee.

Jeff Martin, director of the medical examiner’s office, said about 10 families have been notified that their relatives’ remains were in the unit.

Like Silence of the Lambs, only much, much more

Michael Berkland, DO

The contents of a Pensacola Florida storage unit were recently purchased at auction.  When the new owner started to look though the locker, he found numerous human organs in soda cups and Tupperware-style containers.

The locker previously belonged to Michael Berkland, DO, a forensic pathologist who used to work in Pensacola from 1997-2003.  He was fired in 2003 for not completing autopsy reports.

Investigators are not sure if the organs are from official Medical Examiner cases or private autopsies he performed on the side.

No charges have been filed yet; it is not clear whether Dr. Berkland broke any laws by storing the organs in this fashion.

Before working in Pensacola, Dr. Berkland worked in Jackson County, Missouri.  He was fired for allegedly fabricating autopsy results, and his medical license in Missouri was revoked.  Dr. Berkland has denied the allegations that he fabricated autopsy results.

This story reminded me of the scene in Silence of the Lambs where Agent Starling is going through the storage unit and finds a head in a jar.

Dr. Berkland’s other claim to fame is that he did the autopsy on Lori Klausutis, the aide to former congressman Joe Scarborough (R-FL).  She was found dead in Congressman Scarborough’s office in July 2001.


Source:  Organs found in storage linked to former Jackson County coroner –


A former Jackson County medical examiner who was fired here and lost his Missouri medical license is now under fire in Florida for allegedly keeping human organs in a storage unit.

Authorities said Tuesday that Michael Berkland, who also had been a medical examiner in Florida, crudely preserved human brains, hearts and lungs in soda cups and plastic food containers found inside the unit in Pensacola.

A man bought the contents of a storage unit at auction last week and made the gruesome discovery after being overpowered by a strange smell while sifting through furniture and boxes.

Investigators found formaldehyde, a chemical used to embalm and preserve bodies, leaking from a 32-ounce drink cup with a cracked lid that was holding a heart, said Jeff Martin, director of the District 1 Medical Examiner’s Office in Pensacola.

“How horrible it is for the families of these deceased to think that someone’s loved one’s organs are basically rotting away in a storage unit somewhere, it’s horrible,” Martin told The Associated Press.

The unit had been rented previously by Berkland, who worked at the Pensacola medical examiner’s office from 1997 until 2003, when he was fired for not completing autopsy reports.

Officials said he was also performing private autopsies in the area. It’s unclear if any of the organs were from autopsies he conducted while working at the medical examiner’s office. The medical examiner’s office is now cross-referencing names in its database from that time period, Martin said.

No charges have been filed against Berkland. His attorney Eric Stevenson declined comment Tuesday. Phone calls and emails to Pensacola Police were not immediately returned.

Before going to Florida, Berkland had been fired as a contract medical examiner in 1996 in Jackson County in a dispute over his caseload and autopsy reports. Investigators found eight undissected brains when they reviewed files and specimens handled by Berkland, indicating he had fabricated autopsy results, authorities said.

Berkland said he did not dissect the brains because he was going to use them in a pathology class he was teaching. They were mistakenly reported dissected, he said, because he usually did that and his prerecorded dictation included a stock phrase that the brain was sectioned.

The new medical examiner, Thomas W. Young, filed a complaint against Berkland with the state Board of Healing Arts and his doctor’s license was ultimately revoked.

The Missouri attorney general’s office found no criminal cases were jeopardized.

At the time, Berkland contended the actions against him in Missouri were politically motivated and unfair because he was unable to present evidence in his defense.

In Florida, officials are trying to locate family members for some of the victims, but many of the organs are not labeled, making it nearly impossible to identify them.

Officials were trying to determine whether Berkland broke any laws regarding biomedical waste and the storing and disposing of human remains.

It was not immediately known why the organs were being stored there. Martin said it’s unlikely they could have been sold anywhere because they were not well-preserved.

Many of the remains were stuck in household food containers and other containers that “aren’t made to hold up to outdoor weather conditions. The chemical inside of those containers is very caustic … a lot of those containers were emptied because they had cracked through so all of those caustic chemicals were leaking out somewhere,” Martin said.

Berkland told employees of the Florida storage facility that he planned to keep household goods and office furniture there, the company said.

“We never had any indication that anything was out of the ordinary, nor did anyone on our management team ever notice anything amiss during daily property checks,” said Diane Piegza, vice president of corporate communications of Uncle Bob’s Self Storage.

New report confirms critical shortage of forensic pathologists in US

A draft report from the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, National Institute of Justice and the Scientific Working Group for Medicolegal Death Investigation has recently been released which confirms there is a critical shortage of forensic pathologists in the United States.  The report also gives recommendations on how to combat the problem.

Obviously forensic pathologists perform a vital role in society, and an insufficient number of competent practitioners can literally allow people to get away with murder.

Here are some of the findings I found to be most interesting:

  • There are only 37 ACGME-accredited forensic pathology training programs in the US
  • Most medical schools have little or no exposure to forensic pathology in the medical school curriculum
  • A recent survey showed that among the 37 training programs in 55 the United States, there were a total of 78 approved positions, but only 53 were funded and 42 were filled
  • Since 1959, there have been slightly less than 2000 people who have trained in forensic pathology, and a total of about 1400 board certified forensic pathologists have been produced in the 52 years since 1959
  • There are an estimated 500 full-time forensic pathologists in the United States, and projections suggest that 1000 are needed to provide adequate coverage in the United States
  • Only two-thirds of forensic pathology fellowship graduates practice forensic pathology full time, and 21% end up not practicing forensic pathology at all
  • Forensic pathologist salaries for those who are not chiefs of offices usually range between 100K and 200K per year, with few Chiefs making more than 200K per year
  • The national autopsy rate is now miserably low at about 8.5%, with only about 4.3% of disease-caused deaths undergoing autopsy
And a few of their recommendations:
  • The specialty of forensic pathology and death investigation needs to be made more visible in medical school (as does exposure to general pathology) and pathology residency curricula
  • The exposure to autopsy, forensic pathology, and death investigation needs to be improved and made more positive in pathology residency programs, and non-forensic pathology faculty need to be more supportive of forensic pathology as a legitimate medical and academic discipline
  • Financial incentives need to be provided to attract medical students and pathology residents into the field of forensic pathology
  • The salaries of forensic pathologists need to be made competitive with other medical specialties requiring similar years of training
  • Forensic pathology training programs need to be increased in number along with an increase in funded forensic pathology fellowship positions
  • Forensic pathology training programs need to have more formal relationships with medical schools and pathology departments
The full draft report can be read here.

Dr. Stephen Cina named new Cook County medical examiner

Stephen Cina, MD

Meet Stephen Cina, MD

Dr. Stephen Cina has been named the new Chief Medical Examiner for Cook County, Illinois.  His immediate predecessor, Dr. Nancy Jones, is resigning effective July 31, 2012 amidst some problems at the Office.  Interestingly, the search for her replacement began on June 19, and Dr. Cina was named only three weeks later.

According to his CV, Dr. Cina’s medical education is as follows:

  • Medical school-Vanderbilt
  • Anatomic pathology residency-Medical University of South Carolina
  • Clinical fellowship in surgical pathology-Johns Hopkins
  • Forensic pathology fellowship-Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Maryland.

He is currently the deputy chief medical examiner in Broward County Florida (Fort Lauderdale).  He applied to be the chief medical examiner of Broward County last spring, but was not selected.

Chief medical examiner will not be Dr. Cina’s only job

Dr. Cina will make $300,000 a year in his new position.  That does not, however, include what he makes for consulting on the side.

If you want to talk to Dr. Cina on the phone about a case, that will cost you $400 per hour.  If you want him to testify out of town, that will cost you $5,000 per day plus expenses.  Not too shabby at all.

Cook County employees are allowed to do up to 20 hours per week of outside work, but Dr. Cina states that he expects to only do 8 hours per week of outside work while at Cook County.

Will he actually have time to do consulting work?

Some question whether he will able to do much consulting at all when he sees the condition of the Office.

The Cook County ME office performs around 5,200 autopsies per year according to its website and has experienced some significant disarray of late.  The fact that there are only 5 forensic pathologists in the office (not including Dr. Cina) when there should be 15 does not help.

Given the caseload at Cook County, each pathologist will have to perform approximately 866 autopsies to keep up.

As I brought up in a previous post, Dr. Kris Sperry, the chief medical examiner of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, considers 250 forensic autopsies per year to be the maximum a forensic pathologist should perform.  Quality suffers in his opinion if one does more than that.  Dr. Vincent DiMaio and the National Association of Medical Examiners (NAME) feel the same way.

In fact, NAME will not accredit any program in which a forensic pathologist performs more than 325 autopsies in a year.

Perhaps Dr. Cina should consider hiring Dr. Steven Hayne to help out at Cook County.  Dr. Hayne, who reportedly does not possess anatomic or forensic pathology board certification from the American Board of Pathology, has testified that he personally performs more than 1,500 forensic autopsies per year.  That would help immensely.

This is a very interesting article about Dr. Hayne.

Good luck to Dr. Cina

I in no way begrudge Dr. Cina his success.  Forensic pathology is a small specialty, with only about 400 board certified forensic pathologists in the US, and he is being paid what the market will bear for his expertise.  I simply found this article and the challenges he faces in his new position to be interesting, which is why I am writing about it.

Hopefully Dr. Cina will be able to find a balance between his jobs and bring the office back up to where it needs to be.  I wish him the best of luck.


Source:  New morgue boss not giving up his $5,000-a-day side job – Chicago Sun-Times


Nearly five thousand bodies a year go through the Cook County medical examiner’s office, an office that — whoever was to blame — found itself in disarray this past year, with bodies piling up in the morgue cooler and staffers snapping photos of grisly refuse to send to the press.

You’d think that cleaning up and then running the ME’s office, which now pays $300,000 a year, would be a full-time job.

But the newly designated medical examiner, Dr. Stephen J. Cina, whose selection was announced Tuesday, also has a long-time lucrative side job as a forensic pathology consultant for high-profile lawsuits, pulling down $5,000 a day, plus expenses.

A job he plans to keep once he takes over for sacked predecessor, Dr. Nancy Jones.

“We allow our employees to have second jobs, as long as they don’t conflict with county work,” Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said.

Nor is Cina — pronounced “See-nah” — licensed yet to practice medicine in Illinois, so he cannot sign death certificates.

“He does not have a license right now, but he is applying and by the time he gets here, he will have it by then,” said Mary Paleologos, a spokeswoman for Preckwinkle’s office.

The good news is it shouldn’t take him too long to get his license in Illinois.

“Usually a week or two,” said Susan Hofer, of the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation. “We try to provide customer service.”

Once his licensing is in place, Cina, 46, will find himself in an office that is, despite his arrival, still seriously understaffed, with only five forensic pathologists available to help him perform autopsies — there are supposed to be 15, though Preckwinkle has promised more hiring.

Cina is now the associate medical director and chief administrative officer of the University of Miami’s Tissue Bank. Before that, he served as deputy chief medical examiner in Broward County, Fla., from 2007 to 2011. Last spring, he applied for the position of Broward County medical examiner when it became open, but he wasn’t selected.

All the while, he worked both his day jobs and kept up his big-bucks consulting business, charging $400 an hour to advise over the phone, plus testifying at more than 200 trials, charging $5,000 a day for out-of-town work, no credit cards or personal checks accepted.

“If you need an autopsy report reviewed or a patterned injury on an assault victim analyzed, consider a consultation with Dr. Stephen J. Cina,” his website,, ballyhoos.

His wife, Julie, an MBA, handles the business aspects.

County employees are permitted to do up to 20 hours a week of outside work, though that might not be possible once Cina sees the mess he needs to clean up and the political hoops he must jump through.

“I think he’s going to find that his duties as chief will interfere with his ability to continue his consulting practice,” said outgoing medical examiner Nancy Jones, who herself did legal work before joining Cook County — but stopped once she became medical examiner.

Cina said Tuesday he plans to work “up to eight hours a week” at his side business and promised not to take on work from any clients in Illinois.

“The job is 24/7, which doesn’t leave much time for outside work,” Jones said.

Speaking through Preckwinkle’s office, Cina declined an interview to explain the challenge of balancing consultation work with his new role of medical examiner.

He’ll have to scrupulously keep his business separate from county work. Medical examiners with private businesses have gotten themselves into trouble in other parts of the country in the past.

For instance, Cyril Wecht, a Pennsylvania pathologist, was accused of doing $400,000 worth of private work at public facilities and on public time while Allegheny County coroner in the early 1980s. The case dragged on for years, and he was eventually acquitted of criminal charges but ended up repaying the county $200,000 after a civil lawsuit.

Preckwinkle said she is not concerned that Broward County just passed on the chance to hire Cina last May.

“No, we’re grateful he’s willing to take the challenge,” she said. “He was recommended by his predecessor.”

Dr. Jones?

“No, Dr. [Edmund] Donoghue,” Preckwinkle said, referring to the ME before Jones. “Then we did a pretty thorough search.”

The search consisted of evaluating three of the 300 to 400 medical examiners nationwide who qualify for the position.

“Not like people were banging at the door trying to be chief medical examiner of Cook County,” Paleologos said. “We needed to act swiftly. We were under the gun. He was very interested in the position. He approached us.”

The board of county commissioners votes on his appointment July 24.