Renowned forensic pathologist Wecht critical of 3rd autopsy in Ferguson death
An autopsy the federal government conducted Monday on the body of a black Missouri man killed last week by a white police officer will do little to shed light on what happened in the fatal shooting that has sparked race-fueled protests and violence, said renowned forensic pathologist Cyril Wecht.
“The federal government is to be criticized for not being more on the ball,” Dr. Wecht, 83, told the Tribune-Review about the death of Michael Brown.
The 18-year-old died on Aug. 9. Authorities said Ferguson, Mo., police Officer Darren Wilson, 28, fatally shot him in the street near his home. Results from an initial autopsy county officials performed remain unknown. The cause of death was gunshots in the head and chest.
A spokeswoman for the county medical examiner in Missouri said federal authorities completed an examination of Brown's body on Monday — the same day a lawyer for Brown's family released details of a second, private autopsy.
The latter included a revelation that Wilson shot Brown six times, including twice in the head.
Attorney General Eric Holder said “one of the most experienced medical examiners in the United States military” was performing the federal autopsy.
Wecht, who is not involved in the case, said federal doctors and investigators should have participated in the second autopsy instead of conducting a third.
“The problem you have is that any time you perform an autopsy, you dissect the body. You alter the anatomy. By the time you get to a third autopsy, things are not as they were during the first two,” Wecht said. “I don't think anything more will be learned from the third autopsy. They should have worked with the family.”
President Obama on Monday said he dispatched Holder to Ferguson to meet with authorities, FBI agents and Justice Department officials investigating the case. Holder was to arrive on Tuesday.
The president urged people to protest peacefully, and Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon ordered National Guard troops to go to the St. Louis suburb to restore order. A mandatory nighttime curfew was lifted as some National Guard troops began patrolling key intersections on Monday, when Obama spoke with Nixon by telephone.
“It's clear that the vast majority of people are peacefully protesting,” Obama said during a White House new conference. “A small minority is not.”
The Justice Department has not taken over the criminal investigation but is conducting a civil-rights investigation into Brown's death. The ACLU asked for a review of the use of force in Ferguson, condemning what it contends is police abuse of power.
There weren't any signs of a struggle on Brown's body, said Dr. Michael Baden, the former chief medical examiner in New York City who performed the private autopsy. Brown appeared to have been shot at least six times from a distance, and all but one shot to the top of his head that pierced his skull were most likely survivable, he said.
Baden said the fatal shot likely occurred when Brown was leaning forward or bending over.
Wecht said Brown, who was 6-foot-3, could only have been shot in the top of the head if the officer “was in a tree or 7-foot tall” unless the teen was falling to the ground — which he concluded was the most likely situation.
The finding that one bullet hit Brown's eye, went through his jaw and entered his chest supports the theory that he was bent over, the top of his head facing the officer, Wecht said.
An inquest should be conducted to determine where the shots were fired, where the casings were recovered and to collect witness accounts of what happened and other details that cannot be determined by autopsies, said Wecht, who routinely conducted such investigations during two stints as Allegheny County coroner.
“We conducted inquests in all police-related deaths,” Wecht said.
It is unclear what will happen in Missouri or whether criminal charges will be filed by state or federal officials, said Wecht, who has been involved in numerous high-profile death cases, including John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Elvis Presley, Chandra Levy, Laci Peterson, Anna Nicole Smith and JonBenet Ramsey, among others.
“But you can't stop the family from filing a civil-rights lawsuit,” Wecht said. “And they will file one.”
Jason Cato is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7936 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Controller to examine how much vehicles cost Allegheny County
- Google grants teachers’ school supply wishes
- Diocese of Pittsburgh plans service in response to black mass
- Coach accused in $2,400 theft from Baldwin Hockey Club
- Number of jobs in high-tech industry outpace workers in Pittsburgh, nation
- Backers of airport trade center look for more funding
- Parents keep children home from Brookline schools over threats
- Newsmaker: Sarah L. Carlins
- Latest flu vaccines offer protection from 4 influenza strains instead of traditional 3
- Nonprofits replace humdrum charity 5Ks with rappelling
- Identical twins born at West Penn Hospital a rare medical marvel