Doctors Often Get It Wrong in Deaths of Children

And people are being wrongly convicted of murder as a result: ProPublica
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 28, 2011 12:50 PM CDT
Doctors Often Get It Wrong in Deaths of Children
Flawed work by forensic pathologists has led to scores of people wrongly convicted in the deaths of children, a Pro Publica investigation reveals.   (Shutterstock)

Shoddy post-mortem examinations by doctors has led to scores of people being wrongly convicted in the deaths of children, a joint investigation by Pulitzer-winner ProPublica, NPR, and Frontline reveals. The report details 25 cases in which people were convicted and subsequently cleared, often after serving years in prison. And it raises doubts about those now serving sentences who were convicted based on the results of medical autopsies that may have been misinterpreted.

The problem is that it's easy for a doctor untrained in forensic pathology to falsely conclude that a child was killed by violence, when any number of diseases could yield the same results. (Witness the turnabout on shaken-baby syndrome.) The main story highlights the plight of Ernie Lopez, locked up in Texas after being convicted of sexually abusing and beating to death an infant in his charge. A team of legal and medical experts reviewed the case and concluded that the original doctor misread the evidence, that the girl was never abused in any way. His fate is now in the hands of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Read the main story here, a summary of the 25 cases here, or see videos by NPR and Frontline. (More child abuse stories.)

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