Accusations Medical Examiner Illegally Alters Documents

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(Memphis)  There are accusations the Shelby County Medical Examiner’s office is withholding life and death information.

The West Tennessee Regional Forensic Center performs autopsies.

Many are homicide cases. There are complaints the operation is interfering with some very important court cases.

“These documents can put somebody to death because people can't read them,” said Dr. OC Smith, Forensic Expert.

Dr. Smith is a retired medical examiner for Shelby County and now testifies as an expert witness in murder trials.

He says the diagrams and sketches from the regional forensic center are now shrunken so small you can’t read them. In a death penalty case, he says that’s a serious problem.

Smith says, “This is no longer a true and exact document.”

He adds, “This is entirely against the laws of the state of Tennessee.”

Last week, the mother of 15-year-old Justin Thompson was shocked when she saw her son’s autopsy report.

She waited months to get it and when she saw it the writing on the diagram was so small she couldn’t understand it.

Shirley Thompson, said, “I wanted to know how my son got killed and I wanted to know how many times he got shot.”

We took these concerns to the West Tennessee Regional Forensic Center. They told us the reports are a medical legal document.

We asked to speak to a medical examiner and were told they aren’t willing to go on camera about that.

They also wouldn’t tell us why the documents shrunk in recent years. In cases like Justin Thompson’s death, they said the reports are not designed for the layman’s eye. Smith says that’s bull.

He said, “I'm telling you one thing. I have looked at these documents. They use the original document in court and only in court.”

Smith says keeping the more legible, easier to read documents from being seen until trial gives an unfair advantage to prosecutors who try murder cases.

And, as for if the reports are for the layman’s eyes to understand the sketches and diagrams.

He said, “Absolutely. This is atrocious. This is egregious.”

The medical examiner’s office says they are willing to sit down with people like Ms. Thompson to explain the report but Dr. Smith says when getting ready for trial they need an easy to read copy to prepare for trial.