Old File Shows Problems With Hayne Date Back to Early 1990s

Sunday, September 7th, 2008

This past June, I was in Louisiana to do some reporting on a possible story.  While there, i was able to track down an old file that a rival had kept on the embattled and now former Mississippi medical examiner, Dr. Steven Hayne.

I’ve previously explained how in addition to his stranglehold on Mississippi’s autopsy business, beginning in the early 1990s, Hayne and his frequent collaborator Dr. Michael West started performing autopsies in several Louisiana parishes, too.  At the time, the forensic pathologist Dr. George McCormick was doing most of the autopsies in Louisiana.  Well aware of Hayne’s problems, McCormick assigned another doctor in his office to begin compiling a dossier of complaints against Hayne.  

I should note here that Dr. McCormick had his own ethical problems.  After his death in 2005, Louisiana officials discovered that McCormick had signed off on autopsies performed by unqualified members of his staff, among other transgressions.  McCormick was also upset that Hayne was cutting into his own business as Louisiana’s quasi-official state medical examiner.

But McCormick’s office merely compiled the dossier on Hayne.  The letters, complaints, and inquiries about Hayne came from other, quite reputable medical examiners from across the south.

I had been trying to track down a copy of McCormick’s file on Hayne for a couple of years.  I was finally able to find one while I was in Louisiana.  Essentially, the file further confirms much of what we already know about Hayne, with a few new details.  

Most of the file’s documents are from the early- to mid-1990s, and they further put the lie to the line now coming from state officials in Mississippi—that for 20 years, Mississippi has been overwhelmed with criminal autopsies, and that in doing an incredible 1,500-2,000 autopsies per year, Dr. Hayne has been doing the state a great favor.  The truth is, Mississippi officials used Dr. Hayne because he told them what they wanted to hear.  More reputable doctors lost out, and moved elsewhere.  Hayne and his allies in Mississippi government ran out anyone who tried to compete with him, particularly anyone who tried to conduct autopsies in a more impartial manner.  The file also provides further evidence that state officials, professional medical organizations, and the local media were made aware of Hayne’s considerable shortcomings 15 years ago.  They did nothing about it.

Dr. McCormick’s file should come in handy for Kennedy Brewer, Levon Brooks, or any of the likely other wrongful conviction cases to come involving Hayne should they want to sue the state of Mississippi for damages.  McCormick’s file shows that the state had every reason get rid of Dr. Hayne more than a decade ago.  Instead, the state’s public officials gave him all the business he could handle.

The documents in the file further confirm that Hayne’s domination of Mississippi’s autopsy system wasn’t by accident.  It was by design.  For example, as I explained in my reason feature on Hayne last October, in the mid-1990s, Hayne, the disgraced Dr. Michael West, and several of Mississippi’s county coroners and district attorneys engaged in an enormous power struggle with Mississippi’s last official state medical examiner, Dr. Emily Ward.  The old guard was angry with Ward because she wanted to set some minimum standards in autopsy procedures. She wanted coroners to have some training, medical examiners to be certified, and for the state lab to get official accreditation from that National Association of Medical Examiners.  At the time, Dr. Hayne was conducting his marathon, all-night, six-to-ten-at-a-time autopsy sessions in a Pearl, Mississippi funeral home.

Ward also wanted autopsies to be impartial.  Ward’s predecessor, Dr. Lloyd White—who was also chased out by the good ol’ boys—had explained how when he would tell a district attorney that his autopsy didn’t support the DA’s case , the DA would merely take the body to Hayne, who would then give the prosecutor the diagnosis he was looking for.  When they would do this to Dr. Ward, she would infuriate the state’s prosecutors by calling up the defense counsel and offering to testify for them.  Of course, if the evidence doesn’t support the state’s case, that’s exactly what any impartial, science-based medical examiner should do.  Mississippi DAs then wrote angry letters to the Mississippi commissioner of public safety complaining that Dr. Ward wasn’t doing her part as part of the prosecution’s team.

The documents in McCormick’s file also show that medical examiners across the south who were familiar with Hayne’s work weighed in on the Hayne-Ward feud, and tried to get Mississippi officials to do the right thing—back Dr. Ward in her attempt to impose some professional standards in the state.  And of course, that would have effectively put an end to Dr. Hayne’s autopsy practice.

But Mississippi officials ignored the warnings from the other doctors.  Dr. Ward was forced to resign, and for the next 13 years, Dr. Hayne did 80-90 percent of Mississippi’s autopsies—all the while unsupervised by a qualified, board-certified state medical examiner.  

So if Hayne’s no longer doing autopsies in Mississippi, why does all of this matter?  Because Mississippi officials don’t seem interested in assessing the damage he’s done, in making a serious effort to see how many innocent people he has helped convict, or how many guilty people his testiomny has allowed to go free.

Even after Hayne was effectively barred from doing any more autopsies in the state last month, Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood, the editorial staff at the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, Public Safety Commissioner Steve Simpson, and the state’s district attorneys either praised or excused him for his "service" to Mississippi.  They’ve cited his willingness to take on a heavy workload as an excuse for his sloppiness. In doing so, they’re effectively muting calls for a thorough investigation of the damage he’s done to Mississippi’s criminal justice system, and they’re heading off any momentum toward reopening the thousands of cases in which Hayne has testified.

DNA testing cleared Kennedy Brewer and Levon Brooks, and it will likely clear others in Mississippi.  But there are a significant number of other criminal cases in which someone was convicted based mostly or entirely on Hayne’s testimony, or where Hayne’s testimony was at trial or has since been challenged by a qualified, board-certified forensic pathologist, but the case isn’t amenable to DNA testing.  The Jeffrey Havard, Henry Moses, and Devin Bennett cases are three examples.  These cases won’t see any real justice until Mississippi comes to terms with the truth about Dr. Hayne.

Over the next several days, I’ll roll out the most significant documents in Dr. McCormick’s file on Hayne, and explain their significance.

UPDATE:  I’ve correcte this post with respect to how Dr. Ward came into contact with defense counsel.  See here.

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11 Responses to “Old File Shows Problems With Hayne Date Back to Early 1990s”

  1. #1 |  Marty | 

    I don’t see you getting many Christmas cards from Dr. Hayne or the prosecutors in Mississippi this year…

    Great job!

  2. #2 |  David Nieporent | 

    The link to the Kitchens letter gives a 404.

  3. #3 |  Judi | 

    Thanks Radley! You are the MAN no matter what anyone says about you…lol.

    Been waiting with great anticipation for this article! I WILL pass this on to Devin and Jack will for Jeff…as Adam will for Henry Moses.

    This is a PAGE-TURNER! Can’t wait to see more!

    Go get ’em Radley! OOORAH!

  4. #4 |  Jack Blake | 

    Jeff sits on Death Row. I keep thinking he only gets visits for two hours once a week through a glass partition. Visiting days are bittersweet for all. It is hard to see him like that or think of him being in there, suspended in the strange netherworld between life and death. In many ways, I feel like I live there with him.
    His aunt Marylyn and a good friend Judi is one of the few people who really understands what I am going through.
    “I wish God would come and take him away from that place.”

    “Death row inmates come from all socioeconomic levels, but the higher you go, the more chance you have of getting life in prison rather than the death penalty. If you’re poor you’ve had it.”

    “What lots of people don’t realize is that we become victims too,” “I would give my own life to change what happened that night. We have lost the right to be able to spend time with Jeff, to see him hunt and fish Jeff is also a victim, a victim of a man that has ruined people’s life, his name is Stephen Haynes. Mississippi hired him and knowing that he did not have a license.

    “Right now I am very depressed, very angry at everything and everybody.” “At this point I just feel hopeless, and that’s a horrible way to feel. It’s hard. Very, very hard.”
    The tears come and go, I think about him being in there and wonder why Mississippi can’t see that he is not guilty, a blind man could see this. The evidence that would help Jeff get out is right there in black and white.

    “When you know the state wants to execute your friend, and I don’t get to see him but I wish I could you feel helpless.
    I stop and thank and thank and wish that they would just let me move in with him I would.”
    “If they would just let me move in with him I would.”

    Today, in the middle of a fast food restaurant’s lunch crowd, I began to cry and was thinking about Jeff being in there. “I keep telling Jeff that there is something that I could do, something that I could say, there has to be more Jeff but what is it.”
    Yesterday I was flipping through a scrapbook of photographs. There is one of Jeff with his first deer, smiling and care free and I think how the state of Mississippi lets something like this happen, when there is pure evidence that he is not guilty.

    “The whole trial has been a nightmare,” “No matter what is said the lawyers for Mississippi have turned it around to make it different. They talk so much legalese. It’s an intimidating process, totally confusing.”

    What has happened to Jeffrey not only is in Mississippi but every where and it has caused me to destroy the faith I had in the system. I always knew it wasn’t great, knew that if you had money you could get off, but I didn’t know all the tricks that were pulled, actual lies that were told. It has floored me.”

    “Inmates on death row come from all socioeconomic levels, but the higher you go, the more chance you have of getting life in prison rather than the death penalty. If you’re poor you’ve had it.”

    Two: “What I didn’t know before is that one of the questions they ask a jurist is ` During Voir Dire (jury selection) a potential juror—that was eventually selected by my attorney to sit on the jury that decided my fate-said the following: (Trial transcript, pg.136)
    “I don’t know him, but I had a niece to be raped—you know—
    I don’t think I could be fair about it, too.”?’
    If you can’t, you’re excused. So it’s a stacked deck.”

    Three: “A lot of this turns out to be a little bit on the political side. Everyone wants to be attorney general.”

    The more I have learned, the angrier I get. After years battling the criminal justice system, I have turned into an activist, a consciousness that has come fairly naturally. “I’ve always fought for the underdog, always felt badly for people who didn’t have.”

    Since this has happened to Jeff I have become faceless, I have become someone that hurts all the time because I know he is hurting I feel like I have become this monster.
    Others in my situation see me as a person, as a person who has been hurt. I want Mississippi to give Jeff and give me our face back.”

    While death penalty proponents often challenge those who oppose capital punishment with, “How would you feel if it were your loved one who was murdered?”

  5. #5 |  Jack Blake | 

    I will send this out to Jeff in the morning along with his updates.
    Thanks Radley

  6. #6 |  Marilyn Cox | 

    A person that sits on death row with no evidence there proofing no guilt has faulting error. I have a hard time in seeing a man or a woman pay for something they did not do. People have been know to say this wont happen to me. Well think again it can. Jeffery Havard is my nephew sitting on death row that I love dearly it happen to him. The state of Mississippi has lied and has used Stephen Haynes for their help in doing so. This kind of work in our system has put a lot of inocent people to death because of it. I say lets put our heads together and put a stop to this NOW!! Thanks Radley

  7. #7 |  Marilyn Cox | 

    Wanting to see justice done right. Why should innocent people suffer? Thanks Radley

  8. #8 |  ktc2 | 

    Awesome work Radley.

    Hope there is a way to keep the pressure on so they can’t sweep all this under the rug.

    My offer for dinner on me at Charley’s Steakhouse here in Orlando still stands if you ever get out this way. It’s currently rated #1 steakhouse in the country.

  9. #9 |  Chris | 

    I keep wondering why there hasn’t been an investigation by someone before now?

    Great job on bringing this information out!

  10. #10 |  Nick T | 


    As you fight to help peopel see the big picture about Dr. Hayne’s work – that it’s not about fixing the problem going forward, but undoing the past wrongs already done – I would also remind you that there is an even bigger picture than that: the rampant ethical problems in many District Attorney’s offices and the overall problem with prosecutors and prosecutions in our society.

    Just like police, DAs have great responsibility and great power, and when they become cynical, lazy, reckless or presumptiuous, the whole system suffers enormously. Also like police they are shrouded in these heroic images and celebrated politically, which means they don’t care or need to examine there actions and admit their mistakes.

    Dr. Hayne’s actions are completely inexcusable. Criminal is too kind of a word for a man like that, and death would be too light a sentence for the wrongs he’s committed. But Dr. Hayne was an inevitability in the system that was created and supported by the DAs in that state. They are largely to blame, and their conduct is being repeated in other states and places as well. That is the real problem and the real lesson.

  11. #11 |  pam | 

    Jack I know how you feel. I’ve been experiencing the exact same emotions and feelings you have while I’ve been supporting a child who was given a life sentence where Hayne was the only expert at the trial. Every day is a nightmare, living on pins and needles, fear and anxiety as the case winds ever so slowly through the courts trying to keep the faith and hold things together and carry the load that everyone else has walked away from a long time ago, especially the liars and cheaters who twisted and distorted the facts until everything was unrecognizable, and then call it a win.

    Before I got involved in this case, I would have never in a million years thought this sort of unethical and despicable behavior was possible from our elected public officials whose job it is is to seek the truth, not revenge and vengeance and winning at any cost. My eyes have been opened. Hayne was only able to do his dirty deeds because he was supported by the DAs and courts around the state. They are the pillars that allowed Hayne to corrupt and distort justice.

    Stay strong, keep your head up.