When other boys were playing football, learning to drive and chasing girls, Tyler Edmonds was a child locked up with adults, serving a life sentence in a Mississippi prison for a crime he didn’t commit.
Today, Edmonds is a free man. But he still holds a lot of resentment toward the state expert who helped to convict him of murder.
“I think that he’s the dirt of the Earth, the scum of the Earth,” Edmonds, 20, told CNN. “If anybody deserves to be in jail, it’s him.”
The target of Edmond’s scorn is Dr. Steven Hayne, a Mississippi forensic pathologist who testified at Edmonds’ 2004 trial. Edmonds, then only 14, was accused of murdering his brother-in-law, Joey Fulgham, who had been shot in the head with a single bullet.
Dr. Hayne performed the autopsy on Fulgham and concluded that “within reasonable medical certainty,” two people had likely fired the murder weapon. Dr. Hayne based his findings on his examination of the gunshot wound.
“Since it would be past the center line of the decedent’s head when fired, 20 degrees past the center line of the head, so therefore, it would be consistent with two people involved,” Dr. Hayne said on the witness stand.
Dr. Hayne’s testimony seemed to give credibility to the prosecution’s theory that Edmonds and his older sister acted together to murder her husband.
Edmonds’ attorneys appealed his conviction all the way to Mississippi Supreme Court, which overturned his conviction and ordered a new trial. The court seemed troubled by Dr. Hayne’s “speculative” and “scientifically unfounded” testimony.
“You cannot look at a bullet wound and tell whether it was made by a bullet fired by one person pulling the trigger or by two persons pulling the trigger simultaneously,” the court said.
In 2007, four years after he was arrested, Edmonds was released on bond. In 2008, he was retried and acquitted.
“They went to a second trial,” said Tucker Carrington, Director of the Mississippi Innocence Project, “and the one thing essentially that was missing was Dr. Hayne’s opinion.”
Other Tyler Edmonds'?
Carrington, whose group did not play a role in defending Edmonds, says they are concerned that Dr. Hayne’s testimony may have helped to convict other innocent people. They have launched a comprehensive review of Dr. Hayne’s testimony, and worry that Dr. Hayne may have been willing to tailor his testimony in order to help prosecutors.
“We have found cases where Dr. Hayne, like he did in Tyler Edmonds’ case, strays beyond the bounds of science, beyond the bounds of good objective forensic work, and offers testimony that in many cases, amounts to nonsense,” Edmonds said.
Carrington’s group is also alarmed by the number of autopsies Dr. Hayne had been performing every year – more than 1500. The National Association of Medical Examiners recommends that pathologists perform no more than 325 autopsies annually.
Dr. Hayne’s lawyer, Dale Danks, maintains that his client has never sent an innocent man to jail and that he has never done anything improper to aid any side in a trial.
“The role of Dr. Hayne and any other pathologist is to state in his opinion, the cause of death and the manner of the cause of that death. And that’s all he testifies to,” said Danks. “His job has always been and should be and will be if I know him as well as I know him, to be impartial and fair and not take sides in either issue.”
If there was a mistake made in Edmonds’ first trial, according to Danks, it was made by the trial judge, who should not have allowed Dr. Hayne to testify about the two-shooter theory.
“It’s up to the judge as to whether or not that’s admissible or not. Not Dr. Hayne, not the prosecution, not the defense attorney.”
Danks also says it was Edmonds himself – in a false confession that was almost immediately recanted – who said he and his half-sister were both responsible for shooting Fulgham.
“That confession was part of the facts that were presented to Dr. Hayne. And based on Dr. Hayne’s findings of his autopsy report, he said it was more in tune with what the defendant had already confessed to,” said Danks.
High Number of Autopsies
As for the criticism that Dr. Hayne is performing autopsies at a rate far higher than nationally recommended, Danks says his client’s numbers are in line with other noted pathologists.
Still, the College of American Pathologists sent Dr. Hayne a letter last year to express “concern relating to the volume of autopsies you claim to perform on an annual basis.”
And last year, the Mississippi Department of Public Safety abruptly terminated its contract with Dr. Hayne to perform autopsies, citing a backlog of nearly 500 hundred reports. Forensic Medical, Inc., in Nashville, Tennessee, now conducts autopsies for the state. But several county coroners, citing the inconvenience of using an out of state company, want Hayne to be allowed to perform autopsies again.
Hayne is also suing the Innocence Project, claiming the group’s criticism of him is defamatory. Meanwhile, two wrongfully convicted men have filed federal civil rights lawsuits against Hayne over testimony he provided at their trials.
Picking Up The Pieces
Edmond’s half-sister, Kristi Fulgham, is now on Mississippi’s death row for the murder of Joey Fulgham.
Since being acquitted last November, Tyler Edmonds has been slowly putting the pieces of his life back together again. He has his high school diploma and plans to take classes to become an EMT.
But the transition back to freedom was difficult for him and his family, and he says he now has an appreciation for the simple things in life.
“The things that most people take for granted, or don’t even think about,” Edmonds said. “Like fixing your own plate when dinner’s ready. Being able to fix your own plate and not having it fixed for you and brought to you.”
Although Dr. Hayne insists he did nothing wrong, Edmonds thinks he played a major role in his wrongful conviction, and hopes someday he will hear an apology.
“I guess for me, the biggest thing it would show is that he’s taken some kind of accountability,” Edmonds said. “I’ve already had six years of my life stolen away because of it, and you’re not even man enough to stand up and say, It was unprofessional, I was wrong.”
CNN’s David Mattingly contributed to this report.