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Incompetent Autopsy

The medical examiner who conducted Jocelynn's autopsy was Dr. Robert Whitmore. He since has left Alaska. He has changed jobs quite a lot in his career, and seems to have left the state under a cloud after he reportedly failed to take autopsy samples in another major case. No evaluation information at all is in his state employee personnel file which was examined by court order for the case. On last report, he was working as a forensic pathologist in California.

NOTE: A joint report called Post Mortem - Death Investigation In America by ProPublica, NPR, Frontline, and PBS, tipped-off Jocelynn's family to look into Dr. Whitmore's history, and what they found was shockingly similar to the man outlined in the video. Below is a preview of the report. The full video can be found here:

Watch the full episode. See more FRONTLINE.

AUTOPSY:

Testimony and a report by Dr. Janice Ophoven, a nationally known pediatric forensic pathologist appearing as a defense witness in the case, provides a detailed discussion of the "vastly insufficient" nature of Jocelynn’s autopsy and "severely misleading" report. (Trial transcript volume III, page 649-670)

“In this case, given the nature of the presenting problems for Jocelynn Allison, this autopsy is vastly insufficient, incompletely performed, incompletely documented, and incorrectly interpreted such that the autopsy report is severely misleading about the circumstances of Jocelynn’s pathology and death. (Trial transcript Volume III, page 650)

“More importantly, the brain must be sampled in multiple locations for a case like this. This has been known, and published guidelines have been available for many, many years about where the sampling should take place… He did not sample the necessary areas of the brain that are routinely examined in cases of fresh or, as in this case, preexisting injury. He did not -- usually, you run 26 or more sections of brain tissue in a case such as this, and there is just one.” Dr. Ophoven. (Trial transcript Volume III, pages 652, 654)

After pre-trial testimony on the inadequacy of the autopsy, the autopsy report was ruled "inadmissable hearsay" by the judge and not allowed for submission as evidence. However, Dr. Whitmore himself was allowed to provide hours of testimony at trial.

THE REPORT:

  • Dr. Whitmore produced the report, declaring the death a homicide, one day after receiving a call from the investigating officer, in spite of the fact that he was still awaiting lab results.
  • The report did not include the normal and expected pictures of significant findings, or list of samples taken.
  • The fact that the baby’s head hit a wooden chair was not mentioned, and no opinion was offered of how that blow could have contributed to her injuries, despite the fact that he found that her injuries were caused by "blunt force trauma."
  • He reported her as a “normal” child despite obviously abnormal physical development, and an extensive medical history.
  • Dr. Whitmore reported a much lower level of mobility for Jocelynn than was reported to his staff by her parents. He also failed to acknowledge, or was unaware, that Jocelynn’s physical therapist had reported her pulling up on things in therapy about a month before she died.

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AT TRIAL, DR. WHITMORE:

  • Had to be forced to testify by an out-of-state subpoena obtained by prosecutors. After arriving, he insisted on being paid for his testimony.
  • Testified that he had not bothered to read any of Jocelynn’s medical records from prior to the day of her death, and was not aware that she had an undiagnosed condition.
  • Said he did not look at Jocelynn’s medical history even though:
    • his staff ordered all of her medical records, and
    • her parents had had an extensive telephone conversation with his staff detailing both her medical history, and the circumstances of the accident.*

*NOTE: During Jocelynn mother’s testimony in trial, the prosecutor presented her with a brief summary of this telephone conversation, declaring that she did not provide detailed information to the police or medical examiner. He asserted that she did not provide information on the baby's health, abilities near her death, and a couple of falls Jocelynn had taken that summer. After the trial, it was discovered that other pages of that very same interview, report that Clayton and his wife described those exact details; details the prosecutor told the jury she did not say. Details that are clearly in, not only this transcript, but in multiple other transcripts of family conversations with police. The prosecutor accused her and her family of making it all up years later in 2012.

  • Said he may not have saved a lot of the tissues he examined, but they might be “around somewhere.”
    • After years of the state saying there were no samples of brain or dura tissue, in 2014 a new medical examiner found some samples somewhere, purportedly from Jocelynn.
    • The defense requested a Thorne Instruction to the jury to inform them that lost evidence or evidence that was not properly preserved should be assumed to be supportive to the defense. The request was denied.
  • Said he did not soak the brain in fixative before he sampled and examined it, and did not send off samples for testing of what he identified as significant injuries. Dr. Ophoven testified that these actions would have been normal standard practice for any medical examiner in any case.
  • Said repeatedly that he could do a good enough examination of brain tissue by using only his “naked eye” so there was no need to have it examined microscopically or verified by experts. This was in spite of the fact, testified to by Dr. Ophoven, that an unfixed brain is so jello-like that it is very difficult to examine and nearly impossible to sample properly.
    • Medical experts in the case repeatedly complained that samples or photographs of significant autopsy findings were not available for independent examination. Defense council argued that this denied Clayton Allison his constitutional right to due process, because they had no ability to even attempt to refute or corroborate Whitmore's findings through independent pathologists.


FALSE CONCLUSIONS ABOUT RETINAL HEMORRHAGES:

During Clayton Allison's trial, on January 30, 2015, Dr. Kahled Tawansy - a pediatric ophthalmologist specializing in retinas - provided testimony.

In his testimony, Dr. Tawansy (who diagnoses SBS) explained that even though Jocelynn had retinal hemorrhaging at the time of her autopsy, the hemorrhages did not have the characteristics he would look for to determine they had been caused by shaking injury. He described in extensive detail that he would expect to see specific patterns of retinal hemorrhaging in shaking injury cases, and that Jocelynn's hemorrhages did not have any of these indicators.

Instead, he explained that the retinal hemorrhages found on evidence slides were consistent with the form of decompression brain surgery Jocelynn received as part of the attempt to save her life.

As Dr. Tawansy explains, retinal hemorrhaging in both children and adults can be caused by multiple factors.

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