Two Lauderdale County felony cases have been delayed because there wasn’t an autopsy report or the state medical examiner didn’t show up to testify to the grand jury, according to court officials.
The Lauderdale County Grand Jury met last week after being delayed since January due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Grand juries were scheduled in March and May but were delayed until August because of COVID-19, 10th Circuit Court District Attorney Kassie Coleman said.
The recent grand jury heard cases from 2017 to 2019, included property crimes, robbery and murder. The grand jury heard from 29 witnesses and issued 144 indictments. Thirty-two cases presented resulted in no indictments.
Coleman said two cases couldn’t be presented to the grand jury because there wasn’t an autopsy report or the state medical examiner didn’t show up to testify.
The district attorney’s office is using a new process to expedite the reports by subpoenaing the medical examiner’s office, Coleman said. The idea is to encourage the medical examiner’s office to prioritize completing the autopsy reports on the outstanding cases, she said.
“The medical examiner’s office had two options, either produce the reports or be there to testify,” Coleman said. “Until we get an autopsy (report), we cannot present the case.”
Coleman said seven subpoenas were sent to the medical examiner's office in March and again in May, with five of the autopsy reports being returned.
If the autopsy report is sent to Lauderdale County, the medical examiner doesn’t have to appear before the grand jury, she said. In some instances, such as a case of self-defense, the medical examiner could be brought in to explain the cause of death.
The medical examiner’s office did not provide an explanation on the remaining two autopsy reports, she said.
“We understand the Medical Examiner’s Office is short-staffed and very busy,” Coleman said. “But these murder cases were being extremely delayed because we needed the final autopsy reports.”
Numerous attempts by The Meridian Star to contact The State Medical Examiner’s office for comment were unsuccessful.