KCBD Investigates: Lubbock County Chief Medical Examiner not allowed to testify in death cases
LUBBOCK, TX (KCBD) - The KCBD Investigates Team has learned the Lubbock County District Attorney’s Office will not try any death cases that involve the current staff at the Lubbock County Medical Examiner’s Office as the Texas Rangers continue their investigation into the office.
That news has traveled to Austin, where a judge has delayed a capital murder trial that Lubbock County Medical Examiner Dr. Sam Andrews is scheduled to testify in as an expert witness.
“It was alarming to say the least,” said Austin-based attorney Amber Vasquez.
Vasquez said she was just weeks away from representing her client, Clifton Wade, in his capital murder trial in Travis County when the state called her about former Travis County Medical Examiner Dr. Sam Andrews.
“He was the sole forensic medical examiner in the Clifton Wade case and was the author of the autopsy and collected all of the evidence used in the autopsy," Vasquez said.
The state, as required by law, showed Vasquez a court transcript prosecutors came across from a previous murder trial where Andrews reached a new conclusion about the cause of death during the trial.
“I was completely blown away with the testimony given by Dr. Andrews," Vasquez said. “Through cross-examination, and so forth, it became very obvious that the testimony had completely changed as to the cause of death," Vasquez said.
According to the transcript, at one point, the presiding judge in the murder trial said, “I think that changing an opinion regarding a material fact in the middle of a trial constitutes a clear surprise. I think it constitutes a clear prejudice.” The judge went on to state, “I think it simply speaks to a lack of professionalism and lack of due diligence."
“It was so extreme that Judge Wahlberg, the District Judge of the 167th District Court in Travis County, was forced to strike his entire testimony and then granted a directed verdict acquitting the defendant of murder in the case because Dr. Andrews’ testimony was deemed un-credible, and therefore the cause of death was called into question. In 17 years of practicing law, I have never heard of a district court giving a directed verdict in a murder based on the unreliability of a forensic medical examiner; that is pretty extraordinary," Vasquez said.
Vasquez said she started doing research and learned Andrews is now the Lubbock County Chief Medical Examiner.
Vasquez contacted Philip Wischkaemper with the Lubbock Private Defenders’ Office to see if he had any information on Andrews.
“I told her what I had been told by D.A. Sunshine Stanek, which was that this office, this D.A.’s office, was not going to try any cases involving the Lubbock medical examiner’s office until the rangers completed their investigation," Wischkaemper said.
“That is a pretty strong statement to put pretty much a blanket moratorium on the sitting M.E. in a county, but it puts everyone on notice as far as autopsies being conducted and coming in that there should be some other eyes laid on it,” Vasquez said.
Vasquez took this information to the judge who she said allowed the trial to be pushed back to April, but Vasquez said she plans on filing another motion before that trial begins.
“We will be moving to suppress his autopsy and everything Dr. Andrews touched,“ Vasquez said.
“The people of Travis County and Lubbock County deserve answers, they deserve good science. The D.A. in Lubbock did the right thing of calling it off as quickly as possible, but in Travis County, even after the Conchola trial, Dr. Andrews continued here for a year. It could call into question every autopsy he did during that time," Vasquez said.
Meanwhile, in Lubbock County, Wischkaemper said the district attorney’s office sent him a copy of the transcript Vasquez referenced, notifying him it may be used as material for possible impeachment and/or character evidence at trial.
“We have concerns about his credibility. Obviously the district attorney has some concerns or they wouldn’t have disclosed this to us. That gives us pause as well," Wischkaemper said.
While the Texas Medical Board and Texas Rangers continue to investigate this office, the death cases will continue to pile up.
Philip: “It will slow, slow down the wheels of justice.”
As we reported on Monday, Lubbock County Commissioners were scheduled to review the contract with the National Autopsy Assay Group (NAAG), who employs Dr. Andrews.
Commissioners tabled that discussion.
A commissioner told us they will most likely review the contract when the Texas Rangers complete their investigation.
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