Last month, I wrote a column about the latest developments in Mississippi’s continuing medical examiner saga. In it, I noted that Steven Hayne had set out a letter (PDF) to defense attorneys announcing his availability to testify for them. I don’t know for sure how many times he has testified for the defense in the past, but the people I’ve talked to in Mississippi say it’s less than 10, and likely less than five. (He has testified for the state thousands of times.) But the new law barring him from doing official autopsies for prosecutors doesn’t bar him from testifying for defense attorneys or in civil cases.
[O]n Dec. 9, Hinds County Circuit Judge Swan Yerger granted Assistant Public Defender Alison Kelly’s request for an independent autopsy review by Hayne. Kelly represents Darion Givens, 18, who faces murder charges in connection with the June 13 shooting death of his girlfriend, Falisha Miller, a Jim Hill High School student.
In court filings, Kelly argued that a second opinion of Miller’s autopsy is necessary to examine inconsistencies in the first autopsy, conducted by Dr. Thomas Deering. Witnesses reported hearing a gunshot, while Deering’s autopsy suggested that Miller’s shooter had used a silencer. Kelly maintains that Jasper Bell, who is charged as an accessory after the fact, was the shooter.
Kelly said this week that for Givens’ case, Hayne was the “best choice for defending [her] client in the most zealous manner.” While aware of controversy surrounding Hayne, Kelly said that she had not thoroughly investigated criticism of his work. Kelly did not seek out a forensic pathologist from the state medical examiner’s office because she wanted a second opinion on work performed by that office.
“In the state of Mississippi, Dr. Hayne is the only (forensic pathologist) that I know of, other than these people that the state is bringing into Mississippi to do their pathology work,” Kelly said. “I’m limited. I can’t use their pathologists to do my cross-examination of their reports.”
Hayne also recently testified for the defense in a case in Louisiana.
As I noted in the column, perversely, it would actually be good strategy for a defense attorney to hire Hayne. The sheer number of times he has already testified for prosecutors likely make him seem credible to a jury unfamiliar with his history. And in Mississippi in particular, there’s a good chance the prosecutor a defense attorney is opposing has used Hayne in prior cases, meaning he isn’t likely to delve into Hayne’s lack of certification, his impossible workload, or the dubious testimony he has given over the years.
I know that a lot of defense attorneys read this site. I’d be interested in hearing your opinions on the ethical issues in play here. Defense attorneys in Mississippi and Louisiana by now know, or at least should know, about his credibility problems. But using him may well also benefit their clients.