Update on Dr. Hayne

Thursday, September 18th, 2008

Last month, Jackson’s Clarion-Ledger newspaper got hold of a letter the College of American Pathologists sent  to the embattled and now former Mississippi medical examiner Dr. Steven Hayne.  The letter informed Hayne that no action would be taken against him.  Despite Hayne’s role in two wrongful convictions, his doing 1,500 to 1,800 autopsies per year by his own admission, and numerous criticisms of Hayne’s sloppiness and questionable diagnoses by his own peers, the investigating panel told Hayne that no action would be taken…

…which would adversely affect your membership in the college because the committee concludes it lacks sufficient evidence on which to base a finding that you are deficient in moral character or professional competence or guilty of professional misconduct.

The Clarion-Ledger reports that the College initiated the investigation after the complaints from the Innocence Project about Hayne.  Curiously, Innocence Project spokesman Eric Ferrero tells me that no one at the College ever called anyone at his organization to discuss Hayne.  In fact, they never even requested copies of the actual exhibits in the Innocence Project’s complaint against Hayne to the Mississippi Board of Medical Licensure.

Ferraro also says that to his knowledge, no one at the College of American Pathologists bothered to speak with Hayne’s many critics among his fellow forensic pathologists, either.  Forensic pathologists I’ve spoken with who have been critical of Hayne also say the same thing—no one from the College ever contacted them.

S the College found that there was "insufficient evidence" of impropriety to take action against Hayne, but seems to have neglected to talk to the people who actually possess or have seen evidence of Hayne’s improprieties.  When I called the College to inquire about their investigation, I received a voicemail in return stating that the organization does not discuss its members, or any investigations of them.

The only thing we definitely know about the investigation is that a panel spent two hours in a closed-door hearing with Hayne and his attorney, a scenario the Innocence Project’s Peter Neufeld described this way:

It’s like a criminal defense lawyer being able to show up at trial and present all of the evidence and have none of the victims of the crime testify against you," Neufeld said. "If you only have the party you’re investigating present and don’t have any of the people conducting the investigation present to demonstrate his misconduct, I can’t really take the findings of that hearing very seriously.

If Hayne and his 1,500 autopsies, funeral home-based practice, and long trail of fierce critics aren’t enough to merit action, you wonder what a pathologist would have to do to receive an actual rebuke.

The problem of course is that Hayne and government officials in Mississippi will hail the College’s investigation as redemption (Hayne and his attorney already have), and use it to further delay a thorough investigation to see just how much damage Hayne has done in the thousands of cases in which he has testified.  It will make it yet more difficult for the people he may have helped wrongly put in prison find relief.

Meanwhile, despite Hayne’s effective termination as a Mississippi medical examiner last month, he will continue to testify for the state in the dozens more cases for which he has already performed the autopsies.  So there will be yet more Mississippi convictions based on Hayne’s testimony.  When he announced Hayne’s removal from the state’s list of acceptable pathologists last month, Mississippi Public Safety Commissioner Steve Simpson said Hayne could stay on long enough to finish up his backlog of 400-500 autopsy reports—a staggering number that Simpson and Hayne’s attorney blamed on late toxicology reports from the state’s crime lab.

As it turns out, the backlog number is closer to 600, and only 15 percent of that number is due to tardy toxicology reports.  The rest are due to Hayne’s own sloppiness.  To put that number into perspective, Hayne’s backlog is more than twice the maximum number of autopsies the National Association of Medical Examiners recommends a doctor perform in an entire year.  This is nothing new.  I have autopsy reports Hayne completed as late as four months after the actual autopsy.

As I’ll show in subsequent posts, it wasn’t just Mississippi that dropped the ball on Hayne.  The various medical professional organizations that deal with forensic pathology have been getting complaints about Hayne going back more than a decade.  They never really confronted him.  The College of American Pathologists is merely the most recent.

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16 Responses to “Update on Dr. Hayne”

  1. #1 |  Steve Verdon | 

    If Hayne and his 1,500 autopsies, funeral home-based practice, and long trail of fierce critics aren’t enough to merit action, you wonder what a pathologist would have to do to receive an actual rebuke.

    Public sodomy of young boys? Man that is one inept organization.

  2. #2 |  Gregory | 

    “It’s like a criminal defense lawyer being able to show up at trial and present all of the evidence and have none of the victims of the crime testify against you,”

    Its like having the guy doing the autopsy work for the prosecution and risk his job should he play an honest role in helping the defendant…oh wait.

  3. #3 |  John Wilburn | 

    It seems to be an extreme example of the down-side of “professional ethics,” i.e. placing the integrity of the profession above the potential consequences to the public of unprofessional conduct.

    “Business as usual” –or- “you cover my ass, and I cover yours.”

  4. #4 |  Danny | 

    Seriously, at what point do the people take justice into their own hands. I’m definitely not the person to do it, but I have never really understood what the right time is to take such a leap. How can we get rid of those responsible for these crimes?

  5. #5 |  Dave_W | 

    The College of American Pathologists is doing exactly what all such organizations do: protect the incompetent.

  6. #6 |  thomasblair | 

    To analogize, this is like doing the research for a paper, then putting it aside for four months before sitting down to write the paper itself. Or, because we know Hayne likes to have multiple bodies open at once, it’s like simultaneously researching 4-5 papers and then sitting down to construct the prose after letting it sit for four months. One wonders how the man can even remember the age and sex of the deceased, let alone cause and method of death.

  7. #7 |  Mojotron3000 | 

    Is there a way to catch Hayne in a “sting/gotcha” where he’s obviously falsified an autopsy? Unfortunately dead men tell no tales…..

  8. #8 |  SJE | 

    Another sign of the “new professionalism” in our law enforcement community

  9. #9 |  nobahdi | 

    …1,500 to 1,800 autopsies per year by his own admission…I have autopsy reports Hayne completed as late as four months after the actual autopsy.

    There is no possible way the reports can be accurate if he performed 500 to 600 other autopsies before writing the report.

  10. #10 |  SJE | 

    If I drank a beer for every autopsy Hayne performs, I would have a serious drinking problem

  11. #11 |  SJE | 

    nobahdi:

    Fortunately Hayne has a way to ensure complete accuracy, even several months after an autopsy: he can always call his friends in the prosecutors office to remind him what his findings were.

  12. #12 |  Judi | 

    Isn’t this much akin to the FOX guarding the HENHOUSE?

  13. #13 |  Lorraine Sumrall | 

    Radley, in our case where Hayne performed the autopsy the autopsy was performed on August 16, 2006 and the report was not generated until June 4, 2007. This is far longer than the four month time period you reference in your post. Just thought you’d like to know!

  14. #14 |  ferrofluid | 

    So I guess Dr. Haynes used to work with Dr. Michael Berkland, the coroner who signed off on Lori Klausutis…

    Both from Jackson County, curious.

  15. #15 |  Bill | 

    Dr. Haynes performed an autopsy on my 5 year old daughter five months ago. We have FINALLY just received his autopsy report. This report was AFTER I had to get involved in August to help push the labs that were performing several different tests. Bottomline, we will not even look at Dr. Haynes report because we do not believe his office or the State Of Mississippi Medical Examiners office have ANY credibility left. We know she had an enlarged heart which was undetected before her death and that is where my family is going to close this part of our lives. The fact it took five months to get the results just goes to show that the Dr. Haynes and the State had NO regard (not to mention ethics) for the process. Heaven help us if the state EVER requests an autopsy be done on another family member. They did not uphold the trust we placed on them with my daughter, this will not happen again.

  16. #16 |  The Agitator » Blog Archive » Hayne Sues | 

    [...] apparently using a College of American Pathology panel’s decision not to take action against him as conclusive proof that he’s vindicated, and that all of the [...]

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