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Coroners' mistakes can lead to conviction of innocent people: Part 1

A recent investigative effort by National Public Radio (NPR) in partnership with ProPublica and PBS Frontline looked into the state of death investigations in America. Over the course of a year, the investigation found that the death investigation system is in need of a major overhaul in the U.S. The U.S. system is still based on coroners, who need to be elected but do not need a medical degree to determine a cause of death.

The combination of unqualified coroners, lack of funding and lack of oversight has caused some serious to be made. Autopsies are performed when there is a sudden, unexpected or violent death. Inadequate or flawed autopsies can lead to faulty death certificates and even to innocent people being convicted of crimes.

NPR reports on one major mistake where flawed autopsies resulted in two men being sent to prison for crimes they did not commit. The two men spent a combined 30 years in prison for sexual assault and murder.

The two Mississippi men were charged in two separate crimes two years apart. Both crimes involved the sexual assault and murder of two different three-year-old girls. Both girls' bodies were autopsied by the same coroner who collected evidence that turned out to be wrong. The next post will further discuss this wrongful conviction.


Post Mortem: Death Investigation in America (NPR)

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