I just had a long conversation with Atlanta TV reporter Dale Russell about his report on Georgia State Medical Examiner Kris Sperry.
Russell contends that the gist of his report was that Sperry has been violating the terms of his contract with the state, which stipulate that he can’t ever contradict a local medical examiner while freelancing in other cases. He says the fact that Sperry signed the contract, then violated it, calls into question his credibility as an expert witness. Russell says he doesn’t necessarily disagree with me that the clause itself is a problem, or that medical examiners should be actually be encouraged to testify for the defense when appropriate, but that that wasn’t the focus of his story. Sperry violating the terms of his contract was the focus.
We both then civilly articulated our positions to one another, but I don’t think either of us walked away convinced. The story did mention Sperry’s contract several times. But I still think the overriding message you walk away with after viewing it is that there’s something inherently wrong with a state medical examiner contradicting another state medical examiner in a criminal case—a position repudiated by every major medical and forensic science organization. The statements from local officials in Mississippi and Tennessee to that effect went unchallenged (Russell says he had a difficult time finding a medical examiner who would repudiate those positions on camera).
I guess my other complaint is that Sperry’s violation of a clause in his contract seems like a relatively minor story when compared the transgressions of the medical examiners he violated his contract to testify against over the last 20 years (mainly Hayne, but there are others). I don’t know all of the facts of the two cases mentioned in the report. The way they were reported make it seem like Sperry’s opinions were a little out there. But who knows. I do know that I haven’t heard a bad word about Sperry from the doctors I’ve talked to over the last few years, both at the National Association of Medical Examiners and across the south.
I get the impression that there has long been a sort of casual acceptance at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation that this was going on. That is, the clause may have always been there, but it was never really enforced. The real problem is that the state insists on including such clause in the first place.
In any case, I wanted to note that Russell called to emphasize that the intent of his story was to focus on Sperry’s contract violations, not the broader issues about medical examiners testifying for the defense.