CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Crime Lab: Mississippi's a scary 'CSI' episode

On television, the popular CSI shows give the impression that high-tech tools and amply staffed forensic departments are on the job to solve crime scene investigations.

But, in Mississippi, that's fiction, not fact.

The inadequacy of Mississippi's "CSI" would make a sad, and scary, episode if it were presented on television.

Enough so that Attorney General Jim Hood is forming a task force that will meet Aug. 21 at Hood's office to study the financial needs of the state medical examiner's office and the Mississippi Crime Lab.

To begin with, since 1995, Mississippi has had no state medical examiner, despite being authorized to hire one.

Dr. Steven Hayne, who has performed most of Mississippi's autopsies for more than a decade, has been criticized in some quarters. Since there is no state medical examiner, by his own count, each year, Hayne does about 1,500 autopsies, an impossible standard for quality work.

Because of a lack of funding, the Crime Lab hasn't been able to hire as many DNA analysts as it needs.

The state even lacks a handwriting expert. "District attorneys with forgery cases have to plead them out or get an out-of-state expert," Hood says.

The state of Mississippi's forensic crime investigations is a grim reality.

And it's not limited to the upper reaches. At the local level, the quality of the elected coroner system begs review, as well.

Mississippi's system of criminal investigations is coming under even broader scrutiny since the Innocence Project has brought to light a disturbing list of wrongful convictions - including the death penalty - involving flatly wrong forensic conclusions.

The New York-based organization says it is reviewing 111 cases in Mississippi.

That is serious, especially for those who believe the state should be "tough" on crime.

Faulty forensics can stymie imposition of the death penalty, for example. Who would want to convict the wrong person of a capital crime? Or have even a shadow of a doubt?

In a worst-case scenario, unless Mississippi improves its criminal investigations from local coroners to a fully funded, staffed and equipped state medical examiner's office, it could be forced to halt all executions. [Mark Godsey]

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my whole family knows that my father was murderd and when the autopsy results came back natural causes we were all schocked. My fater was found in a hunting tent out in the woods and no one knew where he was at but his widowed wife and she left him that nite. When the autopsy results come in and it said the he had died of natural causes we didnt beleive it . She tried to make it look a suicide but no one knew where to find my dad but her. We ask for poison tested to be done but dr. haynes response was i need to know what kind . Well how would we know what kind we are not a doctor or a nurse but my dads sister was and so was her boyfrind he was doctor. my point is my dad was probably murdered and we need some help. no one ever tested to see if he may have been. Look he was found in a tent his house was locked up not a 100 feet from the house they had been going through a divorce and when he didnt agree to give he half she come back. Two weeks later he was dead ! I need help
Melissa Wrenn

Posted by: Melissa Wrenn | Aug 9, 2008 8:36:29 PM

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