NOPD Beating Death Trial Draws to a Close
A federal jury will hear closing arguments today against two officers originally cleared of wrongdoing when a local forensic pathologist called Raymond Robair’s death an accident.
A federal jury is hearing closing arguments today in the civil rights trial of two New Orleans police officers charged in the 2005 beating death of Raymond Robair.
Last year, federal prosecutors charged NOPD officers Melvin Williams and Matthew Dean Moore for their roles in the 48-year-old handyman's beating death on a New Orleans street corner.
Robair's case was one of several highlighted in a report published by ProPublica in February questioning the work of Dr. Paul McGarry, a forensic pathologist who had conducted death inquiries for Orleans Parish for almost 30 years.
Our investigation, conducted in partnership with PBS "Frontline" and NPR, found that McGarry had made a series of autopsy errors and oversights that had cleared police officers of wrongdoing. In each case, the families of the deceased hired an expert to conduct a second autopsy that found the death to be a homicide.
McGarry concluded that Robair's 2005 death was an accident; the Orleans Parish district attorney declined to prosecute Williams and Moore because McGarry's autopsy had, as an assistant district attorney wrote to the New Orleans police department in a 2008 letter, "effectively exonerated" them. But Dr. Kris Sperry, a forensic pathologist hired by Robair's family, found 23 injuries McGarry had missed and determined the fatal laceration of Robair's spleen was caused by a beating.
The FBI had reportedly been investigating the case since at least August 2005, when an attorney for Robair's family urged federal investigators to examine Robair's death. The FBI confirmed its probe last March and a grand jury indicted the officers in July.
According to the Times-Picayune, Sperry, who testified on Tuesday, criticized McGarry for failing to examine Robair's ruptured spleen or the "massive hemorrhaging and bruising, consistent with baton strikes or kicks."
McGarry, who no longer works for Orleans Parish, testified on Thursday and stuck to his original findings -- Robair died of an accidental fall.
Friday's testimony introduced more medical confusion when Dr. Michael Baden, a third pathologist appearing as a witness for the defense, blamed Robair's death on hospital staff members who took too long to treat Robair's injuries. According to Baden, there was inadequate medical evidence to determine exactly how Robair sustained the injuries, but they need not have been fatal.
Both officers have pleaded not guilty to obstruction charges for writing a false report. Moore also faces a charge of lying to the FBI.
Correction: This post mistakenly said NOPD officers Melvin Williams and Matthew Dean Moore were both charged with striking and kicking Robair. Prosecutors charged Williams with beating Robair, not Moore. Moore faces a charge of lying to the FBI and both officers face obstruction charges for falsifying a police report.
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.