The state of Mississippi moved Tuesday to improve what critics have called one of the nation’s most poorly monitored criminal autopsy systems — one that may have resulted in two innocent men spending years in prison.
State Public Safety Commissioner Stephen B. Simpson announced that he had removed a controversial doctor, Steven Hayne, from the list of physicians allowed to perform forensic autopsies, and said that a full-time state medical examiner would be hired in the next few months with money recently provided by the Legislature.
The actions were lauded by outside observers as well as lawmakers such as state Rep. Bob Evans, who said he hoped they would restore confidence in Mississippi’s criminal justice system — particularly the “very antiquated coroner system” that Hayne had dominated for years.
While the state Legislature failed to fund a full-time chief medical examiner for more than a decade, Hayne filled a much-needed void. For a number of years, he performed the majority of the state’s criminal autopsies, getting payment for each body he examined. He has said that he sometimes performs 1,500 autopsies in a year.