I've been reporting on the unfolding criminal justice disaster in Mississippi involving Steven Hayne and Michael West for several years now, including several pieces since I started working here at HuffPost.This morning, The New York Times picks up on the story.
Between the late 1980s and the late 2000s, Dr. Hayne had the field of forensic pathology in Mississippi almost to himself, performing thousands of autopsies and delivering his findings around the state as an expert witness in civil and criminal cases. For most of that time, Dr. Hayne performed about 1,700 autopsies annually, more than four for every day of the year and nearly seven times the maximum caseload recommended by the National Association of Medical Examiners.
During the past several months, in courthouses around Mississippi, four new petitions have been quietly submitted on behalf of people in prison arguing that they were wrongfully convicted on the basis of Dr. Hayne's testimony. Around 10 more are expected in the coming weeks, including three by inmates on death row . . .
The recent lawsuits suggest that in only a limited number of cases did a verdict most likely hinge on Dr. Hayne's testimony. But without any systematic review, it remains a question as to what that number may be.
"There are hundreds of cases that have to be reconsidered," said Dr. James Lauridson, a former state medical examiner in Alabama, who provided an affidavit in one of the recently filed cases. Dr. Lauridson said Dr. Hayne was an extreme example of a familiar problem: a forensic analyst with inadequate training who was given far too much deference in the courts.
All you need to know about the problem down there can be summed up in these two paragraphs:
"I'm sure there's a lot of people that don't like Hayne, but from a prosecutor's standpoint I don't know anybody who didn't like him," said John T. Kitchens, a former district attorney and circuit court judge. "He was always so helpful and useful to law enforcement . . .
"I had a prosecutor one time tell me, 'These guys may not have done it but they're bad guys and they have to go to prison,' " Dr. White said. "The whole thing kind of rolls downhill from there. And in the interim you can't help but wonder how many people ended up in prison who didn't get a fair trial."
Several prosecutors in Mississippi have made the same point to me that Kitchens makes to NYT reporter Campbell Robertson quote above--they defend Hayne by pointing out how helpful he has been over the years at assisting them in winning convictions. I really don't think they understand what's wrong with what they're saying. Which is pretty incredible.
I have a long feature in the works about another Mississippi case tainted by bad forensics. It's a haunting story about a brutal murder that went unsolved for 15 years because of Hayne and his sidekick, the bite mark charlatan Michael West. Look for it at HuffPost soon.