Update in Mississippi: Titles Are Free!

Tuesday, September 1st, 2009

Criminal defense attorney Matt Eichelberger has found an fascinating little document I haven’t yet seen in my reporting on Steven Hayne, Mississippi’s controversial, fallen, and possibly rising again, medical examiner.

To set up the document, a quick recap: By law, Mississippi is required to have an official state medical examiner. Hayne briefly held the position on an interim basis in the late 1980s, but was forced to step down when it was discovered that he wasn’t board certified in forensic pathology. State law requires certification in forensic pathology by the American Board of Pathology. Hayne took the certification exam in the mid-1980s, but failed it.

The state then hired a trio of reputable, qualified state examiners, all of whom eventually left the position in frustration after continually battling Hayne and his allies in the state’s coroner and DA offices. The last of the three, Emily Ward, left in 1995. The position has remained vacant since, leaving Hayne to do 80 to 90 percent of the state’s autopsies with no oversight.

Hayne is a doctor in private practice. Officially, he holds no position in Mississippi. Or at least he isn’t supposed to. Yet Hayne has testified in court a number of times that he is Mississippi’s “chief state pathologist,” a position that has no basis in state law.

The document Eichelberger explains where Hayne got that title. It’s a contract signed in 2006 between Hayne and the state’s then Commissioner of Public Safety, George Phillips. The contract essentially creates the uncompensated, non-position of “chief state pathologist,” and gives the title to Hayne. The position includes nearly all of the powers of the official state pathologist, save for the ability to make the rules other medical examiners are to follow while conducting official state autopsies. Given that Hayne was essentially the only game in town, and that he flagrantly violates the standards of his profession, Phillips probably found that portion of the law unnecessary.

To give Hayne the position outlined by state law would have required the legislature to eliminate the certification requirement, which probably would have attracted some negative attention. So Phillips just created a new position with most of the same powers and a similar title, and quietly bestowed it upon Hayne.

As Eichelberger points out, another interesting portion of the contract allows Hayne to conduct private autopsies at the modern, state-funded lab in Jackson at just $100 a pop. That worked out well for Hayne. For most of his career, he had been performing his all-night, marathon autopsy sessions in the basement of a funeral home owned by Rankin County Coroner Jimmie Roberts. Roberts and Hayne had a falling out in 2006. Some of my sources in Mississippi have wondered, and never been able to explain, how Hayne was able to move into the state facility despite not holding any official state position. Now we know.

It’s really pretty incredible to continue to discover the extraordinary lengths to which Mississippi officials have gone over the years—and continue to go—to keep Hayne on the witness stand.

Archive of my prior reporting on Hayne here.

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20 Responses to “Update in Mississippi: Titles Are Free!”

  1. #1 |  Tokin42 | 

    WTF is it going to take before the people of Mississippi will have had enough and actually do something about this?

  2. #2 |  PB | 

    Was I the only one who read that as titties?

  3. #3 |  Al V | 

    Who knew that “My Cousin Vinny” was a documentary of the criminal justice system there….

  4. #4 |  SJE | 

    PB, do you work for Google?

  5. #5 |  Marty | 

    This must be what it was like to watch Nixon’s world slowly crumble…

  6. #6 |  IrishMike | 

    “WTF is it going to take before the people of Mississippi will have had enough and actually do something about this?”

    The thing is I don’t think many Mississippians would be upset if they learned what is going on. At least not in the way most people learn about an isue – i.e. at the sound byte level. On the one hand you have Radley explaining in 55 pages that Hayne holds his title illegally (“some lawyer technicality gobbledygook” says Joe Mississippi) and has been putting poor people, especially poor black people, in jail with highly questionable findings (to which Joe M. says “I’m glad he ain’t gettin’ sidetracked by some defense lawyer gobbledygook technicalities”). On the other hand you have the counter argument that Hayne is “a tireless public servant who has helped put hundreds of criminals behind bars where they belong.”

    Hayne is just a cog in the “tough on crime” machine that the citizenry just eats up. Only the few who have the patience and intelligence to look deeper than the typical sound byte level will find a problem.

  7. #7 |  Stephen | 

    I just can’t believe that nobody has shot this guy yet. If his bogus testimony put me in jail for say 10 yrs, I WOULD hunt him down and make him pay.

  8. #8 |  Bernard | 

    I look forwarding to seeing CNN discover this some three months hence by googling the word ‘Hayne’ in a slow news week and stumbling upon your blog.

  9. #9 |  H4 | 

    Bernard,

    They already have:

    http://ac360.blogs.cnn.com/2009/08/21/pathologists-work-raises-questions/

  10. #10 |  Bernard | 

    H4, yes. The original story which they ‘discovered’ however many months late is why I assume they’ll grab this updated one when they have another slow news day.

  11. #11 |  pam | 

    CNN has yet to air it, they’re still sorting out the Bush lies and the Kate Tortures 8 gossip.

  12. #12 |  Bill Anderson | 

    I think that the only way that this farce will be resolve is when Hayne manages to testify wrongly against the wrong person, someone who truly is politically-connected in Mississippi. It is clear that he is a liar, a fraud, and a charlatan, and everyone in the “criminal justice” system there knows it.

    Some people with resources are going to have to be willing to fund appeals all the way into the U.S. Supreme Court and have the court vacate a number of convictions before anyone will do anything. This says volumes about the integrity, or the lack thereof, in the Mississippi system.

  13. #13 |  Lorraine Sumrall | 

    Radley, thank you for this post. I couldn’t, but could, believe my eyes when I read the contract effectively crowning Hayne Chief State Whore, I mean pathologist. It seems this state has no shame. There are some people that are practically sweating to death tonight in prisons all over this state at least partially in that position because of Steven Hayne and his willingness to lie on behalf of the State. The man and all of his accomplices are playing a dangerous game.

  14. #14 |  seeker6079 | 

    “I think that the only way that this farce will be resolve is when Hayne manages to testify wrongly against the wrong person, someone who truly is politically-connected in Mississippi. It is clear that he is a liar, a fraud, and a charlatan, and everyone in the “criminal justice” system there knows it.”

    Then it isn’t going to happen, Bill Anderson. Haynes has been at this a very long time and if such a connected VIP came his way you can be sure that Haynes would testify in any way necessary to get him off the hook. That’s exactly why people like Haynes thrive: they are tools integrated into the network of power and influence. It’s also another reason why Mississippi is going to such great lengths to protect him, other than his utility: he has been around so long and is so interwoven with the corrupt system that any genuine and honest attempt to undo what he has done will also undo the careers of a great many Connected folks who helped him do it. Why do you think that three well-qualified state examiners were promptly sandbagged after assuming office?

  15. #15 |  Judi | 

    PB, no I have a set too.

    To the others who think no one is doing something…or at least trying like hell…

    There’s Radley first of all who is doing his level best to bring this debacle to light.

    Then there are attorneys who are fighting tooth and nail against Huckleberry Hayne.

    Last but not least there’s me. I’ve been to the AG’s office in person, the FBI, the Mississippi Medical Board of Licensure, and countless other agencies.

    I’ve called the governor’s office, congressmen and reps from Mississippi.

    All but ONE man has implied the message, “It’s not in my job description.”

    Hell I am on a letter writing campaign to OBAMA to find out just whose damned job it is!

    Somebody somewhere is going to grab the brass ring and run with it. Who? I don’t know.

    Until then, I will be all up in EVERYONE’S ‘GRILL’…period.

    One Mississippi House Representative who IS fighting the Death Penalty in Mississippi is John Mayo, a Vietnam Vet

    (www.johnmayo.com )

    I have personally visited this man and I can tell you he is a truly dedicated man to this cause and is well aware of the Hayne/West fiasco.

    Please go to his site and give him your opinions and full support!

    Also SIGN my petition that list Radley’s articles as reference and help me fight the HAYNE / WEST atrocity before it gets any later.

    http://www.gopetition.com/online/25939.html

    Radley, as always you are a hero to many people. We read your articles daily but sometimes fail to give you the much deserved praise you are more than entitled to.

    Speaking on behalf of the wrongfully convicted in prison, on death row, family, friends and myself, THANK YOU!

  16. #16 |  Judi | 

    H4, they BLOGGED it but have not aired it…guess saving innocent lives isn’t as important as….

    And Lorraine, you had it right when you said WHORE. Hayne was accepting money for illegal practices! Hell he had an assembly line of ‘johns’.

    By the way folks…my MARCH/RALLY will be held between January-March 2010 in Jackson Mississipppi. Seems the House will be IN SESSION during that time!

    Well who woulda thunk it?

  17. #17 |  Judi | 

    Where’s the Jake Brigance (A Time to Kill by John Grisham) or Penn Cage (Turning Angel and The Devil’s Punchbowl by Greg Iles)
    characters when you need ‘em most in Mississippi?

  18. #18 |  Lisa | 

    FYI folks– EVERYONE has skeletons –THIS POS Hayne does too. Someone should find his exwife…. now that’s a thought…. isn’t it.

  19. #19 |  Judi | 

    Oh Lord, Lisa…when you use the word ‘skeletons’ in the same sentence with Hayne…it gives a visual like no other…lol.

  20. #20 |  Gabe | 

    As a citizen of the state, and a person who is considering running for coroner in Rankin county, I have been suprised by some of the articles you have written. I am familar with the good Dr’s question past, but had no idea about the coroners working so hard to get him back. Great work and dedication on your part.

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