Mississippi Official Fires Hayne, Then Praises Him

Tuesday, August 5th, 2008

(Note: I’ll be on Supertalk Mississippi tomorrow morning at 8:05 ET to talk about Hayne.)

As I mentioned last night, this afternoon Mississippi barred embattled medical examiner Dr. Steven Hayne from doing any more autopsies in the state.  But they were coy about it. 

Mississippi Commissioner of Public Safety Steve Simpson held a press conference in Jackson earlier today to announce a new arrangement between the state and a company called Forensic Medical, Inc. in Nashville, Tennessee.  Medical examiners from the company will travel to Mississippi to handle the bulk of the state’s autopsies until Simpson hires a new official state medical examiner.

I was wondering how Simpson would handle all of this.  The move is clearly aimed at preventing Hayne from doing any more autopsies in the state.  But outright admitting as much would have opened the state up to a deluge of motions from the thousands of people convicted in trials involving Hayne’s testimony, as well the real potential of civil lawsuits against the state from those harmed by Hayne.  There’s also the possibility that admitting the new arrangement is explicitly an effort to sever ties with Hayne might open the state to a lawsuit from Hayne himself.  Hayne has a history of threatening litigation against his detractors (in the last year he has threatened to sue a Mississippi State Supreme Court justice and me, among others).

So flanked by Mississippi Lieutenant Governor Phil Bryant and several state legislators and county coroners, Simpson talked about the new arrangement, and how this was a great step forward for Mississippi’s crime investigations.  But he didn’t even mention Hayne in his opening statement.  Of course, Hayne immediately came up in the Q&A.  And there Simpson went out of his way to say that even though Hayne would no longer be performing autopsies in the state, he "has not been terminated." Simpson went on to say that Hayne "was not let go because of any allegation of incompetence by anybody."  He repeatedly praised Hayne’s work over the years, feigned ignorance on Hayne’s culpability in the DNA exonerations of Levon Brooks and Kennedy Brewer, and took a somewhat dismissive tone when someone mentioned the Innocence Project’s demands for a comprehensive review of Hayne’s work over the last 20 years.  Simpson also explicitly said that the Department of Public Safety isn’t currently investigating any cases involving Dr. Hayne.

But make no mistake, this move was clearly intended to sever the state’s ties with Hayne.  Hayne was doing about 80 percent of the state’s autopsies.  He’s now doing zero.  Simpson tried to say the new arrangement was merely the next step in the state’s renewed effort to hire an official medical examiner.  But if Simpson has no quibble with Hayne’s qualifications or credibility, there’s no reason why Hayne couldn’t continue to perform autopsies until the next medical examiner is hired, as he’s been doing for the last several months.  Simpson also neglected to note that the reason the state legislature finally appropriated $500,000 to fund the office in the first place is that it was embarrassed into doing so by the investigations by reason and the Innocence Projects of New York and Mississippi, and by the exoneration of Brooks and Brewer.  It’s the first time in 14 years that the legislature has adequately funded the office.

One final bit of amusement:  Simpson said that Hayne will remain on contract with the state for the next 90 days while he completes a backlog of 400-500 outstanding autopsy reports.  Hayne’s backlog for Mississippi is nearly twice the number of autopsies the National Association of Medical Examiners recommends a doctor perform in an entire year.  And that’s not counting the autopsies he does in Louisiana.

So Hayne is out of the autopsy business.  That’s a fine first step, if much belated.  But there still seems to be very little concern from Mississippi officials into looking back at the 20 years of damage Hayne has done to the state’s criminal and civil court systems.  There seems to be no concern for the possibility that there are likely other innocent people he has helped convict, or of guilty people his testimony had allowed to go free.  There’s a troubling lack of candor, here, much less shame or embarrassment.

Extra links, source documents, and multimedia on all of this:

Here’s a copy of the press release from the Mississippi Department of Public Safety.

Reaction from the Innocence Project in New York.

Archive of my prior reporting on Hayne.

Here’s an audio file of today’s press conference.

Here’s Jackson TV station WLBT’s initial report of my investigation of Hayne:

 

Here’s the reason.tv documentary on the Cory Maye case, which features a section on Hayne:

 

 

Here’s an interview I did for reason.tv on the Maye case where I also discuss Hayne:

 

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10 Responses to “Mississippi Official Fires Hayne, Then Praises Him”

  1. #1 |  Danny | 

    I understand the reason for not being overjoyed quite yet, but this is certainly reason to celebrate the first step being made, even if it is in the wrong spirit. Let’s hope they do a formal and pervasive investigation of all of his previous work! Great job, Radley!

  2. #2 |  Mikestermike | 

    I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him;
    The evil that men do lives after them,
    The good is oft interred with their bones,
    So let it be with Caesar …

  3. #3 |  SusanK | 

    Simple answer: In a civil suit, evidence of “fixing the problem” isn’t generally admissible whereas admitting the problem existed is.

  4. #4 |  supercat | 

    One thing I wish officials would realize is that an agency whose audits find problems–even major ones–will have more credibility than an agency whose audits blatantly ignore problems that clearly exist.

  5. #5 |  Helmut O' Hooligan | 

    Excellent point supercat. The cover-up is stinks almost as badly as the crime, especially in government. When your state has allowed a guy like Hayne to practice for so long, the “mistakes were made” platitudes and the “thank you for your service” stuff just makes your agency look foolish.

  6. #6 |  Sky | 

    “But there still seems to be very little concern from Mississippi officials into looking back at the 20 years of damage Hayne has done to the state‚Äôs criminal and civil court systems. There seems to be no concern for the possibility that there are likely other innocent people he has helped convict, or of guilty people his testimony had allowed to go free.”

    I think that’s exactly what the State’s afraid of. I kept hoping he would sue you…at least then the courts would have to take a long hard look at Cory Maye’s case, The Edmonds Case, Brett Jones case and others that the Innocent Project has raised issues about. If Hayne really had any inclination to sue you one would think you would have already been served with a cease and desist order. Good Job Radley!!

  7. #7 |  Viral Murkening § Unqualified Offerings | 

    […] For instance, thanks to prime muckraking by my man Radley Balko, Mississippi has finally kicked their clownish Medical Examiner Stephen Hayne out of the state’s Jalopy O’ Justice. But as Kerry Howley writes I found the most […]

  8. #8 |  Dan | 

    Radley, you should be immensely proud of yourself for this investigation. You, individually, made a huge impact in the world, and got that rat bastard canned. Now keep pressing on, and get his victims some justice.

  9. #9 |  Judi | 

    What DAN said! Amen!

  10. #10 |  sightunseen | 

    I vividly remember a chemist/crime scene/specialist in Oklahoma by the name of Joyce Gilchrist (ms?) who worked for that state. Her testimony put many innocent people into prisons. I believe that the Innocent Project has freed a couple of people in that state due to her incompetent and determined malpractice.

    Good on you for battling the forces of ,,,evil. Thats how I see it.

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