Mississippi Doctor’s Autopsies at Center of Wrongful Conviction Filings

January 8, 2013

In last April’s The Real CSI, FRONTLINE told the story of Dr. Steven Hayne, a Mississippi forensic pathologist whose autopsy testimony helped to convict two men on murder charges that were later overturned — but only after both men been in prison for more than 12 years.

Now Dr. Hayne is back in the news again after four petitions have been filed in recent months on behalf of people in prison arguing that they had been falsely convicted on the basis of his testimony. Ten more petitions are expected to be filed in the coming weeks, according to The New York Times

The filings are based on new information that emerged in a lawsuit between the Innocence Project and Dr. Hayne last spring.

In 2008, the Innocence Project wrote to the Mississippi state medical board stating that Dr. Hayne is “a danger to the public” and should not be allowed to testify. Dr. Hayne responded by suing the rights group for defamation in 2009, reacheding a settlement last spring that awarded him $100,000. Though Dr. Hayne’s lawyer lauded the suit as a vindication, the Innocence Project says that while combating the suit, they discovered new information about Dr. Hayne that raised more questions about his record.

Despite the filings, state officials have not indicated they will undertake a formal state review of Dr. Hayne’s past cases. Mississippi’s public safety commissioner removed him from a list of approved forensic pathologists in 2008 and the state hired a chief medical examiner in 2010.

“I don’t think I was treated fairly,” Dr. Hayne told The New York Times about his treatment. “Is that the way you treat people after 20 years of working like a dog?”

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