The Mississippi Supreme Court has ordered a new trial for a man convicted of murder due to the nature of the testimony of Dr. Steven Hayne, former chief medical examiner of Mississippi.
We have talked about Dr. Hayne several times before; interested readers should go to this page for more background.
David Parvin, a PhD in economics, was convicted in 2011 of murdering his wife. He claimed his shotgun accidentally discharged into her when he tripped and fell as he was going outside to shoot a beaver. According to trial testimony, the area where the Parvins lived is inhabited by a “noxious” number of beavers.
At trial, the state’s firearms expert testified he could not conclusively determine how far the muzzle of the shotgun was from the decedent when it discharged despite test firing the actual shotgun at various distances.
According to the Court opinion, Dr. Hayne, although he had not seen, let alone tested, the shotgun prior to trial or even visited the crime scene, testified the muzzle had been approximately four feet away from the decedent and fired at a 25-30 degree downward angle.
The state also provided a computer-generated rendering of how it believed the shooting occurred based, at least in part, on Dr. Hayne’s findings.
In its decision, the Supreme Court had this to say about Hayne’s testimony:
When asked to explain how he had calculated his distance and trajectory measurements, Hayne did not cite any scientific principle or method. He asserted that he could measure the trajectory of the shotgun pellets using only his naked-eye observations of the entrance wound and a protractor, despite his testimony that it would be “impossible” to track the fired pellets. The only explanation offered was his assertion that “this case was straightforward.”
Despite multiple attempts by the defense to exclude Dr. Hayne’s testimony and the computer rendering, the trial court did not do so, and the Supreme Court disagreed with this.
In the present case, the speculative “expert” opinions and the accompanying computer-generated depictions of a “possible” account of the shooting should not have been placed before the jury. As this constituted the main evidence utilized to undermine Parvin’s defense, reversal is required.
Note the Court’s use of quotes around “expert”.
The Supreme Court’s reversal of Dr. Parvin’s conviction and sentence was unanimous and a new trial was ordered.
It will be interesting to see what happens in that new trial, because Dr. Parvin appears to have problems other than Dr. Hayne’s testimony.
First, he told a woman with whom he had begun having an affair before his wife died (and who later testified for the state) that his wife committed suicide, but then later changed his story. After his wife’s death, Parvin proposed to the woman, but they never married.
This is because Parvin was apparently seeing another woman at the same time and ended up marrying the second girlfriend instead.
Second, Parvin’s daughter testified for the state that her father’s first words to her on the day of the shooting were “[d]on’t worry about it. You’ll get over it.”
Radley Balko, a journalist who has been following Dr. Hayne’s career for quite some time, has an interesting piece over at The Huffington Post about this case; it is certainly worth reading.
At the very end of the article, Mr. Balko states:
Several Mississippi officials, including a former state Supreme Court justice, told The Huffington Post in January that Mississippi needs a thorough, comprehensive review of every case in which Hayne or West testified.
If what Mr. Balko says is true, both the state of Mississippi and Dr. Hayne could both be in for a long ride, as Dr. Hayne was a medical examiner in Mississippi for almost 20 years.
The MS Supreme Court’s decision is here.