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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Troubled Career of Dr. Thomas Gill

     Tens of thousands of autopsies are performed every year by forensic pathologists of varying degrees of expertise, competence and experience. There is no consistency of quality in these procedures as evidenced by the fact bungled autopsies have been and continue to be a common problem in the profession.  Incomplete and botched autopsies are nightmares for conscientious homicide investigators. Determining the cause (brain hemorrhage) and manner (homicide) of death in Sudden Infant Death and shaken baby cases (see "Foresnsics Under Fire") is especially important. If the autopsy in a homicide case is bungled, an innocent person could go to prison, or a guilty defendant set free. Correct autopsy findings are also vital in cases where determining if the death was a suicide or homicide cannot be made without the correct application of forensic medicine.  

     In my book "Forensics Under Fire," I profile the controversial and troubled careers of the following forensic pathologists whose autopsy findings were questioned, reviewed and/or overturned: Dr. Ralph Erdmann, Dr. Joan Wood, Dr. Richard O. Eicher, Dr. Angelo Ozoa, Dr. Michael Berkland, Dr. Charles Siebert, Dr. Roy Meadow, Dr. Alfred Steinschneider, Dr. Kenneth Ackles, and Dr. Charles Harlan. In February 2011, ProPublica, in collaboration with the PBS television news show "Frontline" and National Public Radio, aired the results of a year-long investigation into the nation's 2,300 coroner and medical examiner's offices. Called "Post Mortem: Death Investigation in America," the documentary features the troubled career of 67-year-old forensic pathologist Dr. Thomas Gill. Over a period of eighteen years, Dr. Gill performed thousands of autopsies and testified in twenty-two homicide trials. Like so many other forensic pathologists whose autopsy  findings have been repeatedly challanged by their professional peers, Dr. Gill has moved from job to job in the public and private sectors. He has worked in Indiana, Missouri and in nine counties in northern California. In addition to failing the American Board of Pathology's certification exam the first two times he took it, Dr. Gill, during his career, has suffered from alcohol abuse.

     Because there is a serious shortage of forensic pathologists in the country, Dr. Gill, and others like him, keep getting re-hired, their professional problems notwithstanding. According to the "Frontline" documentary, forensic pathology in America is a dysfunctional system where incompetent practitioners literally bury their mistakes.

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