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‘We have an obligation to rectify this error’

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  • Did medical examiner's office withhold murder evidence?
  • Notes from the medical examiner

    In his 2011 autopsy report, Dr. Clay Nichols, a former state pathologist, notes the existence of a bullet fragment in the head of Terrell Boykin. Handwritten notes refer to exit and entrance wounds as well as the word “abrasion.”


  • Sunshine Week

    This is Sunshine Week, when advocates of open government celebrate the value of freedom-of-information laws. Watch for more coverage this week. This story relied on an Observer request for emails made four months ago. Only after the Observer threatened legal action in late February did the state release the public documents.


  • Timeline of events

    May 8, 2011: Terrell Boykin, 19, and Rodriguez Harris, 23, were shot and killed in a Fayetteville-area mobile home park.

    May 10: Dr. Clay Nichols, a state pathologist, performed an autopsy on Boykin. Afterward, morgue manager Kevin Gerity reported finding a bullet lying next to Nichols’ cutting board. Gerity gave the bullet to Nichols. But Nichols did not turn the bullet over to detectives.

    July 28: Gerity spoke with N.C. Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Deborah Radisch, according to an email. He told Radisch he believed the Boykin autopsy report was inaccurate and that evidence was mishandled.

    Aug. 17: The medical examiner’s office closed Boykin’s case. The autopsy report said, “No bullet is recovered.”

    Sept. 9: Gerity reiterated his concerns in a letter to Radisch and Dr. Lou Turner, a top official with the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.

    October, 2013: A tipster reportedly told the SBI that evidence had been mishandled. During the investigation, Nichols gave the bullet to SBI investigators.

    Nov. 5: Nichols lost his job as the state's Deputy Chief Medical Examiner.

    Nov. 15: Orange County District Attorney Jim Woodall said the SBI investigation did not prove a crime occurred.

    December: Gerity retired.

    Today: The murders of Boykin and Harris remain unsolved.

    Source: N.C. medical examiner data, emails and autopsy reports



The Observer obtained the letter that former morgue manager Kevin Gerity sent to N.C. Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Deborah Radisch on Sept. 9, 2011, after requesting it under the N.C. public records law:

Dr Radisch

I am formally requesting a follow up meeting to the conversation we had on July 28, 2011, in regards to the case I worked with Dr Nichols. During our meeting, I informed you of an incident where, on x-ray, I saw a piece of metal in the head of a homicide victim and when I informed Dr Nichols, he told me not to worry about it, he did not find any part of the bullet when he cut the brain. This case was part of a double homicide from Cumberland County B11-2005.

While cleaning up after he left the room I found the whole bullet lying next to his cutting board. I compared the bullet to the x-ray and found it appeared to be the same piece of metal. Another x-ray of the head confirmed that the metal from the first x-ray was no longer there. Another employee was in the room with me when I compared it to the x-ray. I placed the bullet in to a plastic evidence bag and took it right down to Dr Nichols office and told him I found it lying next to his cutting board.

I waited for you to return from vacation to report this incident out of respect for you and this office; and you told me you would follow-up and take appropriate action.

During another homicide case, also from Cumberland County, in which I worked with Dr. Nichols he said he did not need to recover the piece of metal found on x-ray in the victim’s back. This concerned me and led me to review the previous case to ensure the autopsy report had been revised to include that the bullet was recovered.

The autopsy report released to the public states “no bullet was recovered.” This disturbs me because I personally recovered the bullet in this case and personally handed it to Dr. Nichols, yet this is not reflected in the final report.

I feel our office has an obligation to be as thorough as possible in performing autopsies, as well as being as accurate as possible in the reports we release. My name appears these autopsy reports, as the autopsy technician, and I feel that releasing a report that we know is inaccurate, not only puts me in a precarious position personally, but also puts this entire office in jeopardy

As representatives of the State Medical Examiner’s office, I feel strongly we have an obligation to rectify this error by providing accurate information to law enforcement and/or anyone who might be affected by the inaccuracy of this report.

I would like to sit down and discuss this matter with you at your earliest convenience, as I feel it is imperative that corrective action take place as soon as possible.

 

Sincerely,

 

Kevin Gerity, Morgue Manager

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