Radley Balko has repeatedly examined Mississippi medical examiner Dr. Steven Hayne and “forensic odentologist” Dr. Michael West, never favorably. The pair’s work resulted in numerous wrongful convictions. Now another potential name to add to that list, Jimmie Christian Duncan.
One of the first cases Hayne and West worked on in Louisiana was that of Jimmie Christian Duncan. Duncan was initially charged with negligent homicide after his girlfriend’s child drowned in a bathtub while in his care. Hayne claimed in his autopsy to have found evidence of sexual abuse and bruises he said indicated drowning. He then called in West, who once again managed to find bite marks no one else had noticed. Because of Hayne and West, the charges against Duncan were elevated to first-degree murder. He was convicted and sentenced to death. Duncan’s attorneys asked Dr. McCormick to review Hayne’s work, and not surprisingly, McCormick found Hayne’s autopsy lacking. But the courts weren’t interested. From a February 1994 article in the Advocate:
Attorneys for a man accused of raping and drowning a toddler in December have asked for permission to exhume the victim’s body for a second autopsy.
Peter Edwards and John Focke, who are representing Jimmie Christian Duncan, said that the Brandon, Miss., forensic pathologist who performed the original autopsy is not certified by the American Board of Pathology. The original autopsy was performed by Steven Hayne, a forensic pathologist in Rankin County, Miss. Duncan’s attorneys are asking that a second autopsy be performed by Caddo Parish Coroner George M. McCormick II.
But District Attorney Jerry Jones said the pathologist is qualified, and Jones will fight any attempt to exhume the body.
The DA won. The court ruled against an exhumation, and Duncan was convicted thanks in large part to Hayne and West—with no one from the defense team given an opportunity to check their work. Duncan is currently represented by Louisiana’s Office of Capital Post Conviction Relief, where staff have since found more evidence suggesting Duncan’s innocence, and more problems with the testimony from Hayne and West. I’ll report back when they’ve wrapped up their investigation.
There have been ample warnings about Hayne and West going back nearly two decades. Not only were those warnings not heeded, they seemed to have actually made Hayne and West more desirable to many prosecutors.