June 6, 2012 10:51:49 AM
Jeff Clark - [email protected]
Dr. Steven Hayne, once the state's most active forensic expert, has a reputation of being both something of a Svengali and an expert criminal witness. Hayne recently agreed to a $100,000 out of court settlement from the New York-based judicial advocacy group, The Innocence Project. Hayne filed a defamation of character suit against the group in April 2009 in U.S. District Court in Jackson.
Although the defendants settled out of court, The Innocence Project claims with "affirmative assertion" it did not nothing wrong and settled for insurance purposes.
"We are pleased that the lawsuit brought against us by Steven Hayne has come to an end," Innocence Project Co-director Peter Neufeld said in a statement. "While we would have preferred not to have had to waste our resources defending against a frivolous lawsuit, we were able to learn a lot through the lawsuit about forensic science in Mississippi over the past decades -- information that will be extremely helpful to lawyers challenging other convictions in Mississippi, including cases where Dr. Hayne was a prosecution witness. The Innocence Project remains steadfast in its goal to uncover improper convictions and reform the criminal justice system, particularly in death penalty cases."
Hayne's suit claims the Innocence Project acted in "gross negligence" by sending a 14-page complaint letter to the Mississippi State Board of Licensure.
In the letter, the Innocence Project stated Hayne "routinely engages in 'unprofessional conduct,' under Mississippi Code 73-25-29 and Chapter 22, 500, and is unqualified to practice as defined in Mississippi Code 73-25-83 and Chapter 22, 600. Dr. Hayne, by providing false and misleading autopsy reports and testimony in criminal prosecutions which carry a death sentence, has played a critical role in improperly sending an unknown number of people to death row or prison for life.
Our own investigation was prompted by discovering that he had testified under oath falsely in two capital cases."
After an investigation by the state's medical board, Hayne was removed from the state's designated pathologist list.
The two capital cases referenced in the letter occurred in 16th District Circuit Court and were prosecuted through the office of District Attorney Forrest Allgood. Both Tyler Edmonds and Kennedy Brewer were sentenced to prison before their convictions were overturned.
Hayne provided expert testimony in the trial that sent Brewer to prison for murder in 1995. A decade later, DNA proved Brewer's innocence and he was acquitted of murder.
Allgood's association with Hayne was the subject of a 2011 article by Radley Balko for Reason online (reason.com). In the article entitled "Bad Boys: A Rogue's Gallery of Misbehaving Prosecutors, Plus Three Worth Praising," Balko refers to Allgood as "The Death Row Gambler," in part for his association with Hayne. On Tuesday Allgood stood behind his decisions to use Hayne and said he had not cost him any convictions.
"I can think of no cases that Hayne cost me," Allgood said. "While he was often attacked by the defense, they never chose to bring in a competing expert to contest his findings. That avenue was explored on many occasions by the defense attorneys and could have done it if the expert had anything different to offer."
Edmonds was 13 at the time of the shooting death of his brother-in-law, Joey Fulgham. He initially confessed to the crime, then changed his story and claimed Kristi Fulgham did it and convinced him to take the blame for her.
Hayne testified that he could determine that two people pulled the trigger on the gun that killed Joe Fulgham through his examination of where the bullet was placed.
Edmonds was convicted of murder in 2004 and spent several years incarcerated before the Mississippi Supreme Court discarded Hayne's testimony and overturned the conviction. Edmonds was granted a new trial. He was acquitted by a jury in 2008 and remains free.
When asked his thoughts about Hayne, the normally outspoken Edmonds paused and carefully picked his words.
"I think people should let Dr. Hayne's qualifications or lack thereof speak for themselves," Edmonds said.