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Texas medical examiners draw critics' fire

FORT WORTH, Texas, Sept. 27 (UPI) -- Texas medical examiners are under fire for mistakes that have allowed convicted criminals go free and sent the innocent to prison, critics said.

"The state does not keep track of MEs in any shape, form or fashion," Bexar County Chief Medical Examiner Randall Frost told the Fort Worth (Texas) Star Telegram, adding the state doesn't know how many certified forensic pathologists work in government offices.

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A medical examiner only needs a state medical license to perform an autopsy and does not have to be trained in forensics or pass a specialty. Frost said people are shocked when they find out there are not special qualifications.

"The work of the medical examiner's office is just so slipshod," said Tommy Turner, a former special prosecutor.

Turner's investigation put a Lubbock medical examiner behind bars for falsifying autopsies.

Critics call the medical examiner's office "the last bastion of junk science." They cite lack of performance standards, poor documentation and too few qualified personnel as well as lax oversight.

County officials and others say if there are problems with medical examiners' opinions, the courts' adversarial procedures will expose them.

"We've not had district attorneys coming and saying, 'We're losing because we're not getting quality autopsy work,'" Donald Lee, executive director of the Texas Conference of Urban Counties, said.

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