Innocence Project Calls for Investigation of Dr. Steven Hayne

Thursday, February 14th, 2008

The national Innocence Project has sent a letter to Mississippi’s Dept. of Public safety demanding an inquiry into Dr. Stephen Hayne, the Mississippi medical examiner I first wrote about in my article on Cory Maye back in October 2006, then covered in an investigative piece for reason in November of last year.

The letter states:

"By law, the State Medical Examiner must be a board-certified forensic pathologist. The State Medical Examiner is appointed by, and serves at the pleasure of, the Commissioner of Public Safety. The State Legislature created the position in order to organize and standardize the work of medical examiners across the state and to raise the level of forensic services statewide. Two pathologists served as State Medical Examiners in the mid- to late-1980s, and in 1987 Stephen Hayne was appointed Interim State Medical Examiner. Because he is not a board-certified forensic pathologist, he was set to be removed from the interim position, so he resigned. Two subsequent State Medical Examiners were appointed, until Mr. Hayne and his allies forced the last State Medical Examiner from office in the mid-1990s. This critical position has been vacant since then.

"Although a full investigation of cases involving Mr. Hayne has not been conducted, it is clear that in the cases of Mr. Brewer and Mr. Brooks, Mr. Hayne ignored the applicable science and objective facts. He provided improper testimony to help convict two innocent men in capital murder cases. In each case, he wrongly described indiscriminate scratches and bruises as human bite marks. He then compounded the error by securing an incorrect confirmation from his frequent employee and colleague, Michael West. Recently, a peer-review panel of top forensic odontologists from England, Canada and the United States issued a report completely rejecting Hayne’s and West’s conclusions in the cases of Mr. Brewer and Mr. Brooks.


"We would be happy to furnish you any additional background on Mr. Hayne’s work in these cases and the urgent need for forensic oversight in this area. We ask for your urgent attention to this matter. The grave consequences illustrated by the cases of Mr. Brewer and Mr. Brooks call for the prompt appointment and full funding of a qualified State Medical Examiner, which falls directly under your authority."

Hayne never responded to my requests for an interview. He did however respond to the Jackson Clarion Ledger for this story:

Contacted for comment, Hayne responded, "I am board certified, and my work has been reviewed by impartial reviewers."

He pointed out the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology reviewed his work on more than 50 jailhouse hangings in the early 1990s and concluded, just as he did, that each was suicide.


Hayne responded today that his work has been regularly reviewed and upheld as valid.

"When you don’t have facts, you have a tendency to engage in character assassination," Hayne said.

Actually, the AFIP reviewed a case in the late 1990s in which a woman was savagely beaten to death, and Hayne weirdly determined she had died of a stroke. His autopsy was first reviewed by Dr. Stephen Pustilnik, then practicing in Alabama. Dr. Pustilnik told me Hayne’s autopsy in that case was "new complete malpractice." Hayne had failed to empty the woman’s pockets, a standard autopsy procedure. Pustilnik also found that internal organs Hayne claimed in his report to have examined hadn’t been touched.

Hayne’s autopsy was eventually sent to AFIP. According to Pustilnik, AFIP’s review of Hayne’s work was critical. When I called AFIP, I was put in touch with the doctor who reviewed Hayne’s work in that case. All I had to say was "I’m writing a story about a medical examiner in Mississippi," and he immediately knew who I was talking about. He said he’d love to talk with me about Hayne, but that I’d first need to get clearance from the AFIP’s information office. Unfortunately, they called me back to say they were barred by HIPAA privacy regulations from discussing their review of Hayne’s work with me. That is, talking to me would have violated the privacy of the dead woman. I’ve since learned that this may have been a misapplication of HIPAA.

Thus far, I haven’t been able to get in touch with the woman’s family to get their okay for the doctors to speak with me. The woman’s death was officially ruled a homicide, though no one was ever charged in the case. Her family filed a civil rights lawsuit, but I haven’t yet been able to determine how it was resolved.

If you’re wondering why Hayne would have ruled a clear homicide a death by "natural causes," so was I. On background, several of Hayne’s critics have told me that in some areas of Mississippi, prosecutors simply don’t want to deal with murder cases, particularly when they involve low-income people. That seems to be consistent with what people in Prentiss, Mississippi have repeatedly told me about crime in Jefferson Davis County. "Murders don’t seem to get solved around here" is a popular refrain down there. A few critics of Hayne told me that they’re actually more concerned about the number of people who get away with murder down there han the number who get wrongly convicted.

Hayne is also wrong when he says his work has "been regularly reviewed and upheld as valid." Over the last year, I’ve spoken with more than a dozen medical examiners about Dr. Hayne. I’ve heard lots of colorful adjectives used to describe him. "Valid" was never one of them. His autopsies have been repudiated over and over again by other doctors, both in court and in civil depositions. I have copies of scathing reviews of his work written by his peers.

There is also at least one complaint against Hayne now pending at the National Association of Medical Examiners. It was filed by a member of the group’s ethics committee. After my article ran last fall, Dr. Joseph Prahlow, the immediate past president of the organization called to tell me the organization is very concerned about Hayne, and plans to address the issue this spring. NAME is moving far too slow for my taste, particularly given that Hayne’s testimony is still putting people in prison. But Dr. Prahlow emphasized that they haven’t yet acted should by no means be interpreted to mean that they endorse Hayne’s practices.

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14 Responses to “Innocence Project Calls for Investigation of Dr. Steven Hayne”

  1. #1 |  Tokin42 | 

    I really hope you sent your response to Haynes cry of “character assassination to the Ledger. It was calm and brutal. It’s nice to see other organizations starting to pile on to this story, I sure hope it sticks.

  2. #2 |  Martha Miley | 

    Steven T. Hayne testified against my brother for 4 hours at a cost of $1,028.36 . My brother is an innocent man but because there was no evidence against him, they used hearsay to put him in Parchman for life. No fingerprints nor gun residue anywhere on him and he was still found guilty after Hayne’s testimony. The real killer is still walking the streets.

  3. #3 |  Michael Chaney | 

    Keep up the heat, Radley. In the end (whenever it may be), this will result in innocent people being kept out of prison and other innocents being sprung.

  4. #4 |  Dwalia South, MD | 

    Dear Folks,
    I am very interested in hearing more about what is known about Dr. Hayne. I am President of the Miss. STate Medical Assn. and very concerned about our lack of a State Medical Examiner, and the ethics and competence of this Dr.
    Dwalia South, MD

  5. #5 |  Hearing in two Mississippi cases set for Friday | Innocence Project | 

    […] The Agitator Blog: Innocence Project Calls for Investigation of Dr. Steven Hayne […]

  6. #6 |  pam | 

    he also testified against a young boy, 15, saying he knew what defensive wounds looked like even though the child was being attacked by a much bigger man with mental illness in a rage. the boy got life. Even though it was the child who was defending himself, Dr. Hayne testified as if he were there, saying the man in a rage had defensive wounds, therefore the young boy attacked him. In this case, no evidence was tested.

  7. #7 |  Jeff davis county needs your help!!! | 

    we definently need your help down here, there are so many people being killed and nothings being done about it, and its scary to know our children have to grow up here and the parents worry everyday if it could be them or there child and it never get solved!!! prentiss ms news topix has a couple murder cases on it right now, one is in the process of going to trial and not looking good for he is trying to get insanity and it was far from that, and the theres a case that is12 years old i believe and never solved nor is it trying to be, at least not by the people who should be trying to solve it!! PLEASE HELP US!! do you know how to get these cases rolling?

  8. #8 |  Jeff Ross | 

    My brother was convicted because of Steve Haynes Testimony.
    There were no fingerprints of my brother on the Gun, There was no evidence of the Gun being wiped or washed Clean, and there was Gun powder residue on his wife’s hands. The entire trip to Jackson, the autopsy and his decision was made in about three hours. He stated that it was impossible for her to shoot herself, even though she had residue on the inside of the hand where you would normally hold a gun.

  9. #9 |  Kerry Howley » Blog Archive » Updates! | 

    […] incidents of prosecutorial misconduct. How many people do you know–honestly–who tangibly change the state of the world with their […]

  10. #10 |  Elizabeth Taylor | 

    Please help us…..We have a case we have been working on with my father in law and we have asked steven haynes to help us. Now I see, after hearing about him Why he has not helped us. To be such a busy man he sure done our fathers autopsy in a hurry, we wanted to know everything he has taken in his body because we think there was foul play, as in, he had heart, sugar, and lupus. If his medicine was not given he could had died from it. He is sending innocent people to jail, when we need help getting people who are not innocent and getting away with murder. I have some proof only what a simple person can get there hands on but I need Help. If in any way please, I’m screaming for help.

  11. #11 |  Vicky Dantzler | 

    I wish that I knew where to go for help for my husband. His wife passed away in 2002. It was first said from alcohol poisining, by Jimmie Roberts then she was shipped to Dr Haynes and we have a copy of a fax sent to the police dept BY DR HAYNES stating that he could not determine a cause of death and what would they like for him to list as COD. We also have a copy of the fax back stating they wanted him to list it as murder. There was NO forensic evidence collected or anything and he then listed the cause of death as a blow to the head. My husband was charged with murder then offered a deal for manslaughter. He was released on ERS and was two months away from being discharged and then recalled back into the system yesterday for another year do to a CLERICAL error. When will this ever end! There has to be SOMEONE who can review his case outside of the Mississippi corrupt system.

  12. #12 |  sullivan | 


  13. #13 |  G M Larkin MD | 

    I am a forensic patholohgist in North Carolina, asked to review a murder caswe on appeal out of Missisippi, with Dr Hayne the prosector. If the aticle concerninh Dr Hayne is accurate, there is a bad kettle of fish simmering in Mississippi.

    I would appreciate a copy of as many autopsy protocols you have in your possession that were written by Dr Hayne. As there is little time to review, whatever you can send as an e-mail attachement would be apopteciated, both by me and the appellee.

    Thank you very much. In return, I will send you a copy of my report if I write one.

    Thank you in advance.

    3700 Shanmrock Dr
    Charlotte NC 28215

  14. #14 |  Granny C | 

    May God have mercy on his soul, I cannot forgive him…Brandon Stacey was my 16.5 month old grandson, my heart, my soul, my life. Hayne “finds” what the cops want him to find. How did my precious grandson die? We will never know thanks to his ethics. Anything Hayne has to say, cow-pies. I need to find out how to contact the Innocence Project.
    Granny C