Letter to Editor of the NYTimes:

Posted on


Flawed Forensic Work

Published: January 13, 2013

To the Editor:

The truly incredible two-decade legacy of flawed autopsies and pro-prosecution testimony by Dr. Steven T. Hayne in Mississippi is a tragic and embarrassing chapter in the history of forensic science in the United States (“Mississippi Autopsies by Doctor in Question,” news article, Jan. 8).

Many of us who have been consulted as forensic pathologists in various homicide cases in that jurisdiction since the late 1980s have been aware of the perversion of justice that has resulted in the conviction and imprisonment of several wrongly accused individuals.

Perhaps the most critical lesson to be learned from this horrendous saga is that the lack of appropriate professional qualifications and other problems on the part of pathologists and other forensic scientific personnel on a continuing basis can occur only when governmental prosecutors deliberately choose to ignore such deficiencies.

That is the major reason the National Research Council in a February 2009 report strongly recommended that forensic scientific facilities and personnel not be an integral part of or be controlled by local or state prosecutorial officials.

Justice in the United States will be markedly enhanced when that goal is ultimately achieved.

Pittsburgh, Jan. 8, 2013

The writer, a clinical professor of pathology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, is past president of the American Academy of Forensic Science.