Death Investigation Rules Called “Hit Or Miss”


Death investigation procedures are hit-or-miss across the U.S., experts say, with many agencies tightening procedures only after mistakes are exposed. It took two misclassified deaths within 17 months to alert the Jackson County, Mo., medical examiner's office that something was terribly flawed in the death investigation process, says the Kansas City Star. Nothing changed until after the Star reported that the two killings had slipped by police and medical examiner investigators. In each case, no medical investigator examined the scenes or the bodies despite the presence of blood, something experts say points to trauma. Funeral homes uncovered the truth as they prepared bodies for burial. By then, evidence likely had been lost.

In recent weeks, medical examiner Mary Dudley revamped her office's dead-body procedures. Now a medical investigator goes to all deaths that occur in a location other than a medical facility. Kansas City's two misclassified homicides appear relatively glaring, those experts say. “Ninety-five percent of homicides are recognized because of blood,” said Michael Baden, a medical examiner for 45 years and host of the HBO series “Autopsy.” “What bothers me is the police are usually good about tracking blood back to a wound. The ones that usually get missed are the ones that don't have blood, like suffocation, strangulation or poisonings.”

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