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Southwest Life

Forensic pathologists in short supply

One of forensic medicine’s biggest failings is its inability to meet the needs of defense attorneys and their clients. Forensic pathologists are in short supply. We’d need almost ...

Expert intuition: Sometimes, Sam sensed a murder

Sam Johnson, my chief forensic investigator in Florida, was remarkable. Sometimes, he just knew. He couldn’t say how he knew. He couldn’t explain what he looked for. But Sam was o...

A high drug level is not always the cause of death

During my forensic pathology training, I autopsied a man who had the second-highest cocaine level ever reported. I was a fellow at the medical examiner’s office in Suffolk County,...

Could letters from a medical examiner curb the opioid crisis?

There’s plenty of blame to go around for the opioid crisis. Drug traffickers, greedy pharmaceutical companies and inadequate treatment centers contribute. So do the prescribing practices of ...

Medical opinions can miss the mark

“The Undoing Project,” published in 2017 by Michael Lewis, is the most interesting book I’ve read in ages. Lewis chronicles the careers of Israeli psychologists Daniel Kahneman an...

Sexual abuse leaves an indelible imprint on a life

In a perfect world, girls and women subjected to sexual abuse would speak out immediately. Appropriate charges would be brought, and families would support prosecution. This is not a perfect...

A DNA test implicates an innocent man. What happened?

Lukis Anderson couldn’t remember any murder. “Nah, nah, nah. I don’t do things like that,” he told his public defender when the DNA results came back. “But maybe I did.” ...

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...

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 ...

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 ...

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 20...

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 fo...