Investigate the Hayne Cases, Gen. Hood

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Ronni Mott

Reading journalist Radley Balko's May 15 piece on Steven Hayne in The Washington Post reminded me, again, of our broken justice system.

If you're unfamiliar with Hayne, he's the doc who served as the Mississippi's de facto pathologist for some 20 years. By his own admission, Hayne performed 1,500 to 1,800 autopsies a year. Given his oft-discredited court testimony—several times during exonerations of death-row defendants—one would think Hayne might be behind bars instead of the people he testified against.

Balko outlines how Hayne's claims contributed to Christopher Brandon's 2009 conviction for depraved-heart murder. The jury heard only one controversial version of medical evidence in Brandon's trial for the death of his girlfriend's baby. During Hayne's testimony—that the child died of shaken baby syndrome—he cited a Harvard University study that no one has ever found, and gave opinions contrary to the findings of another study. In other words, Hayne, the state's star prosecution expert, seemed to just make sh*t up.

The court declined to provide funds the defense needed to put on dissenting medical experts—who can charge more than $550 an hour. They could have debunked Hayne on the spot. Hearing only the prosecution's experts, the jury returned a guilty verdict. Brandon is serving a life sentence.

Let me be clear: As in the case of Michelle Byrom, I don't know that Brandon is innocent. What seems clear from Balko's story, however, is that Brandon, like Byrom, did not receive a fair trial.

Our state Supreme Court upheld the Brandon conviction in 2013. He was not declared indigent, the justices reasoned, so he wasn't qualified to receive the court's assistance for expert witnesses. Furthermore, they wrote, the court "has consistently found that Dr. Hayne is qualified" as a medical expert.

That same year, the state Supreme Court overturned David Parvin's conviction for murdering his wife, Joyce, and again, Hayne's testimony played a key role. The doctor "fell woefully short of the requirements for admissibility" as a firearms expert, they wrote in the Parvin reversal. The same could be said for the court's reversal of Tyler Edmonds' conviction, where Hayne testified two hands pulled the trigger in the killing of police officer Ron W. Jones in 2001.

The court holds Hayne incompetent in one area but competent in another. In 2008, Mississippi's Department of Public Safety removed Hayne from its list of approved forensic pathologists after Hayne came to national attention. The Mississippi Innocence Project called him "a danger to the public." Hayne sued the project for defamation. The Innocence Project settled the case, but did not recant. The suit was perhaps a nuisance worth making go away—the project has more important work to do.

Beyond putting Hayne out of a lucrative state job, Mississippi has taken no actions to investigate how deeply his "work" might have injured the cause of justice. It has made no effort to find out how many of his thousands of court appearances could have resulted in unfair trials.

Clearly, it would be a big, expensive process. But is it not worthwhile when Hayne's testimony has been central in so many convictions? We don't know how many innocent people might rot in prison because of Hayne's possible propensity for fantasy or even whether the state has executed people as a result.

What we do know is that Mississippi will continue to see the evidence of Hayne's handiwork for years to come. We do know that the Mississippi Supreme Court has dismissed claims of unfair trials because they hold he was "qualified" to provide expert forensic testimony. Attorney General Jim Hood has a duty to ensure that the state's justice system works. He has a personal stake in not wakening the Hayne sleeping dog. As a prosecutor, he often relied on Hayne. Whether he understood that Hayne was a questionable expert then, he must understand it now.

Yet, Hood fought against legislation mandating that counties only hire certified forensic pathologists—which further disqualifies Hayne. Investigating the Hayne cases is not convenient, politically or otherwise. Hood may not want to appear to be defending Hayne, but his inaction speaks volumes.

It's time to end the travesty Hayne perpetrated on the people of Mississippi. It's unacceptable, and we deserve better.

Ronni Mott is a freelance journalist in Jackson. Many credit her breaking stories on the Michelle Byrom recently for helping stop her execution.

Comments

myloridarlin 5 months ago

It was the Tyler Edmonds case where Hayne testified that there were 2 fingers on the trigger, sending a 16 yr old. to prison for life. Fortunately, that conviction was overturned after about three years later.

Cory Maye's case involved a botched "drug bust" where police kicked his door in during a middle of the night raid and did not identify themselves. Maye shot from a position on the floor (while protecting his baby), not knowing who was in his house. Hayne testified that Mayes's account was impossible, that the officer killed was shot from a standing position. Ballistics proved that the shot that killed the officer came from cross fire from another officer.

BTW, since when has Hood been promoted to General? He's scary enough as Attorney General. :(

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myloridarlin 5 months ago

Hmmm. I have never heard an Attorney General called that, but okay. :) I'll look that up.

I am already very familiar with Tyler Edmonds and Cory Maye, hence my comment that is was not Cory Maye's case where Hayne asserted two fingers on the trigger, but Edmunds.

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myloridarlin 5 months ago

Donna Ladd, please cite your source that General is the title for an A.G. - I have never heard that and cannot find a single citation where your assertation is confirmed. Thank you.

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donnaladd 5 months ago

I don't have a particular source other than long-time common usage. It's common to hear AGs called by General in courtrooms and by other officialdom. Heard it for years. And if Ronni wants to call him that in her column, that's her choice.

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myloridarlin 5 months ago

Oh, a legitimate question seemed to bother you somehow? I spoke to several attorney's on both sides today who have never heard any such thing and she can call him the King of England, for all I care. I was curious, and there should be no snark when a person asks for a citation. It is a perfectly acceptable request. But then, you should know that.

I'd like nothing more than to see Hayne get his comeuppance, in fact, I have a personal stake in it. That being said, confusing cases is Hayne's forte. Bloggers should make every effort to assure that they are giving correct information, which this particular blog obviously does not, at least in the reference to Cory Maye.

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js1976 5 months ago

"and there should be no snark when a person asks for a citation"

Funny, that's not the same courtesy you extended when I asked for a citation.

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donnaladd 5 months ago

I'm not bothered at all. I just answered you. Methinks we define "snark" quite differently.

In fact, I'm much more concerned about the topic of Ronni's column: Hood's support of Hayne. That actually has the potential to affect people's lives. It's his decisions that matter in this thread. Let's not derail it with trivia.

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myloridarlin 5 months ago

Probably we do. And I pointed out the error, not to be rude, but because it was an honest error that needed correction.

I absolutely agree with you and the writer, Ronni. The fact that no one in a position of power here seems to want to deal with what the judicial system in Mississippi, Hood, Steven Hayne (and to a lessor extent, West) have done is horrific. It seems that no one outside of Mississippi cares what has happened here and it honestly baffles me. It also seems that there are not many people here, other than journalists, that are shouting about it unless it affects them directly.

Jim Hood is a very dangerous man and his desperate fight to keep the bought and paid for Hayne was despicable.

Hood and his support of Hayne has directly affected my life in a way that unless you are living it, is impossible to understand or for me to convey.

Both Radley Balko and Jerry Mitchell have written about it and the fight is really just beginning, even after all these years. I have to be vague for the moment , but it will all become even more public soon enough.

I can only continue to have faith that, as the truth will soon come to light, the right thing will be done.

So please forgive my "snark", donnaladd, Hood and Hayne tend to make me feel as if I have been touched with a hot iron.

P.S. js1976, you asked me for no citation and when donnaladd asked that it be dropped, I agreed and did, yet here you are again...

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donnaladd 5 months ago

I don't agree that it was an error that needed to be corrected. It's a commonly used title that an opinion writer using as a headline addressing the AG.

Otherwise, no big deal.

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myloridarlin 5 months ago

No, I was talking about the error which confused the Cory Maye/Tyler Edmonds cases.

bubbat left a link above as to how an AG is to be addressed.

It is certainly much more important to be addressing the tremendous problems caused by Hood and Hayne.

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RonniMott 4 months, 3 weeks ago

My apologies for confusing the Tyler Edmonds case with that of Cory Maye. Good catch. I'll be happy to share my source material for other cases cited here.

My use of "Gen." was based on my observations of reporters and A.G. staffers. I've never heard Hood correct anyone when they use the term, though he may well have elsewhere.

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