Mississippi Forensic Pathologist, Innocence Project Settle

May 23, 2012

A Mississippi forensic pathologist who sued the Innocence Project for defamation has accepted a $100,000 judgment to end the suit.

The Clarion-Ledger reports that the Innocence Project said it agreed to the judgment because its insurance carrier wanted to settle. The group has helped free almost 300 wrongly convicted individuals through DNA testing, according to the newspaper. Under the settlement, the group admits no guilt.

Dr. Steven Hayne sued the Innocence Project after he was removed from Mississippi’s designated list of pathologists in 2008 and after the Innocence Project accused him of sloppy work.

The Innocence Project filed a complaint with the state Board of Medical Licensure, calling on the board to strip Hayne’s medical license because Hayne performed autopsies in overturned murder convictions.

After examining the allegations, the Board of Medical Licensure said it had concerns Hayne may have been performing too many autopsies but took no disciplinary action against him.

Last week, Hayne’s lawsuit came to an end when U.S. District Judge Keith Starrett signed the order for the $100,000 judgment.

Hayne’s attorney, Dale Danks Jr., said he “most definitively” believes Hayne has been vindicated by the judgment.

“Very derogatory statements were made against him,” Danks said. “He is pleased to get this behind him. It was not a matter of money.”

The Innocence Project said it was pleased the suit was over.

Peter Neufeld, the organization’s co-director, said the group had wasted “our resources defending against a frivolous lawsuit,” the newspaper reported.

“The Innocence Project remains steadfast in its goal to uncover improper convictions and reform the criminal justice system, particularly in death penalty cases,” Neufeld said.

The project’s work helped lead to the exoneration of several individuals, including Kennedy Brewer and Levon Brooks, each of whom had been convicted of raping and murdering a child.

Brewer spent 15 years behind bars and had been on death row, and Brooks, sentenced to life, had spent 18 years in prison.

Both men from Noxubee County have lawsuits against Hayne, who testified for the prosecution at their trials.

But Danks said Hayne deserves credit for helping to prove the innocence of Brewer and Brooks by preserving the DNA evidence that exonerated the men.

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