Update in Mississippi

Wednesday, June 25th, 2008

Last month, another case emerged involving embattled Mississippi medical examiner Dr. Steven Hayne.

Late last May, prosecutors in Madison County, Mississippi dropped all charges against 32-year-old Hattie Douglas, who had been charged with murdering her infant son in May 2006.  Douglas served a year in jail awaiting her trial.  She also lost custody of her other children, and wasn’t permitted to visit with them.  She’s still in the process of petitioning to get them back.

The charges against Douglas stem from a single toxicology test done on blood work taken from her son during his autopsy, which was performed by Dr. Hayne.  That test showed an astounding .4 blood-alcohol concentration.  Subsequent tests on other samples showed much lower concentrations—around .02, which would be consistent with Douglas’ account of giving the child some cough medicine shortly before his death.  Hayne didn’t note the additional tests in his autopsy report.  He took only the .4 results to local prosecutors, who then filed the murder charge.

A BAC of .4 would mean the child would have had to have ingested several ounces of pure alcohol.  Dr. Leroy Riddick, the former state medical examiner for Alabama, reviewed Hayne’s autopsy at the request of Douglas’ lawyer, Latrice Westbrooks.  Westbrooks asked for the review after seeing the stories about Hayne’s questionable practices over the last year.  Riddick determined the alcohol poisoning diagnosis was absurd, and that the child likely died of interstitial pneumonia and a related viral heart infection.

Even if Hayne wasn’t aware of the subsequent tests (which seems implausible), he should have ordered them anyway.  Dr. Riddick notes in his review that if an infant were to have a BAC of .4, the stench of alcohol should have been overwhelming.  No one—not the police, not emergency room doctors, not even Dr. Hayne in his autopsy—noted the smell of alcohol.  Hayne also found no other signs of alcohol poisoning during his autopsy, and with a BAC that high, such signs should have been abundant.  In fact, until the lab tests on the first blood sample came back, Madison County police weren’t even treating the death as suspicious.

Hayne and Madison County officials are blaming the results on the lab, a Texas company called ExperTox.  ExperTox convincingly argues that they aren’t to blame.  They were troubled enough by the first test that they asked for additional samples, and it was those subsequent tests that cleared Douglas.  ExperTox says one of the samples from Hayne’s autopsy was so contaminated it was untestable.  My sources in Mississippi tell me another sample likely wasn’t even taken from the child, as it didn’t contain any of the medication the child was on at the time of his death.  The lab says the .4 test was likely the result of an improperly preserved sample.

A spokesman from ExperTox also told the Jackson Clarion-Ledger that they stopped taking cases from Mississippi in 2006 due to contamination issue, explaining, "We didn’t feel as comfortable with samples coming from that state as we did with other states."

That certainly jibes with what we already know of Hayne.

It isn’t difficult to see how a man who does as many as 40 autopsies per week might run into some contamination issues.  Last year, former Mississippi Sheriff and Hayne critic J.D. Sanders told me of Hayne’s practice: "It’s a slaughterhouse.  They just line the bodies up.  I don’t see you couldn’t have cross-contamination issues." 

A former director of the Mississippi crime lab told me similar things about Hayne and his assistants, "They’d do everything they could to cut corners.  I reached a point where we collected all evidence at the scene, because we couldn’t trust them to collect and preserve it properly.  I know for sure that there were frequently [test] tubes coming from Hayne that had the wrong names on them."

Mississippi’s Innocence Project is now looking at 60-70 cases involving problematic testimony from Dr. Hayne.  A few district attorneys in the state are cooperating with the project’s information requests.  Most aren’t.

Meanwhile, Madison County continues to use Hayne for its criminal autopsies, as do most counties in Mississippi.

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10 Responses to “Update in Mississippi”

  1. #1 |  CRNewsom | 

    Seriously, you have got to be kidding me. How are people (in Mississippi) not aware of this hack? I can see the County Attorneys (from the counties that still use Hayne) quotes now:

    “Dr. Hayne has always been professional when working (to get convictions on) cases for us. We stand by his work fully.”

    Absolutely ridiculous. Other states would be laughing at this, but I am sure that they are hanging their heads low at the miscarriage of justice in Mississippi.

  2. #2 |  Mops | 

    “Seriously, you have got to be kidding me. How are people (in Mississippi) not aware of this hack?”

    I don’t know…what’s the white/black conviction ratio?

  3. #3 |  Theigh H. Crosby | 

    Mops, I don’t believe the issue is a white/black one with Hayne. He is just incompetent, but delivers DA’s what they want.

  4. #4 |  Ali | 

    Um, check this out from today’s Hattiesburg American: http://tinyurl.com/5lrb6m

    After the defense attorney began questioning Hayne’s credentials:

    “Hayne testified Tuesday that he performs between 1,500 and 1,600 autopsies a year. He said a suggested professional standard is 250 autopsies a year.

    “About how many hours a day do you think you work?” Polk-Payton asked.

    “I usually start work at about 8:15 in the morning,” Hayne answered. “Last night I got to bed at actually 2:30 this morning.”

    Hayne testified that he only sleeps 3 1/2 to four hours a night, as a result of his work schedule.

    “I don’t like to sleep. That’s the way I am, some people need sleep, some don’t – I don’t need it,” Hayne, 66, said.

    Moments later, Forrest County Circuit Judge Bob Helfrich interjected.

    “Dr. Hayne will be accepted by this court as an expert witness,” Helfrich said.”

  5. #5 |  Danno49 | 

    It’s just a matter of time before this guy gets his due. Sweet Lincoln’s mullet, Mississippi! At least try and make an attempt to get out of the 19th century, will ya?

  6. #6 |  Tokin42 | 

    On the one hand you kind of have to hope these people are exaggerating don’t ya? How many more people are in prison thanks to incredibly sloppiness on Haynes part instead of actual guilt?

  7. #7 |  pam | 

    what’s up with the judge in Forrest County? I mean didn’t he see anything problematic in Hayne doing up to 1600 autopsies per year and sleeping 3 hours per night? Could a sleep deprevation expert testify? That’s proven science isn’t it? Clearly, no one can live on 3 hours per sleep per night for years and years. Something isn’t adding up here. I’m just using common sense and my own life experience. The judge seems to be allowing Hayne to regurgitate the same BS, no matter what has been exposed about his shabby practice. What does it take? Is the judge claiming Hayne is an expert BECAUSE he does do so many autopsies? Is it the sheer volume of autopsies that makes him an expert? Do the results have to be correct? I’m confused as to why this judge would declare him an expert. Does an expert have to have some sort of track record of quality and indisputable work? This is so exasperating and confusing. Either Helfrich is thick as a brick or he is playing wingman for the prosecution.

    The case I’m involved in where Hayne testified is incredible. He did no testing of anything, no indepth examination of the body or wounds, no brain tissue was taken even though mental degeneration was reported by the family, absolutely nothing was done except for Hayne declaring the man dead and in his opinion it was homicide because there were stab wounds on the back of the victim’s hands. I mean, I belive a monkey could have done that job. Yet the child is serving life.

  8. #8 |  pam | 

    Hayne is exhausted obviously. He takes the shortest route possible involving exerting the least amount of energy. In the case I’m working on it was clear. Instead of examining the body and wounds and doing a thorough autopsy, Hayne submitted numerous photos, 30-40 pictures of the body. The pictures had big RED pen marks (the color of blood) all over them. These pictures were projected onto a big screen in the courtroom over and over again. Many of the picutes were duplicates, with maybe a new finger showing, or half of a wound, which made them acceptable as a “new angle, new section of the body, etc. You could see the scheme. The judge allowed I believe most everyone of the pictures. I think he found only 1 or 2 to be redundant (don’t know if that is the right legal term). I have been told by the family that it was very inflamatory and seemed to be all Hayne did, take pictures, especially if one is exhausted. On appeal, the court said the pictures were not a problem and affirmed the murder conviction and life sentence.

  9. #9 |  pam | 

    It’s alot easier to click the button on a camera than actually do an autopsy, especially when you haven’t slept in 25 years.

  10. #10 |  Tanya | 

    According to the Introduction to Psychology text I use (Hockenbury & Hockenbury, 2007), a person having less than 4 hours of sleep is in the same condition as a person who is legally intoxicated. 1,500 people die in car accidents a year due to sleep deprivation.