Courts’ Complicity

Steven Hayne testified as a medical examiner at the trials of several people who are now on death row in Mississippi, including Willie Manning and Jeffrey Havard. Hayne was unqualified and scandalously incompetent.

In Havard’s case,* Hayne testified that the infant in the case, Chloe Britt, had died as a result of being shaken, and that she had also been sexually assaulted. Multiple medical examiners and other experts have since submitted affidavits on Havard’s behalf to dispute both claims.

Havard was granted an evidentiary hearing which took place this month. There Hayne testified that he no longer believes shaking caused baby Chloe’s death (the consensus of forensic scientists about symptoms seen in such babies has changed since she died). However, the state Supreme Court would not allow the validity of the sexual assault evidence to be questioned at the hearing.

The Mississippi Supreme Court has consistently rejected Havard’s claim that there was no evidence of sexual abuse. When another medical examiner reviewed Hayne’s work, the court misquoted the examiner’s affidavit and dismissed it. When Hayne himself signed an affidavit that he could not say whether baby Chloe suffered sexual abuse, the court rejected it. Hayne later added that he had told the prosecution before the trial that he had never thought the baby had been sexually assaulted.

Journalist Radley Balko believes that the Mississippi Supreme Court is determined to bury the sexual abuse issue in Havard’s case because it could expose the court’s – and other courts’ – complicity in condoning Hayne’s questionable testimony in thousands of other cases.

According to Balko, this is how that could happen. If Havard pursued the sexual abuse aspect of his case, the office of Mississippi Attorney General, Jim Hood, would have to attack the credibility of Hayne. And Hayne was the expert witness that most of the state’s prosecutors relied on for 20 years. As Balko says,
“It might expose the perverse incentives that propelled the state’s death investigation system from the late 1980s until the late 2000s and raise doubts about the credibility of the state’s justice system. And it could show the courts’ complicity in it all – the Mississippi Supreme Court most of all.”

If Balko is correct, the courts are protecting themselves while failing to address injustice. And Hayne’s ineptitude in many cases, perhaps including Willie Manning’s, becomes much harder to demonstrate as a result.

*Most of the information in this post is taken from a Washington Post article by Radley Balko, who has often reported on cases in Mississippi, including Willie Manning’s
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