Defense attorney on medical examiner investigation: ‘Right now, we have a circus’
LUBBOCK, TX (KCBD) - “Interesting, frustrating, a little bit angry,” those are the words Lubbock criminal defense attorney Rusty Gunter used to describe the backlog of cases in the county due to an investigation into the medical examiner’s office.
“There are people sitting in jail right now while this little drama plays out,” Gunter said. “That is not a good way to run a system.”
The Lubbock County District Attorney’s Office called for a Texas Rangers investigation earlier this year when allegations of unethical and unlawful activity at the Lubbock County Medical Examiner’s Office began to surface.
Some employees came forward claiming the new management, National Autopsy Assay Group (NAAG) Pathology Labs, requested “extensive” autopsies for personal research, and that a doctor not licensed to practice medicine in Texas performed autopsies. Management vehemently denies the allegations, claiming they have no merit.
The Lubbock County District Attorney’ s office said it will not sponsor testimony from anyone in the medical examiner’s office until the Texas Rangers complete their investigation.
“Both sides are caught between a rock and a hard place right now because some of these cases, yes, they need to move, and they need to move expeditiously, but it’s more important that we get it right. If someone messes up, as we’ve seen before, there’s a chance that innocent people could go to the penitentiary or get a death sentence,” Gunter said.
Meanwhile, the NAAG doctors at the center of the investigation continue to work at the office.
“If it were law enforcement being investigated, I believe that they would probably not be active law enforcement as on the street, making arrests, conducting investigations. That being said, you’ve got to let due process work it’s way through,” Gunter said. “Now, is there going to be a lot of wasted man hours and tax payer money if these people have done something wrong and can’t be witnesses? Yes."
As we have previously reported, the KCBD Investigates Team learned Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Sam Andrews changed his testimony as to the cause of death during a trial in Travis County prior to taking the Lubbock job last year. It is something Gunter said hurts Andrews’ credibility no matter the outcome of the investigation.
“All he has is his word. Once you start doing that, you have Dr. Erdmann type issues,” Gunter said.
Dr. Ralph Erdmann, a former medical examiner who worked in Lubbock County, found himself in the national spotlight in the 1990′s when he pleaded no contest to seven felony counts stemming from falsified autopsy reports.
Investigators had to exhume bodies as cases were called in to question when officials learned he allegedly based some of his conclusions on police theories.
“Back then, it was a circus of epic proportion. Right now, we have a circus; it just hasn’t quite blown up to what it was before,” Gunter said.
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