A shocking and deeply reported account of the persistent plague of institutional racism and junk forensic science in our criminal justice system, and its devastating effect on innocent lives
After two three-year-old girls were raped and murdered in rural Mississippi, law enforcement pursued and convicted two innocent men: Kennedy Brewer and Levon Brooks. Together they spent a combined thirty years in prison before finally being exonerated in 2008. Meanwhile, the real killer remained free.
The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist recounts the story of how the criminal justice system allowed this to happen, and of how two men, Dr. Steven Hayne and Dr. Michael West, built successful careers on the back of that structure. For nearly two decades, Hayne, a medical examiner, performed the vast majority of Mississippi's autopsies, while his friend Dr. West, a local dentist, pitched himself as a forensic jack-of-all-trades. Together they became the go-to experts for prosecutors and helped put countless Mississippians in prison. But then some of those convictions began to fall apart.
Here, Radley Balko and Tucker Carrington tell the haunting story of how the courts and Mississippi's death investigation systema relic of the Jim Crow erafailed to deliver justice for its citizens. The authors argue that bad forensics, structural racism, and institutional failures are at fault, raising sobering questions about our ability and willingness to address these crucial issues.
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About the Author
Radley Balko is an investigative journalist and reporter at the Washington Post. He currently writes and edits The Watch, a reported opinion blog that covers civil liberties and the criminal justice system. He is the author of the 2013 book Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces, which has won widespread acclaim, including from theEconomist, New Yorker, Wall Street Journal, andPublishers Weekly, and was named one of the best investigative journalism books of the year by the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University. Since 2006, Balko has written dozens of pieces on Hayne, West, and Mississippi's forensics disaster. His January 2013 investigation, "Solving Kathy Mabry's Murder: Brutal 15-Year-Old Crime Highlights Decades-Long Mississippi Scandal," was one of the most widely read Huffington Post articles of 2013. In 2015, Balko was awarded the Innocence Project's Journalism Award, in part for his coverage in Mississippi.
Tucker Carrington is the director of the George C. Cochran Innocence Project at the University of Mississippi School of Law. He has worked as a criminal defense lawyer for his entire legal career, most of it as a public defender in Washington, D.C.
Table of Contents
Foreword John Grisham ix
Authors' Note xiii
1 The Murder of Courtney Smith 1
2 The Murder of Christine Jackson 25
3 Investigating the Dead 35
4 At the Hands of Persons Unknown 51
5 Setting the Stage for the Cadaver King 73
6 Rise of a Fiefdom 91
7 The West Phenomenon 105
8 Entrenchment 117
9 The Trial of Levon Brooks 135
10 Keep that Woman Under Control 161
11 Vessels of Wrath, Fitted for Destruction 185
12 Prayers for Relief 209
13 The Unraveling 247
14 Redemption and Insurrection 261
15 No Reckoning 285
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I have not finished the book yet, but I can honestly give it four stars. People being jailed on junk science ... horrible. And it is still happening.
The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist: A True Story of Injustice in the American South by Radley Balko and Tucker Carrington is a highly recommended account of the corrupt criminal justice system in Mississippi in the 1970s into the 1990s. This book tells the story of a doctor and a dentist, two of the most audacious and arrogant experts ever allowed in a courtroom. The focus is on collusion of the medical experts with the legal system in Mississippi. Towards that end, the trials of Kennedy Brewer and Levon Brooks are examples of the ineptitude of the status quo. Both men were wrongly convicted of the sexual assault and murder of two three-year-old girls in rural Mississippi in the 1990s. (The two men were exonerated in 2007.) For over two decades the doctor and the dentist had built a career on providing "expert" testimony for prosecutors in Mississippi. Steven Hayne was the controversial medical examiner who bragged of performing over two thousand autopsies in a single year. His notes were vague enough (and not always correct) that he could often assess the atmosphere at the trial and then tailor his testimony to fit what he was observing. Michael West was a dentist who, with no formal training or peer reviewed studies, "assumed the role of an expert in many other fields, such as ballistics, gunshot reconstruction, 'tool mark' patterns, and the analysis not only of teeth and bite marks but wound patterns, bruises, and fingernail scratches." These two testified at numerous trials throughout Mississippi and Louisiana. The questionable autopsies of Hayne will frustrate you (he once wrote in his notes that he removed the uterus and ovaries from a male), but the junk forensic science of West is going to infuriate you. The blatant sexism and racism is also distressing. "As you turn the pages, you will often be tempted to close this book and either laugh or cry or yell that what happened in Mississippi cannot possibly be true. But it is. It happened in plain view and with the complicity of many who were sworn to uphold the law." Reading The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist will truly be an exasperating, maddening experience as you will wonder why this went on for so long. That question is answered. In the 1970s and into the 1990s the state legislature was unwilling to provide the budget for a modern-day state medical examiner’s office. Adding to this were the coroners, who were a powerful group who fought against reforms and were protective of the authority of their positions. Finally, prosecutors and law enforcement wanted solved murder cases, even though some knew there were legitimate questions about the quality of the expert testimony of the doctor and the dentist. The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist is an excellent well-written and researched account of the criminal incompetence that was allowed to occur for way-too-long in Mississippi. The strength of this book is also the weakness: the plethora of information, background, and history is exhaustive. Balko and Carrington have been researching and following this for years and the book is a culmination of that comprehensive coverage. The information runs the gamete between inciting anger and indignation to providing rather tiresome background of the history of coroners. The historical notes can be skipped over for those readers who are more concerned with following the prevailing absurdities of the doctor and the dentist and want to know when they finally were retired