A newly published book that exposes some of Mississippi’s grittiest injustices was released Tuesday night, just down the street from Oxford’s own courthouse, at Off Square Books.
The room was packed as University of Mississippi School of Law Professor Tucker Carrington and his co-author, Washington Post reporter and investigative journalist Radley Balko, discussed and read excerpts from their new book, “The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist: A True Story of Injustice in the American South.”
The book tells the true story of a forensic pathologist, Steven Hayne, and a small-town dentist, Dr. Michael West. The men testified in thousands of rape and murder trials throughout Mississippi and Louisiana that resulted in countless wrongful convictions.
The book focuses on select stories from those cases, including the wrongful convictions of Kennedy Brewer and Levon Brooks. Both men were accused of brutally raping and then killing two three-year-old girls. Hayne and West’s testimonies sealed their fate as they were wrongfully convicted. Brewer served 13 years on death row. Brooks served 16 years of a life sentence.
The University of Mississippi’s George C. Cochran Innocence Project helped Brewer and Brooks find exoneration.
The project was founded by Carrington back in 2006, when he first started working at the law school. In the beginning, Carrington had trouble finding work to do, but that changed quickly with a phone call from Balko.
“I ran to pick up the phone, and it was Radley asking me, ‘What the hell are you doing?’” Carrington said.
Balko was investigating Cory Maye’s case, the first case to link Hayne to suspicious autopsy reports. Maye was convicted of intentionally killing an officer during a police ambush on his house.
“Several medical examiners told me that (Hayne’s) testimony in that case just didn’t make a lot of sense,” Balko said.
Balko took the information to his personal blog and received responses from experts all over the country who testified against Hayne at trial.
“If there’s one thing that I’ve learned as an investigative journalist, it’s that if you find one example of that kind of thing, that’s probably not the only time that’s happened,” Balko said.
Third-year law student Brittany Barbee works in the George C. Cochran Innocence Project.
Barbee said she is proud to be a part of this work and hopes this book cautions attorneys to use better judgment when picking experts for testimony.
“Regardless of whether we, as attorneys, will be on the prosecution side or the defense side, we need to be aware that circumstances like this can occur,” Barbee said.
Carrington and Balko started researching and quickly discovered case after case with flawed testimony from Hayne. With this research, they realized they had enough to write their book. They anticipate real change to happen following its release.
“The hope with the book is that it will persuade state officials to do a really thorough, objective review of all of these cases,” Balko said.
“The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist” is out now. For more information on the George C. Cochran Innocence Project, visit innocenceproject.olemiss.edu.