Memphis Medical Examiner Accused Of Faking Attack


O. C. Smith, the medical examiner for Shelby County, Tn., in Memphis, has been indicted on charges of lying to federal investigators about being attacked in 2002 by an unknown assailant with a bomb. The Memphis Commercial-Appeal said that Smith, 51, chief medical examiner since 1999, is accused of lying about events leading up to the discovery of him wrapped in barbed wire with a bomb around his neck on June 1, 2002. He also is charged with illegal possession of an unregistered bomb.

Federal prosecutors would not say how or why they think Smith staged the attack or if he had assistance. They did say the “rescue” of Smith put police and other rescuers in danger while they removed the bomb.

Smith resigned after the indictment. An interim successor may be named tomorrow. Smith also resigned from the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, where he was associate professor of pathology.

District Attorney Bill Gibbons did not see the medical examiner’s indictment as a serious problem for past convictions.

The New York Times says that authorities originally pursued a theory that Smith had been attacked by a religiously motivated extremist who left a bomb in his office three months earlier. A year before that, the police and a reporter received threatening letters saying, “The evil one is in the body of O. C. Smith,” and adding that he was trying to kill an inmate on Tennessee’s death row, Philip Workman. Investigators theorized that the same person was responsible for the bombs and the letters. No attacker was found.

Dr. Cyril H. Wecht, the chief medical examiner in Pittsburgh and president of the American Board of Legal Medicine, said the indictment could taint cases in which Smith had given critical evidence and cause them to be appealed. “If he could fabricate a story like this that a Hollywood screenwriter on LSD would have difficulty coming up with, who can believe him in a courtroom?” Dr. Wecht asked.


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