The phrase generally conjures up associations with Nazi Germany (where doctors euthanized the undesirable) and the Soviet Union, where politicians too popular for direct assault by Stalin were scheduled for operations, at the insistence of the Party, from which the victims never woke up.
The phrase "medical murder" is not generally associated with Louisiana. But Radley Balko, at Reason, makes a compelling case that perhaps it should be. Specifically, he examines the work of two medical examiners whose work was instrumental in placing Jimmie Duncan on death row for the murder of a child named Haley Oliveaux. Duncan remains on death row today. The only physical evidence linking Duncan to murder: bite marks found by medical examiners Steven Hayne and Michael West, which matched up with Duncan's teeth. Hayne testified concerning the bite marks, using West's work to match them to Duncan, at Duncan's criminal trial.
Why might this be attempted medical murder? Tape has surfaced of West jamming a plaster cast of Duncan's teeth, repeatedly, into the victim's face at the autopsy. If the tape is accurate, West manufactured the bite marks that prosecutors used to send Jimmie Duncan to death row.
The full story is at Reason. Because the story contains images and video which may prove highly disturbing to some, I am going to lift enough excerpts to provide context, more than I usually would. I encourage those of strong stomach to read the entire piece.
Hayne and West videotaped many of their autopsies and forensic examinations over the years. For whatever reason, the video of West's examination of Haley Oliveaux was preserved, and Duncan's post-conviction attorneys found it in the district attorney's file last year. They were shocked at what they saw. The full video is 24 minutes long. The brief excerpts that follow show Oliveaux's face on successive days. At the start of the videotaped examination from December 18, 1993, her right cheek appears free of any noticeable marks. Yet after the tape cuts to December 19, 1993, the cheek shows prominent signs of abrasions, which are then exacerbated by West's handiwork. …
At the 4:55 mark, there's a cut in the original video, representing the break between West's initial exam on December 18, and a follow-up bite-mark analysis on December 19. After the break, West stands over Oliveaux's body, which now contains a striking red abrasion on her right cheek—an abrasion that wasn't there before. West then takes the plaster cast of Jimmie Duncan's teeth and pushes it into the scrape on Oliveaux's jaw. Over the next few minutes he jams, drags, and scrapes the dental mold across Oliveaux’s cheek 17 times. For the entire 24-minute video, West uses Duncan's teeth mold on Oliveaux's skin more than 50 times. …
Reason first asked Michael Bowers to comment on the video. Bowers, a practicing dentist, is a deputy medical examiner for Ventura County, California and a past chairman of the American Board of Forensic Odontology’s Exam and Credentialing Committee. He worked with the Innocence Project to help free Kennedy Brewer.
"This is the best documentation I've ever seen of Dr. West's junk bite-mark comparisons," Bowers said in a phone interview last month.
When asked how abrasions on Oliveaux's cheek not present when the video begins could later appear, Bowers answered, "Because Dr. West created them. It was intentional. He's creating artificial abrasions in that video, and he's tampering with the evidence. It's criminal, regardless of what excuse he may come up with about his methods." Bowers added, "You never jam a plaster cast into a possible bite mark like that. It distorts the evidence. You take a photograph, or if there are indentations, you take an impression. But you don't jam plaster teeth into them." After viewing the video, Bowers submitted an affidavit for Jimmie Duncan's defense.
Reason also showed the video to David Averill, a dentist and a former president of the American Board of Forensic Odontology. "The video is troubling. I don't know how you can explain where those marks come from. And there's just no justification for him to push the cast into the skin like that," Averill said. "That isn't an acceptable way to perform a bite mark analysis."
Not acceptable is putting it mildly. If the tape is accurate, West manufactured the bite marks which put Jimmie Duncan on death row in Louisiana, a state that isn't shy about executions.
Duncan remains there today.
At the very least, this is evidence tampering and obstruction of justice. If Jimmie Duncan is executed, it's possible that two innocent people will have died.