County Prosecutors Withheld Evidence About Doctor’s Credibility
A defense attorney has requested a new trial in a shooting case because prosecutors did not turn over information about forensic pathologist Thomas Gill
Officials in Solano County, Calif., have discovered that prosecutors long had evidence of a local forensic pathologist’s error-riddled career and that, in at least one homicide case, failed to give defense attorneys potentially exculpatory evidence.
California Watch’s Ryan Gabrielson reports that the Solano County District Attorney’s Office has, “for years,” had two computer discs chronicling Dr. Thomas Gill’s 20-year history of mistakes and misdiagnoses.
Until December, Gill worked for Forensic Medical Group Inc., a private autopsy firm that holds contracts to perform death investigations for more than a dozen jurisdictions in Northern California.
Last month, Solano County officials began reviewing more than two dozen homicide cases in which Gill performed autopsies after stories published in February by ProPublica, PBS “Frontline,” NPR, California Watch and the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley described the doctor’s troubled past.
At least one defense attorney has already filed a motion requesting a new trial for a client convicted of shooting a 23-year-old man in June 2008. The crux of that filing rests on the 1963 Supreme Court ruling Brady v. Maryland, which requires prosecutors to give defendants evidence that may help their defense.
In 2003, a state appellate court overturned a Los Angeles man’s murder conviction after finding that prosecutors there had withheld evidence that could have undermined an L.A. County doctor’s credibility at trial. The forensic pathologist in that case testified that Jose Salazar had killed an 11-month-old girl by crushing her head. In 2005, the state Supreme Court upheld Salazar’s conviction after determining that the doctor’s testimony was not “material” because it “was not the only evidence linking [him] to the crime.”
A year-long investigation into the nation’s 2,300 coroner and medical examiner offices uncovered a deeply dysfunctional system that quite literally buries its mistakes.
The Story So Far
In TV crime dramas and detective novels, every suspicious death is investigated by a highly trained medical professional, equipped with sophisticated 21st century technology.
The reality in America’s morgues is quite different. ProPublica, in collaboration with PBS “Frontline” and NPR, took an in-depth look at the nation’s 2,300 coroner and medical examiner offices and found a deeply dysfunctional system that quite literally buries its mistakes.