A new panel created by Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood will meet next month to review critical needs in the state’s death investigation system and its crime lab. The Innocence Project has led calls in recent months for the appointment of a state medical examiner, who would oversee criminal autopsies. Steven Hayne, the medical examiner who currently conducts 80 percent of the state’s autopsies (more than 1,500 a year) has been widely discredited and his testimony has led to at least two wrongful convictions later overturned through the work of the Innocence Project.
Earlier this year, state lawmakers allotted $500,000 for a state medical examiner’s office, but the position has yet to be filled. The former head of the Mississippi State Medical Association said “it’s high time” that the position be filled, and the director of the Mississippi Innocence Project said the task force should include diverse perspectives.
Tucker Carrington, director of the Mississippi Innocence Project, said the task force needs to include more voices. "We ought to include as many people as we can. Nobody can tell more stories about the lack of a medical examiner's office than victims and defense lawyers."
Hinds County Assistant Public Defender Matthew Eichelberger applauded Hood's task force, but said he wishes it included someone to represent public defenders.
"This is not a Democrat or Republican issue, not a state versus city issue, not a prosecutor versus defense lawyer issue – it's a public safety issue," he said. "It's a Mississippi issue."
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. (Clarion–Ledger, 07/02/08)