A federal judge has dismissed without prejudice a lawsuit brought against forensic pathologist Dr. Steven Hayne, the former chief medical examiner of Mississippi, by a woman who claims Dr. Hayne’s “unsupported and untrue” statements to law enforcement about his findings in an autopsy led to her wrongful prosecution for murder.
On May 1, 2002, James Neal May, the man living with Ms. Jennifer Wardle Hollis, was found dead in the home they shared of a gunshot wound to the back of the head. Local law enforcement ruled the death a suicide, and two separate grand juries failed to indict Ms. Hollis.
At some point after the grand juries’ decisions, Mr. May’s body was exhumed and autopsied by Dr. Steven Hayne, who ruled Mr. May’s death was “not suicide.” Dr. Hayne apparently reported his findings to state officials, who then indicted Ms. Hollis for murder in 2007.
Her trial began on March 15, 2010 and the jury acquitted her just three days later.
Ms. Hollis filed suit against Dr. Hayne on March 15, 2013, exactly three years to the day when her murder trial began.
On May 29, 2013, the court ordered Ms. Hollis to serve Dr. Hayne with the suit by July 15. On July 11, she asked for, and was given, an extension until August 26. That date came and went, and on August 28, the judge dismissed her suit without prejudice.
It sounds as though Ms. Hollis simply wasn’t able to get her act together in time, but the fact her case was dismissed without prejudice means she can refile at a later date.
While Dr. Hayne is no longer on the hook for Ms. Hollis’ case (unless she decides to re-file), he is still a controversial figure and has several unresolved issues.
In April of this year, the Mississippi Supreme Court threw out his testimony and ordered a new trial in the case of a man who was convicted of murdering his wife with a shotgun. In that case, Dr. Hayne reportedly never tested or even saw the shotgun used before the trial, or even visited the crime scene.
The state’s firearm expert, who had actually test fired the weapon several times before trial, testified he was unable to conclusively determine how close the muzzle was from the decedent when it discharged. Dr. Hayne, however, testified the muzzle was about four feet away from the decedent and fired at a 25-30 degree downward angle.
In its decision, the MS Supreme Court stated Dr. Hayne’s testimony should never have been placed before the jury.
That was the second time the MS Supreme Court went against Dr. Hayne; the first was in 2007, when it declared Dr. Hayne’s testimony in a murder case involving a teenage defendant was “scientifically unfounded.”
Then in June 2013, a MS state senator and numerous defense attorneys called for an independent review of his cases.
In addition, there is also the question of whether Dr. Hayne committed perjury regarding his forensic pathology qualifications.
Until recently, Dr. Hayne has consistently maintained (including in sworn testimony in at least one murder trial) the reason he is not board certified in forensic pathology is because he walked out of his 1989 board exam in protest of a “stupid” question.
According to the Clarion-Ledger, however, Dr. Hayne was recently deposed by The Innocence Project regarding the above-mentioned shotgun case, and after he was shown his actual forensic pathology board exam from 1989, he admitted the question he has for years stated was the cause of his abrupt exit from the board exam does not exist.
The lawyers who deposed Dr. Hayne stated that, in reality, he was failing the test when he walked out.
Interestingly, Dr. Hayne was able to secure a $100,000 settlement against The Innocence Project last year after it accused him of sloppy work. The Innocence Project did not admit guilt and claims it only settled the case because its insurance carrier wanted to.