Over 2,000 backlogged autopsy cases cleared

Published: Nov. 15, 2023 at 6:27 PM CST
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Last month, WLBT told you that homicide autopsy reports have been lagging behind what’s expected nationally.

Wednesday night, the man in charge of the state’s crime lab said they’ve made a huge dent in a decade-long backlog.

There were 2,232 backlogged autopsy cases as of January 1, 2020, according to the Mississippi Department of Public Safety.

It is an issue that impacted everyone from the family to the funeral home.

“Having to talk to the families and try to explain to them why it was taking so long to get their loved one back after an autopsy or after we took them out for an autopsy and that was just a hard time for everyone,” Rankin County Coroner David Ruth said.

‘It was extremely frustrating for me, but not as frustrating as it was for our families,” Trey Sebrell, the owner of Sebrell Funeral Home, said.

MDPS Commissioner Sean Tindell and Ruth said the backlogs were caused by a variety of different reasons.

“A lot of times, these cases were ones that might not have had a murder suspect or maybe there were no family members, so they were kind of just lingering,” Tindell said.

“A lot of times, coroners don’t turn their paperwork in, in a timely manner and the medical examiners will not and cannot do their job until we do ours,” Ruth said.

Commissioner Tindell says four new death investigators have recently joined as well as a new pathologist.

They say their efforts have reduced the number of the over 2,000 backlogged cases by 99.64 percent.

“As of October 31, all but I believe eight of those had been completed,” Tindell explained. “So that’s a significant number of the backlog that has been reduced. And, in fact, that’s really a decade’s worth of backlog that has been reduced at the crime lab.”

Now that the number of open autopsy cases around the state is down, Tindell says there are future plans to prevent this from happening again.

“We’re working to get two more additional medical examiners so that we don’t find ourselves in this situation again,” he said. “We’re looking at opening an office in Oxford, you know, so that we can service the northern part of the state much like the one in Biloxi services, the southern part of the state.”

MDPS says the number of backlogged cases outside of those you just heard about currently sits at 150.

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