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The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist
Cover of The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist
The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist
A True Story of Injustice in the American South
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A shocking and deeply reported account of the persistent plague of institutional racism and junk forensic science in our criminal justice system, and its devastating effect on innocent livesAfter two...
A shocking and deeply reported account of the persistent plague of institutional racism and junk forensic science in our criminal justice system, and its devastating effect on innocent livesAfter two...
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  • A shocking and deeply reported account of the persistent plague of institutional racism and junk forensic science in our criminal justice system, and its devastating effect on innocent lives


    After two three-year-old girls were raped and murdered in rural Mississippi, law enforcement pursued and convicted two innocent men: Kennedy Brewer and Levon Brooks. Together they spent a combined thirty years in prison before finally being exonerated in 2008. Meanwhile, the real killer remained free.


    The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist recounts the story of how the criminal justice system allowed this to happen, and of how two men, Dr. Steven Hayne and Dr. Michael West, built successful careers on the back of that structure. For nearly two decades, Hayne, a medical examiner, performed the vast majority of Mississippi's autopsies, while his friend Dr. West, a local dentist, pitched himself as a forensic jack-of-all-trades. Together they became the go-to experts for prosecutors and helped put countless Mississippians in prison. But then some of those convictions began to fall apart.


    Here, Radley Balko and Tucker Carrington tell the haunting story of how the courts and Mississippi's death investigation system—a relic of the Jim Crow era—failed to deliver justice for its citizens. The authors argue that bad forensics, structural racism, and institutional failures are at fault, raising sobering questions about our ability and willingness to address these crucial issues.

About the Author-

  • Radley Balko is an investigative journalist and reporter at the Washington Post. He currently writes and edits The Watch, a reported opinion blog that covers civil liberties and the criminal justice system. He is the author of the 2013 book Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces, which has won widespread acclaim, including from the Economist, New Yorker, Wall Street Journal, and Publishers Weekly, and was named one of the best investigative journalism books of the year by the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University. Since 2006, Balko has written dozens of pieces on Hayne, West, and Mississippi's forensics disaster. His January 2013 investigation, "Solving Kathy Mabry's Murder: Brutal 15-Year-Old Crime Highlights Decades-Long Mississippi Scandal," was one of the most widely read Huffington Post articles of 2013. In 2015, Balko was awarded the Innocence Project's Journalism Award, in part for his coverage in Mississippi.
    Tucker Carrington is the director of the Mississippi Innocence Project at the University of Mississippi School of Law. He has worked as a criminal defense lawyer for his entire legal career, most of it as a public defender in Washington, D.C.

Reviews-

  • Kirkus

    December 1, 2017
    A journalist and criminal defense lawyer combine their knowledge about wrongful convictions in Mississippi to expose a corrupt system, with a keen focus on a lying medical examiner and a dentist who concocted phony evidence based on bite marks on the bodies of crime victims.The medical examiner is Steven Hayne; the dentist is Michael West. In the small world of detectives, lawyers, judges, and journalists trying to reduce the number of innocent citizens in prison, the perplexing rise to influence of co-conspirators Hayne and West is well-known, as is their eventual disgrace. But the saga has never been explored in such depth. Carrington devotes his life to freeing innocent inmates, serving as director of the Innocence Project at the University of Mississippi School of Law. Balko's (Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces, 2013) focus as a Washington Post opinion journalist and investigative reporter is more broad, but he has experience chronicling innocence cases. Although the authors have reported on many wrongful convictions, the book focuses heavily on two murder cases, both involving innocent men: Levon Brooks and Kennedy Brewer, both of whom were exonerated after years in prison. Their expose of systemic injustice across Mississippi goes beyond Hayne and West to name prosecutors, judges, legislators, and others who catered to them. Why cater to two such craven incompetents? Because those inside the criminal justice system were more interested in closing cases (usually with black defendants) than in identifying the actual perpetrators. Detectives, prosecutors, and judges intent on getting cases off the docket knew they could rely on Hayne and West to testify dishonestly under oath. The authors explain the motivations of Hayne and West: zealotry on the side of law enforcement, money for accepting a huge volume of cases to lie about in court under oath, and perhaps racism. A horrifying expose of how a few individuals can infect an entire state's criminal justice system.

    COPYRIGHT(2017) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from December 18, 2017
    Investigative reporter Balko and former criminal defense lawyer Carrington offer a clear and shocking portrait of the structural failings of the U.S. criminal justice system in this account of two medical professionals—Steven Hayne, Mississippi’s “former de facto medical examiner,” and his friend Michael West, a forensic dentist—who, in turn, built successful careers off of a broken system. The book focuses on the doctors’ roles in the trials of Kennedy Brewer and Levon Brooks, who were both wrongly convicted of crimes involving the sexual assault and murder of minors in the 1990s (both men were exonerated in 2007). The authors methodically dissect the doctors’ testimonies in the trials of the two men and point to major flaws; such as when, during Brooks’s trial, Hayne asserted that marks on the corpse were definitely human bite marks, despite the condition of the body, which had been submerged in water and was badly decomposed. The authors make clear that these two false convictions resulted from the willingness of Mississippi authorities to overlook legitimate questions about the quality of Hayne’s and West’s work; for example, Hayne, who performed 80% of the state’s autopsies for more than two decades, once wrote that he had removed the uterus and ovaries from a male cadaver. This eminently readable book builds a hard-to-ignore case for comprehensive criminal justice reform.

  • Library Journal

    February 1, 2018

    This book explores the truly dark side of criminal investigations. Washington Post journalist Balko (Rise of the Warrior Cop) and lawyer Carrington (law & director, George C. Cochran Innocence Project, Univ. of Mississippi Sch. of Law) provide a case study of the team of Dr. Steven Hayne, acting medical examiner, and Dr. Michael West, a dentist who specialized in "bite mark" analysis. Both worked in Mississippi and other parts of the South over a 20-year period. This story emerges from their roles as "experts" in two Mississippi murder cases in the 1990s. Both defendants were convicted of heinous murders, and both were ultimately exonerated. Details of these tragedies are conveyed in the context of issues such as collusion among various actors in the criminal justice system, junk science in the courtroom, and racial aspects of Southern justice. The chilling, fact-filled narrative also raises important questions about "privatization" of public offices and suggests needed reforms. Well-documented and accessible, with a definite point of view, this book complements other recent compilations of Innocence Project cases but is notable for its depth and geographic focus. VERDICT This stinging expose of faulty forensics is suited to the serious CSI enthusiast as well as students of criminal justice.--Antoinette Brinkman, formerly with Southwest Indiana Mental Health Ctr. Lib., Evansville

    Copyright 2018 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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A True Story of Injustice in the American South
Radley Balko
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Radley Balko
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