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…”.
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.
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 – NYTimes.com.