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