Mississippi's criminal forensics disaster.

The law, lawyers, and the court.
Feb. 20 2008 1:32 PM

The Bite-Marks Men

Mississippi's criminal forensics disaster.

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Meanwhile, as Hayne continues to do autopsies and testify, defense attorneys in a handful of cases have attempted to impeach him by citing my reporting, as well as the other criticism from Hayne's peers. The courts have dismissed these motions. They also often refuse even to give an indigent defendant funds to hire his own expert to review Hayne's work, leaving Hayne as the only medical expert to testify at trial.

That's what happened in the case of Jeffrey Havard, on death row in Parchman for killing his girlfriend's infant daughter. Before trial, Havard's lawyer asked the court for money to hire an outside expert, citing concerns about Hayne's credibility. The request was denied. After Havard's conviction, his legal team was able to get former Alabama State Medical Examiner Dr. Jim Lauridson to review Hayne's work. Lauridson found it lacking, to say the least. He told me last fall that Havard's case is "a travesty of justice." Yet in a ruling Kafka would not believe, the Mississippi Supreme Court refused to even consider Lauridson's review of Hayne's autopsy. The review was new evidence, the court determined, and should have been introduced at trial.

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After the Brewer and Brooks exonerations last week, the Innocence Project's Peter Neufeld called for an investigation into Hayne and West. Even before that investigation happens, Hayne and West should stop testifying or doing autopsies. The state also needs to review every case in which either of these two men has ever testified; such investigations have followed forensic scandals in West Virginia, Oklahoma City, Houston, and other places.

As those other scandals indicate, Mississippi certainly isn't the first state to have problems with its forensics system. The difference is that other jurisdictions have responded with thorough investigations and honest efforts to correct deficiencies and repair damage done. Over the years, Mississippi has had ample such opportunities, and state officials have done nothing. Perhaps more exonerations will force the state to change its bad ways. But thus far, there's no sign of that: In a recent article that ran in Jackson's Clarion-Ledger, Attorney General Hood defended Hayne's integrity and expertise, even as he was exonerating Brewer and Brooks, two men wrongly imprisoned due in part to Hayne's work.

Radley Balko is a senior editor for Reason magazine.