Southwest Life

Murder, DNA and a wild-goose chase across Europe

Police detectives across Europe called her “The Woman Without a Face.” She’d murdered at least six people and committed some two dozen lesser crimes in three countries. In 1993, a 62-year-old...

DATE: Aug. 5, 2018 | COLUMN: Coroner's Report

Certifying drug deaths pose challenge for medical examiners

A researcher from Harvard University called after I responded to a survey sent to members of the National Association of Medical Examiners. He wanted to know what criteria medical examiners use to...

DATE: July 9, 2018 | COLUMN: Coroner's Report

Tying a mother’s drug use to death of her fetus is complicated

One of my colleagues asked for advice after an unnamed “outside agency” requested an autopsy on a fetus stillborn to a mother who used illegal drugs. The implication was that someone within the...

DATE: June 3, 2018 | COLUMN: Coroner's Report

A controversial stance on shaken baby syndrome upends forensic science

Dr. John Plunkett was 70 when he died in April. He was a forensic pathologist from Minnesota and one of the most influential skeptics of the concept of shaken baby syndrome. In 2016, Plunkett...

DATE: April 16, 2018 | COLUMN: Coroner's Report

A broken system forces forensic pathologist to resign

In December, Dr. Bennet Omalu, the forensic pathologist who first described concussion-related brain damage in professional football players, resigned his position as forensic pathologist for San...

DATE: April 9, 2018 | COLUMN: Coroner's Report

His brave stand changed how we view football and head injuries

It’s fortunate for athletes that some immigrants from President Donald Trump’s expletive-deleted African countries were welcomed rather than rejected as hut-dwelling undesirables. Bennet Omalu, who...

DATE: March 5, 2018 | COLUMN: Coroner's Report

Exact culprit hard to identify in deaths involving multiple drugs

Perhaps partially in response to the “opioid epidemic,” some prosecutors are eager to throw the book at drug dealers. Because of a 2014 Supreme Court opinion, medical examiner testimony can be a...

DATE: Feb. 3, 2018 | COLUMN: Coroner's Report

Risk factors for death don’t always tell the whole story

Dallas McCarver, a superstar body builder, who looked like a normally-pigmented Incredible Hulk, died on Aug. 22 at the age of 26. McCarver, aka “Big Country,” had plenty of risk factors for an...

DATE: Jan. 6, 2018 | COLUMN: Coroner's Report

When freakishly bad luck is the line between life and death

My friend “John,” a conscientious and responsible guy, could have been killed because of a bad mistake. While driving at 60 mph, he looked down to plug in his cellphone. John never saw the string...

DATE: Dec. 1, 2017 | COLUMN: Coroner's Report

DNA tests are not always foolproof

DNA testing procedures developed by the medical examiner’s office in New York City have come under attack, calling into question the validity of some DNA-based convictions. The office recently...

DATE: Nov. 3, 2017 | COLUMN: Coroner's Report

When the stress of a disaster causes death

Two weeks after Hurricane Irma, the Miami Herald reported that Florida’s unofficial death toll had risen to 75. Depending on the practice philosophies of Florida medical examiners, that figure...

DATE: Oct. 8, 2017 | COLUMN: Coroner's Report

Man comes back from dead after botched identification

In May, Frank J. Kerrigan, 82, got the phone call every grieving family longs for. “Your son is alive,” said Bill Shinker, a family friend who had been a pall bearer for Kerrigan’s son, Frank, 11...

DATE: Sept. 1, 2017 | COLUMN: Coroner's Report