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California County Opens Review Into Autopsies by Doctor With Checkered Past

Our investigation describing the troubled career of forensic pathologist Thomas Gill prompts officials in Northern California to re-examine his work in more than two dozen homicide cases.

March 3: This post has been corrected.

Officials in Solano County, Calif., are reviewing more than two dozen homicide cases in which Dr. Thomas Gill, a forensic pathologist with a 20-year history of errors and misdiagnosed causes of death, performed autopsies.

The review was prompted by stories published earlier this month by ProPublica, PBS "Frontline" and NPR, in partnership with California Watch and the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley, that described Gill's troubled career.

Solano County Sheriff Gary Stanton said today that his staff is checking Gill's written autopsy reports for inconsistencies and possible inaccuracies. Gill conducted more than 300 death investigations in Solano County from 2007 to 2009, financial records show.

"We just want to make sure that what we presented was accurate," Stanton said. "We want to make sure that we didn't withhold any information that should have gone to any defense attorney."

The Solano County review was first reported this morning by The Reporter newspaper in Vacaville. (And here is coverage by California Watch.) 

Solano is the second California county to initiate a formal inquiry into Gill's work. Yolo County, whose sheriff barred Gill from performing autopsies for his agency in December after learning from reporters about his past, is checking Gill's findings in five homicide cases.

In our investigation, we described how Gill repeatedly resurrected his career despite the trail of problems that followed him from Indianapolis to Northern California to Kansas City, Mo. In 2006, the California State Bar called the doctor "incompetent" in a report on a bungled homicide investigation in Sonoma County.

Most recently, Gill worked for Forensic Medical Group Inc., a private autopsy firm that holds contracts with more than a dozen jurisdictions across Northern California. The firm cut its ties with Gill at the end of last year, saying that it no longer had enough cases to justify employing him. Doctors with the firm did not return calls for comment on the Solano county review. Previously, in a written statement, the firm said it was "not aware of any significant errors in Dr. Gill's work performance or reports" for them.

Gill, 67, also did not immediately respond to calls for comment today. In a written statement for our earlier report, he acknowledged he had made mistakes early in his career, when he lacked formal training, but he defended his more recent work, saying his findings had not been contested or reversed since 2007.

Stanton said he alerted Forensic Medical Group to an inaccuracy in one of Gill's reports in 2008.

An autopsy assistant discovered a spleen left behind in a morgue sink after Gill finished autopsying the body of an inmate who died in the California Medical Facility, a prison hospital. The organ was intact and had not been cut, Stanton said. When Gill submitted his report on the death, however, he wrote that he had dissected the spleen as part of his examination.

"I have a report that says he did," Stanton said. "I have a spleen that says he didn't."

The sheriff notified Forensic Medical Group of the discrepancy and asked that the firm no longer send Gill to perform its autopsies.

In 2009, Stanton said he hired Dr. Susan Hogan as Solano County's chief forensic pathologist, replacing the private company.

Hogan, who previously worked with Gill at Forensic Medical Group, will lead the review of Gill's autopsies, Stanton said.

Ryan Gabrielson is a reporter for California Watch. 

Correction, Feb. 24, 2011: This post mistakenly said that in 2009 the Solano County Sheriff hired Dr. Susan Comfort to be the county’s chief forensic pathologist. The sheriff hired Dr. Susan Hogan for the job.

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