Originally published: 12/1/10. Updated: 9/21/12
A 9-month long investigation by Fox 9 News raises serious concerns about a Minnesota medical examiner.
In the two-part series that aired on Nov. 22, 2010 reporter Jeff Baillion examines some of the determinations made by the Ramsey County Medical Examiner’s Office and, in particular, by Dr. Michael McGee, the county's chief medical examiner for the past 25 years. The report by Fox 9 highlights potential errors that may have caused offenders to go free, or the innocent to be wrongfully imprisoned.
The attorney for one family faults McGee for not examining all the evidence in her shooting death. Mark Gherty, the attorney for the family of Jane Nuemann, says McGee reached the conclusion that her death was a suicide before examining death scene photos. The case was later sent to other experts from around the state who arrived at a different conclusion--homicide. Gherty believes her husband, Jim, got away with murder.
In two other cases, men were given life sentences for murder when evidence casting doubt on their guilt was never heard by the jury. Both accuse McGee of making serious errors in their cases.
In the summer of 1996 while on a family vacation, Thomas Rhodes, a young vice president of a business firm, was driving a boat when he claims his wife, Jane, fell overboard. He circled back and jumped in to look for her but was unable to find her in the water. Her bruised body was recovered the following day. Dr. McGee declared it a homicide, and Rhodes was indicted for her murder. During the trial, McGee presented a graphic clay model that illustrated bruising on her face and neck. Rhodes was convicted. In a bid for a new trial, two other forensic pathologists reviewed the autopsy findings. One said the bruises occurred after Mrs. Rhodes had died and that her death was an accidental drowning. Another pathologist called McGee's findings, "highly speculative and unsupported by the medical evidence." He apologized to Thomas Rhodes' parents for the mistakes of his colleague. Despite the new testimony, Rhodes was denied a new trial in 2007. He is still in prison.
Kent Jones was found guilty in two separate trials for the murder of Linda Jensen. Dr. McGee's findings of sexual assault and his subsequent testimony played a pivotal role in Jones' conviction. An independent review of his findings showed that Dr. McGee had miscalculated crucial test results. The miscalculation opened a 4-hour window in which another perpetrator could have killed Jensen. The timing matches an eye witness account from a mail carrier who saw a man leaving the house. The Innocence Project is working with Kent Jones to get his conviction overturned.
The report also shows that two forensic pathologists on his staff are not board certified, nor do staff members from his office regularly attend forensic conferences.
McGee is not a government employee, but a contractor hired by Ramsey County. He serves as the chief medical examiner for Ramsey County, and he is also the chief medical examiner for Washington County. In addition, he provides services to 11 other Minnesota counties (Aitken, Cass, Clay, Crow Wing, Hubbard, Kannabec, Norman, Pine, Polk, Sherburne, Waseca) and has done work in Iowa, Wisconsin, and the Dakotas. The Fox 9 report reveals that contracts with his office in 2009 for Minnesota alone totalled nearly a million dollars. The Hennepin County Medical Examiner, by comparison, is a government employee who earned $232,860. The concern, some defense attorneys have argued, is the potential for bias when benefitting from such valuable contracts.
It has been reported that the Ramsey County Medical Examiner's Office conducted examinations of Dan Zamlen, Joey Kaiser, Nicholas Rossini, and Jeremy Steinkeoway--a man fell through the ice in 2003.
You can check out the two-part report by Fox 9 News below, as well as other news reports on this topic.
Dad Convicted in Daughters Death Out of Jail, Gets New Trial
Posted: Aug 18, 2011 7:24 PM CDT
A man who has been sitting behind bars since he was convicted of killing his own daughter has posted bail and walked out of the Douglas County Jail with his family at his side now that new evidence is prompting a new trial.
Michael Hansen says he never hurt his 3-month-old daughter, and new evidence brought forward by The Innocence Project has already convinced a judge to grant a new trial.
Experts say the original death investigation conducted by Ramsey County Medical Examiner Dr. Michael McGee was incomplete.
Hansen was jailed for six years following his conviction. He had been sentenced to serve 14 1/2 years.
Read more: http://www.myfoxtwincities.com/story/17624263/dad-convicted-in-daughters-death-out-of-jail-gets-new-trial#ixzz2788uY2IK
Michael Hansen Restarting Life After Innocence, Freedom
Posted: Oct 30, 2011 9:08 PM CDT
"I'm frustrated because I feel like I'm not normal.”
That’s Michael Hansen, who is struggling with the emotional trauma of spending six agonizing years in prison for the death of his daughter – a crime he didn’t commit.
"I feel different,” Hansen said. “I feel like, where do I belong. I know where I belong, but its more like who am I?”
No longer labeled a convicted murderer, Hansen is re-starting his life, grateful to see his kids again.
An aspiring artist, he’s in training and hopes to one day run his own tattoo business.
'What happened to me could happen to anybody, and I don't want to see that happen to anybody,” Hansen said.
Michael Hansen always maintained his innocence, never once considering a plea bargain that would have drastically cut his time behind bars.
The system failed Hansen in many ways, but it started with an autopsy by Dr. Michael McGee, chief medical examiner for Ramsey County.
Hansen's three-month-old daughter Avery died suddenly while in his care. The case was turned over to Dr. McGee to investigate. He found she had a large skull fracture and ruled the death a homicide.
"I never hurt my daughter,” Hansen said. “I would never hurt any of my children ever.”
Minnesota Regional Medical Examiner Lindsey Thomas said if it had been her case, she wouldn’t have ruled the death a homicide.
“It certainly might be ruled undetermined,” Thomas said.
Undetermined because there was a reasonable explanation for the skull fracture, and no physical evidence the fracture had caused a deadly brain injury.
A week before Avery’s death, her mother had taken her to Wal-Mart. Video from a store camera shows the two of them, with Avery strapped in a car seat on top of a shopping cart. The cart hit a bump and the seat went flying. Avery landed face down, still in the car seat. She cried a lot, but appeared uninjured.
"He knew about the accident that happened at Wal-Mart,” Hansen said of McGee’s investigation. “But it seemed to me and everyone else that he ruled this a homicide without doing any research into that."
Dr. McGee testified that "common sense" told him that Avery’s massive skull fracture could not have happened from the shopping cart fall. If it had, he said, she would have lost consciousness almost immediately and died in a matter of hours.
The jury found Michael Hansen guilty of second degree murder.
“it was numbing,” Hansen said. “I couldn't believe it."
Lawyers for the Innocence Project couldn't believe it either. They set out to prove Hansen’s conviction was a travesty of justice.
Six experts volunteered to review the evidence. They all concluded Avery’s death was a tragic accident, not murder.
"I am just really glad that I am not the person that called this a homicide,” Thomas said. “I would feel really bad about someone being in prison for six years because I made a mistake."
Dr. Thomas, and three other forensic pathologists determined Avery’s skull fracture was an older injury, in the process of healing and consistent with the shopping cart fall. They could find no evidence she suffered a brain injury that would've killed her.
At the trial, Dr. McGee acknowledged he couldn't "see" a brain injury, but said it had to be there because Avery died.
“He came up with something in his head and stuck with it,” Hansen said.
McGee never did anything to re-create the dynamics of the shopping cart fall. A biomechanical engineer hired by the Innocence Project did, and showed that kind of fall could fracture a child's skull.
McGee never asked doctors who treat children with head injuries if a child can have a serious fracture and still be healthy.
Dr. Carolyn Levitt, a renowned expert on child abuse, was hired by the prosecution to review the new evidence collected by the Innocence Project. Instead of tearing it apart, she agreed with it.
”The skull does fracture and those babies do very well,” Dr. Levitt said. “I think definitely the system failed."
Levitt says a case like this is why a team of experts, not just one medical examiner, should review the facts before criminal charges are filed.
“I think there was a lack of all the opinions that were needed in this trial,” she said.
If a brain injury didn't cause Avery’s death, what did?
"Most likely the death was related to positional asphyxiation, or unsafe sleep environment,” Thomas said.
Avery was found dead in bed. She'd been sleeping face down on a soft, squishy surface, surrounded by pillows and blankets. Her father and sister were also sleeping there -- all risk factors for an infant to suffocate.
But Dr. McGee had never gone to the scene to consider the role the sleep environment played in Avery’s death. Other medical examiners tell us that should be "standard procedure" anytime an infant dies mysteriously in bed.
After hearing the new evidence, the trial judge concluded Dr. McGee had given “false or incorrect” testimony. Michael Hansen was set free.
”I can't even get an apology,” Hansen said.
Dr. McGee remains defiant. He won't do an interview. But in an email to the FOX 9 Investigators says he still believes the Hansen case was a homicide and should be retried.
"He should have to answer to people,” Hansen said. “And he doesn't have to answer to anybody."
The fallout of the Hansen case did prompt Ramsey County, one of 15 counties McGee contracts with, to conduct an "administrative review" of his performance. They checked to make sure his license and certification are current, then declared him fit for duty.
But documents obtained by the FOX 9 Investigators show the county didn't review specific cases and didn't have independent experts see if his findings are based on sound science.
County officials refused to do an interview with us. We did get an email, reading “Ramsey County continues to review all of the information in this matter and has not made a decision with regard to any future actions."
Over the past year, the FOX 9 Investigators have reported on several murder convictions where Dr. McGee is accused of getting it wrong.
Thomas Rhodes is serving a life sentence for the murder of his wife. The case centered on testimony from Dr. McGee, who said an autopsy revealed Rhodes beat up his wife and threw her off a boat.
“Nothing like that happened,” Rhodes said.
After Rhodes was convicted, three other experts reviewed McGee's autopsy records. They found no signs of an assault, ruling the death "an accidental drowning."
Our coverage of the Rhodes and Hansen cases were both mentioned in a petition filed last week by a lawyer for Alfonso Rodriguez, now on death row for the murder of college student Dru Sjodin. The motion seeks to overturn the death sentence, claiming Dr. McGee used "junk science" and "lied" when he testified that Sjodin had been raped and stabbed.
"McGee has often performed shoddy work and drawn questionable conclusions for the benefit of the prosecution,” the petition says.
"Anybody else would be held accountable,” Hansen said.
Read more: http://www.myfoxtwincities.com/story/17611905/michael-hansen-restarting-life-after-innocence-freedom#ixzz2789BMr1b
Ramsey County to Keep McGee, Suggest Joint Consultation
Posted: Feb 16, 2012 11:14 PM CST
Dr. Michael McGee is being told to make adjustments in how he does his job after a judge found his testimony in a murder trial was "false or incorrect."
The Ramsey County Attorney has a vested interest in making sure McGee is a credible witness. After all, his testimony can be crucial for getting a murder conviction. If McGee develops a reputation for making mistakes, the state may soon find itself facing plenty of prisoners seeking new trials.
"We've come to the conclusion that we do have faith and confidence in Dr. McGee," said Ramsey County Attorney John Choi.
Choi's office did a review of McGee's handling of the Michael Hansen murder case in Douglas County. McGee testified that Hansen killed his 3-month-old daughter by fracturing her skull. After 6 years in prison, experts reviewed the evidence and found the child had actually suffocated from sleeping face-down in a squishy bed. Hansen was released last autumn.
Though Choi's office seems prepared to forgive McGee for the lapse, Hansen says he would have taken a different tack.
"I'd tell him to quit his job," said Hansen, who said he is outraged that the county isn't taking a harder line.
Still, McGee is being told to alter his workflow. Choi says he now wants McGee to consult other outside experts when investigating similar child deaths and said McGee should be more active in the state's community of medical examiners.
The FOX 9 Investigators found McGee rarely attends the annual conference where experts share knowledge, and have also reported on other murder cases where McGee has been accused of getting it wrong. The county attorney didn't review any of those cases.
The most recent county review was performed by a lawyer, not another forensic pathologist who would have been able to check whether McGee's work is grounded in sound science.
"It was not a scientific inquiry. It was a legal inquiry," Choi explained.
Nevertheless, Choi says there's no reason for the county board to take any action to sever its contract with McGee.
McGee said he'll give strong consideration to the recommendations in the county attorney's report.
Read more: http://www.myfoxtwincities.com/story/17594007/ramsey-county-to-keep-mcgee-suggest-joint-consultation#ixzz2788PmHe3