Patt Morrison for February 1, 2011

Post Mortem: How America’s patchwork system of death investigations puts the living at risk

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Michael Buckner/Getty Images

Police stand guard as Craig Harvey of the Los Angeles County coroner's office holds a press conference to announce that the autopsy on singer Michael Jackson has been completed, outside the Los Angeles coroner's office on June 26, 2009 in Los Angeles, California.

Over 7,000 people die in America every day, and when a death happens suddenly or under suspicious circumstances, the local county coroner is called in to investigate. We assume the investigation will be done thoroughly using sophisticated science, just like we see in television’s CSI, but the reality is very different. In a joint reporting effort, ProPublica, PBS FRONTLINE and NPR spent a year looking at the nation’s 2,300 coroner and medical examiner offices and found a deeply dysfunctional system that quite literally buries its mistakes. In 1,300 of those counties coroners are elected, many with no scientific or medical background. And the rate of autopsies across the nation has plummeted because of budget cuts to local governments. As a result, investigations are incomplete or botched, criminals go free and innocent people are incarcerated. We take a look inside the nation’s morgues with ProPublica’s A.C. Thompson and a private medical examiner who was an indirect victim of budget cuts in L.A. County.

Guests:

A.C. Thompson, reporter at ProPublica

Craig Harvey, Chief Coroner Investigator and Chief of Operations, L.A. County Coroner’s office

Vidal Herrera, medical examiner, founder of 1-800-AUTOPSY; former Field Deputy Coroner Investigator with the Los Angeles County Chief Medical Examiner Coroner


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