BOOT CAMP DEATH
Crist urges search for autopsy 'flaws'
Florida's attorney general has asked medical officials to investigate autopsies by Dr. Charles Siebert, the examiner who concluded that Martin Lee Anderson died of natural causes.
BY CAROL MARBIN MILLER
Florida's attorney general has called for an investigation of the Bay County medical examiner who ruled that Martin Lee Anderson died of natural causes rather than as a result of a beating from guards at a Panama City boot camp.
Attorney General Charlie Crist asked the Florida Medical Examiners Commission to ''commence an investigation'' of former autopsies conducted by Dr. Charles Siebert that may have contained ``fundamental flaws.''
In a letter dated April 21, Crist asked the state agency to decide whether Siebert violated state law in the course of performing at least three autopsies, ``and any other flawed autopsies of which we might not be aware.''
Crist, who is running for governor, asked the commission not to investigate Siebert's most controversial autopsy: the Feb. 16 report that concluded that Martin, 14, died of complications from natural causes related to sickle-cell trait after being manhandled Jan. 5 at the Bay County Sheriff's Office Boot Camp.
Investigating the autopsy on Martin, Crist wrote, could ''impede'' an ''ongoing criminal investigation'' into the teen's death by Mark Ober, a special prosecutor appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush.
Ober is the state attorney in Hillsborough County.
Siebert's finding that the youth succumbed to a genetic trait that is rarely fatal was met with almost unanimous skepticism by doctors who treat sickle-cell trait and disease, and last week Bush himself told reporters the report ``defied common sense.''
`A WITCH HUNT'
In a prepared statement to The Miami Herald, Siebert called the investigation into his actions ''a politically motivated witch hunt'' based on ``misinformation and political pressure.''
''I am certainly prepared to undergo the scrutiny and fully cooperate,'' Siebert said.
''I am confident that the Attorney General and Florida Medical Examiners Commission, upon a thorough review of these three past cases, will find that there were no questions about the medical conclusions of the cause and manner of death in any of these cases,'' he said.
''I welcome an opportunity to set the record straight and brief him on the facts of these three cases, as well as on my findings in the Martin Anderson case,'' Siebert added.
Crist wrote the letter to Stephen J. Nelson, the medical examiner in Polk County and chairman of the commission, on the same day he met with Adora Obi Nweze, who heads the Florida NAACP, and three days after he met with Martin's parents, Gina Jones and Robert Anderson.
''I certainly agreed with them, so I sent the letter,'' Crist said of the request by both the parents and Nweze that Siebert's conduct in the Anderson case and others be investigated.
``I had already determined I would do that after I met the parents.''
''I have great concerns about his case, as I hope everybody does,'' Crist told The Miami Herald.
''We would all like to see justice done sooner than later. But we have to make sure it is done right,'' he said.
If the commission finds evidence of wrongdoing, it can issue oral or written reprimands, put the doctor on probation or even remove the medical examiner from office.
Their decision can be appealed to an administrative law judge.
Nelson confirmed that he received the request last week and would be looking into Crist's concerns.
''Any time there is a complaint, we will have the case files pulled and examine them,'' Nelson said Tuesday.
''We responded to the attorney general in a letter that went out the same day saying we will be examining'' the cases.
CASES OF INTEREST
Among the three cases Crist listed were the autopsies of Donna Reed and James Terry, a father and daughter who were killed by a tornado spun off by Hurricane Ivan on Sept. 15, 2004.
Siebert's autopsy described Reed, a 34-year-old woman, as having ''unremarkable'' testicles and said Terry had no scars, though the truck driver had a seven-inch scar running along his spine.
Crist also mentioned a third case: the autopsy in Pinellas County of Shawn McMillan.
Siebert ruled the death a suicide, though police originally said his fatal gunshot wound was accidental.
''I absolutely know Shawn did not commit suicide,'' said the man's mother, lawyer Michaela E. Mahoney.
Crist also asked the commission to look into whether Siebert violated state law by working as a medical examiner in early February after his medical license had lapsed.
Siebert has since renewed his license.
The commission had already received a formal request from three members of Florida's black legislative caucus to look into the propriety of Siebert's autopsy of Martin, Nelson said.
That investigation is on hold while the commission awaits the results of a second autopsy of Martin conducted by Tampa's chief medical examiner, under the direction of the special prosecutor.
THE FATEFUL DAY
Martin entered the boot camp Jan. 5 after being convicted of taking his grandmother's Jeep for a joyride.
He told guards he was having trouble breathing and couldn't continue to run laps as he'd been ordered.
For about 40 minutes, guards punched, kneed and choked the teen.
The altercation was caught by a camp video camera. Martin stopped breathing at the boot camp and died the next day in a Pensacola hospital.
Siebert concluded that the teen essentially bled to death as a result of too much physical exertion -- the consequence of an undetected disorder, sickle-cell trait, that stopped his blood from clotting properly.
But on March 14, a spokeswoman for Ober confirmed that the second autopsy, conducted by Hillsborough County Medical Examiner Dr. Vernard Adams, showed the boy did not die of sickle-cell trait.
The actual autopsy results have yet to be released.