Post Mortem
Death Investigation in America


A forensic pathologist for more than 40 years, DiMaio retired as the medical examiner of San Antonio in December 2006. He says that novels and television shows have given Americans a false impression of the state of death investigation in America, which he describes as "mediocre."

One of America's leading forensic pathologists, Fierro is the model for the Kay Scarpetta character in the popular fiction series by Patricia Cornwell. She retired in 2008 as chief medical examiner for the commonwealth of Virginia. Fierro was a member of the committee that wrote the National Academy of Sciences study that recommended the U.S. abolish the coroner system. "I'm not anti-coroner," she explains. "I'm pro-competency."

Known as "Dr. Jazz," Minyard is a trumpet-playing former obstetrician who has been elected coroner of New Orleans 10 times -- making him the longest serving big city coroner in America. Minyard compares the role of a coroner to a community doctor -- he handles "the ancillary discussions around a death that you can't teach" and is the face of public health threats in the community. Here he responds to criticism that his office is particularly close to law enforcement. "The truth is what we peddle," he says. "We don't care who wins and who loses."

The coroner for Clark County, Nev., Murphy's office was the inspiration for the television drama CSI. "CSI has done some great things for medical-legal death investigations," he tells FRONTLINE. "It's also caused some problems." He was the only coroner asked to testify for the National Academy of Sciences study and describes the recommendation to abolish coroners as "the nuclear approach."


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Posted Feburary 1, 2011

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