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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Dr. Michael McGee: Another Foresnic Pathologist Under Attack

     In 2006, in Alexandria, Minnesota, a jury found Michael Hansen guilty of second-degree murder in the 2004 death of his infant daughter Avryonna. Dr. Michael McGee, the medical examiner for Douglas County, Minnesota, had ruled the death a homicide. The baby had suffered a fractured skull, an injury five forensic pathologists for the defense believed happed in a Walmart accident six days before the baby died. These defense medical experts testified that Avryonna had accidentally suffocated to death in her crib. Dr. McGee told jurors that the Walmart accident could not have caused the baby's skull fracture, and that it wasn't possible for a baby to die by accidental suffocation.

     Douglas County Judge Peter Irvine has recently ordered a new trial for Hansen based on new evidence that infants can in fact die by accidental suffocation. The judge, in his decision, wrote that Dr. McGee stopped looking for a cause of death when he found the child's skull fracture. The judge found that Dr. McGee gave "false or incorrect" testimony at the Hansen trial. Judge Irvine ordered Michael Hansen's immediate release from prison. A few weeks later, the Douglas County prosecutor dropped all charges against Hensen.

     Dr. Michael McGee works out of the Ramsey County, Minnesota Medical Examiners office in St. Paul. Since 1985, his company, M. B. McGee, P. A., has provided an autopsy service for Ramsey, Douglas, and twelve other counties throughout Minnesota. The 63-year-old forensic pathologist earned $1million last year, most of it from a $700,000 contract with Ramsey County. McGee's company, in the other counties, charges a $500 fee per autopsy. Last year Dr. McGee performed 500 autopsies in these jurisdictions. Out of his company's revenue, McGee pays Ramsey County for the use of the building and supplies.

     As a result of Judge Irvine's ruling in the Hansen case, the Ramsey County Attorney's Office has initiated an investigation and review of Dr. McGee's work. The county attorney has also hired a retired prosecutor to review the Hansen case. McGee's pathology contract with the county is set to expire at the end of 2014. His contract could, however, be terminated.

     Over the years Dr. McGee has testified in 150 homicide trials held throughout the state. Some of these cases might be coming under review as well.

     Due to the critical shortage of medical examiners in the country, Dr. McGee is one of many forensic pathologists who do work, on a contract basis, for several counties. Critics of this arrangement believe that these forensic pathologists, because they are stretched so thin, and motiviated by profit, do substandard work. Moreover, when they get into trouble, they aren't fired because there is no one to replace them.
(See: "The Troubled Career of Dr. Thomas Gill," September 27, 2011)

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