Muckraking of the First Order

Radley Balko has a shocking account of how Steven Hayne cornered the autopsy market in Mississippi. During his years, he’s testified that a skeletonized woman was strangled (even though there was no muscle tissue to make that determination), testified that two people’s hands were on a gun from the bullet wound, and performed 1,800 autopsies per year (the National Association of Medical Examiners (NAME) says a single medical examiner should perform no more than 250 autopsies per year and will not accredit a practice with more than 325 annually).

Even worse, there’s a man on death row because of his testimony.

Consider Jeffrey Havard, convicted in 2002 of killing his then-girlfriend’s six-month-old daughter. Havard claims he was bathing the child when she slipped from his hands and hit her head on the toilet. But Hayne testified at Havard’s trial that bruises, scratches, and cranial bleeding indicated a case of shaken baby syndrome. Hayne also testified that the child’s anus was dilated, indicating sexual abuse. The DNA evidence was inconclusive: Havard’s DNA was not found on the baby, but both his DNA and hers were found on a sheet from the bed where she had gone to sleep that night, which was also the bed Havard shared with his girlfriend.

Because there were no witnesses to the incident, the evidence of sexual abuse was key to securing Havard’s conviction and death sentence; the charge was “murder in the commission of sexual battery.” Havard, who had no money, was assigned a public defender. His lawyer was suspicious of Hayne’s conclusions and at trial asked the court for funds to hire an independent pathologist to review Hayne’s findings. The judge refused, ruling that Hayne, the prosecution’s witness, was qualified and sufficient.

After Havard was convicted, attorneys from Mississippi’s post-conviction relief office, which represents indigent defendants in their appeals, were able to get James Lauridson, Alabama’s former state medical examiner, to review Hayne’s work in the Havard case. According to an affidavit he filed with the Mississippi Supreme Court in 2004, Lauridson found significant problems with Hayne’s testimony. Most notably, factors not related to abuse—e.g., rigor mortis—can often cause the anus to dilate after death.

In February 2006 the Mississippi State Supreme Court nevertheless upheld Havard’s conviction. It refused even to consider Lauridson’s review of Hayne’s work, ruling that any expert testimony refuting Hayne’s conclusions had to have been introduced at trial. Havard’s attorney had tried to do that, of course, but the trial judge denied him the necessary money.

This is why being a public defender is such an important job. The PD is the only person who has the opportunity to stop a wrongful conviction before it happens.

0 thoughts on “Muckraking of the First Order”

  1. Not generally. Many jurisdictions pay them less than they pay similarly senior prosecutors, which raises some tough questions about how committed society is to a robust adversarial process.

    Starting salary in a state public defender’s office is usually in the low $40s.

  2. With an average $75k+ of law school debt? I’m guessing promising new attorneys aren’t exactly stampeding for the office. . .

  3. There’s some loan forgiveness available and some grants that can be applied for. However, it’s still a choice to trade money for meaningful work and an opportunity for meaningful trial experience. You can guess how often people make that choice…

  4. Thank you for reporting this story. New research needs to be conducted to ensure that no one is sent to prison because of a false accusation. New protocols need to be implemented within social and police agencies to guide investigations of possible child abuse. New standards need to be incorporated at hospitals requiring exhaustive investigations for all possible causes of injury when SBS is suspected. All SBS cases need to be reopened to ensure abuse did in fact occur and was not merely assumed to have occurred. Those who have been wrongly accused should not continue to serve harsh penalities for something they did not do. Unless the innocent are protected from wrongful accusation and conviction, there is no justice. Few defendants can afford the legal costs or the costs for expert testimony, without which convictions are virtually assured.

    My brother and many other people I got to know over the years are either in prison or fighting for the lives on this SBS theory.

  5. Thank You for posting this story.Mr.Havard is an INNOCENT man.CSI Mississippi has looked at Mr.Havard’s case and they cann’t believe how Mr.Havard was ever convicted.Of Course Steven Hayne was the Medical Examiner in this case as well as others.I spoke with Ausin Shepered in November of this year.He looked at Mr.Havard’s paper work there in his office and told me that Mr.Havard is innocent.I am Mr.Havard’s sister. My name is Tiffany.Feel free to E~mail me at: Again,Thank You for Posting this story. Mr.
    Havard’s story needs to get out before it is too late.

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