Mississippi Medical Examiner Dr. Mark LeVaughn was ice-cool at his introduction ceremony yesterday. Mississippi Department of Public Safety Commissioner Albert Santa Cruz officially announced LeVaughn as the state's new chief medical examiner, and pointed out that the state has not had a real chief medical examiner since 1995.
LeVaughn said he's not feeling the pressure of a backed-up workload, however.
"I've been here a week, and over the past week-and-a-half, we've gotten the autopsy caseload down to the point where, by the end of the day, there shouldn't be more than one body, maybe zero," LeVaughn told reporters with the kind of cheer that doesn't usually come in a sentence containing the words "body" and "autopsy."
The paperwork, he said, is a different story, however, depending upon the kind of reports that are waiting to be done. Laboratory, toxicology and histology tests await attention, but LeVaughn and Deputy Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Adel Shaker, whom the department hired in November, is already moving on them.
LeVaughn is an Ohio native with pathology training at West Virginia University Medical Center and forensic training at the University of Tennessee. He's also certified with the American Board of Pathology, unlike his unofficial predecessor. Two years ago, after a series of wrongful convictions based on bad evidence, Mississippi Department of Public Safety Commissioner Steve Simpson essentially fired Steven Hayne, a doctor whom investigative reporter and Reason magazine editor Radley Balko described as having performed about 80 percent of Mississippi's autopsies for 20 years. (Balko's column appears in the JFP Daily every Tuesday.)
For the last two years, the state has been contracting its autopsies to Nashville-based Forensic Medical.
LeVaughn will be in charge of performing autopsies, or as Cruz puts it: "He'll be handling anything that deals with bodies."
Previously, LeVaughn served as deputy medical examiner for the Kentucky State Medical Examiner's office and as the regional medical examiner and forensic pathologist for coroners in Indiana and Illinois.
Hinds County Coroner Sharon Grisham Stewart said LeVaughn's presence adds considerable credibility to the state. "It enhances us to have a state medical examiner in-house, to have someone who is committed to Mississippi," Grisham Stewart said. "It improves our investigation process."