An ongoing investigation by NPR, ProPublica and PBS
Frontline has found serious flaws in the death investigation system in the U.S. According
to NPR, a 2009 study by the National Academy of Sciences said that the
system of death investigation was underfunded, lacked national standards,
and did not have enough specialists to properly investigate deaths.
These problems, according to NPR, have led to the wrongful conviction of
people for homicide,
sexual assault and child abuse. The flawed investigations are particularly problematic
in the death investigations of children because children’s bodies
are still developing and react differently to diseases than adults and
forensic pathologists may not be medically trained in pediatrics.
NPR says that they examined about two dozen cases where people had their
child abuse or homicide convictions overturned because it was found that
the original reports by forensic pathologists were flawed or biased.
NPR tells the story of a few of these people, including one woman who was
wrongly convicted of killing a baby she was caring for by shaking the
baby and violently hitting its head against something. Physician experts
called by her defense team later helped have her conviction overturned
by testifying that the baby had died of sickle cell anemia, which caused
his bleeding on the brain that looked like abuse to the forensic pathologist.
They also tell the story of a man who is hoping to have his conviction
overturned for the sexual assault of a baby he was babysitting. He has
also been charged with murder because she died, but he has not been tried
on that charge. He was convicted by a jury mostly based on medical evidence
prepared by a forensic pathologist.
The next post will look more at this investigation and these two cases.
Source: NPR.com, “The Child Cases: Guilty Until Proved Innocent,” A.C. Thomson, Joseph Shapiro, Sandra Bartlett and Chisun Lee,
28 June 2011