For years Dr. O. C. Smith has been the go-to guy for homicide investigators in Memphis, the Memphis Commercial Appeal says. The Shelby County medical examiner, day or night and on a moment’s notice, arrived at crime scenes clad in his blue hospital scrubs and combat boots. He has been the key witness in many murder trials, testifying for the prosecution to prove a death occurred but sometimes expounding on circumstances that benefit the defense.
Smith’s days as medical examiner are almost certainly nearing an end amid a federal inquiry into his account of how he was attacked by an unknown assailant last year. Federal investigators, who recently began calling Smith a “purported” victim, apparently suspect that Smith staged the June 1, 2002, attack that left him tightly bound in barbed wire with a bomb attached to his chest. Smith denies involvement.
County Mayor A.C. Wharton, the former county public defender, wants Smith out. He plans to recommend a replacement to the County Commission, possibly as early as today.
Several murder trials that would have included him as a witness either have been postponed or may go forward with Smith’s assistant in his place. Although the medical examiner has not been officially accused of any wrongdoing, the cloud of the federal investigation has surprised many people. “I’m stunned,” said County Commissioner Walter Bailey, an attorney whose practice includes criminal defense. “I’ve developed an enormous amount of respect for his professional expertise. I’ve always regarded him as a very capable, high-level professional.”