November 14, 2018 10:12:42 AM
BROOKHAVEN -- A Mississippi coroner and the state's crime lab are blaming each other for delays in completing an autopsy report in a year-old murder case.
The Daily Leader of Brookhaven reports that Lincoln County Circuit Judge Mike Taylor last month ordered state medical examiner Dr. J. Brent Davis to appear in court to explain why a final report hasn't been completed in the November 2017 shooting death of Billy Ray Thomas Jr. at a Brookhaven nightclub.
Thomas was killed and six others wounded in the shooting. Justin Devon Anderson faces first-degree murder and aggravated assault charges.
Coroners and prosecutors across the state have complained that the short-staffed medical examiner's office is slow to complete autopsy reports. Many prosecutors don't want to indict or try a suspect without a finalized autopsy.
Mississippi Department of Public Safety attorney Eric Brown replied on Nov. 1 that Lincoln County Coroner Clay McMorris and Deputy Coroner Robert Tyler didn't immediately send records needed to complete the report, and asked the judge not to require Davis to appear.
"I would prefer the only two medical examiners in the state remain at the office to continue to work through their cases, especially when they are asked to provide final autopsy reports while missing information requested from coroners and deputy coroners nearly a year ago," Brown said in an email to The Daily Leader.
Brown wrote in court papers that Davis requested the documents around the time of his Nov. 28, 2017, examination of Thomas' body but did not receive the paperwork until Oct. 30 of this year.
"The pertinent medical records of Billy Ray Thomas Jr. have been received, and a final report will be generated once all documents have been reviewed, considered, and studied," Brown wrote.
McMorris said the request for records is unusual and says he doesn't think that caused the delay.
"I don't believe this is what's holding up that autopsy report," he said. "This is a very unusual request. In my last 23 years as coroner, I've never been requested to provide medical records on a gunshot wound homicide case."
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