Video: Dead men talking

By Victoria Corderi Correspondent
NBC News
updated 8/21/2007 9:14:14 AM ET 2007-08-21T13:14:14

Originally aired Aug. 20 on Dateline NBC.

Tracey Corey effortlessly straddles several worlds in her very busy life, from equestrian competitions and suburban motherhood -- to the daily science of death.

Tracey Corey: It makes me very, very aware of how precious every single day is, how precious every single hour that you have on this planet is. And that's why I fill them all up as much as I can.

She is Doctor Tracey Corey, chief medical examiner for the state of Kentucky.

Tracey Corey: Humans can be quite creative in the ways they can think to hurt each other and in the ways they can actually end up causing the death of someone else … My job is to let the victim tell me what they can tell me through the physical evidence.

She's the star of a real-life drama that plays out in a room in an old converted hospital in downtown Louisville. Like the characters in such stylized forensic shows as "CSI" and "Crossing Jordan," Dr. Corey faces death in its many guises: the tragic accidents, the suicides, and the murders.

Victoria Corderi [Dateline correspondent]: What's rewarding about this?
Dr. Tracey Corey: Every single case presents its own mysteries. When you can figure out a particular case and put the whole picture together, that's very rewarding.
Victoria Corderi: It's sort of detective work, mixed with medical work.
Dr. Tracey Corey: Right. That's exactly what it is. I think the other thing that I find personally rewarding is when I can help families find the answers that they are seeking.

For one extraordinary week in February, Dr. Corey gave Dateline unprecedented access to her bustling autopsy room. We follow along as she tries to unlock the secrets of the bodies that speak only to her, giving clues that might unravel the biggest mysteries of all: how and why they got here in the first place.

During our week, we also received rare permission to cross police lines, to shadow cases that, ultimately, ended up at the medical examiner's office for autopsy.

That's where, on our watch, Dr. Corey attempted to find answers for the families in several high-profile cases:

The mysterious death of two young lovers found in the front seat of a car.

A bizarre shooting involving jealousy, a secret burial and an unexpected tipster.

And Kentucky's deadliest house fire in 30 years, which took the lives of 10 people.

Dr. Tracey Corey: We are there to serve the public. People a lot of times say, "Oh, you just work with dead people." Well, there's nothing that could be farther from the truth.

On our first morning with her, Tracey Corey says good-bye to her husband, a Louisville police captain, and the younger of her two sons.

Dr. Tracey Corey: My 12-year-old vacillates between, "You have the worst job in the world," and then, "You have the coolest job in the world."

By the time she reaches the office, she already knows what awaits her in the autopsy room. Today's autopsies are yesterday's breaking news.

(WAVE-TV report)
We have some breaking news out of south Louisville. Police say two bodies have been found in a car in the 900 block of Beecher Street.

Friday, Feb. 2: An alley in Louisville
Two young adults -- a man and a woman -– are found slumped in the front seat of the car, apparently shot to death.

Ordinarily, Dr. Corey, the state medical examiner, does not go to death scenes. In Kentucky, that's what county coroners do, which is why Ron Holmes, Louisville's chief coroner, is among the first to arrive in the alley.

He'll be making observations about the deaths that he'll pass on to Dr. Corey for review.

Ron Holmes: As best as we can tell right now without opening the car up, there's one person who's shot in the side of the head, and the other person we can't tell yet because of the positioning.

In Kentucky, coroners like Holmes are elected law-enforcement officers. They go to death scenes, take charge of the bodies, help to identify them, and then deal with the victims' families.

Holmes: The crime scene belongs to the police. The body belong to us.

Holmes was a longtime criminology professor and an author who once interviewed Ted Bundy for a book on serial murders. It doesn't take him long to form a theory about what happened to the couple in the car.

Holmes: First thought was murder-suicide. Absolutely. He shoots her and he shoots himself.

Hours later, it's a scene you don't normally see on television. Police are literally moving the crime scene: the car with the victims still inside. They transport it to a police garage, where investigators will have warmer temperatures and better light to do their work.

Now, upon closer examination, Holmes sees things that make him back off the murder-suicide theory.

Holmes: Somebody else could have shot both of them.

Victoria Corderi: What do you see when you look in the car?
Dr. Ron Holmes: I see a personal vendetta here. The wounds are very personal … now I think it's a homicide.

A crime-scene investigator finds a bullet casing in the well of the back seat, indicating a shooting from behind.

After the bodies have been removed carefully from the car, crime-scene technicians place paper bags on their hands to preserve possible evidence that will be gathered by Dr. Corey at autopsy.

So far, there are plenty of clues but no answer to the question at the heart of it the investigation: who killed the young couple and why?

Overnight, the bodies are brought to the morgue. The coroner has handed off the case to the medical examiner.

Now it's Dr. Corey's job to assist the criminal investigation and perhaps to discover evidence that will help trace the killers. The autopsies will be her one-and-only chance to make a comprehensive analysis of the bodies.

Dr. Tracey Corey: I basically have one bite of the apple. I have to think of answers to questions that haven't even been asked yet because I have only one opportunity basically to collect all of the physical evidence.

Dr Corey says the autopsy is the victim's last chance to tell her what happened.

She's about to start listening...

Dr. Tracey Corey: Any time you have a sudden, unexpected death, there's basically a big hole in the world, so to speak, for that family.

The grief-stricken mother of 18-year-old murder victim Ashley Yennes understands that too well. Angela Thompson now has a gaping hole in her world.

Angela Thompson: She was my best friend. My best friend. There's nothing that she kept from me. Nothing.

She says her beautiful happy-go-lucky daughter always was the center of attention.

Angela Thompson: Everything was Ashley, and that's just the way we did it.
Victoria Corderi: So people who met her wanted to spoil her?
Angela Thompson: Right. Her heart was so big. She was just Ashley. She was my baby.

The other victim is Ashley's boyfriend, 20-year-old Anthony Howzee.

Christopher 2X: He grew up loving sports. His interest was of course basketball and football. His family is so heartbroken by what happened here.

Christopher 2x is a local community leader who crusades against violence and has gotten involved in this case, which is big news in Louisville.

He's organized a news conference to publicize the murders and perhaps pull in leads that will help the police solve them.

Angela Thompson: Why? Just "why?" Why would you want to do that? (crying) Why would you take my baby from me?

Saturday, Feb. 3: Autopsy room
It's early Saturday morning. Medical examiner Tracey Corey is cool, focused and efficient as she starts the autopsies and the search for answers for families and investigators alike.

The two victims are close in age to Dr. Corey's eldest, college-bound son, but that's the kind of thought she must push aside to do her job properly.

Dr. Tracey Corey: The best way to help the decedent at this point is to remain objective … If I get caught up in the tragedy of the moment, then I'm basically doing a disservice.

Dr. Corey is on the hunt for answers. How did the victim die? What do the wounds and the condition of the body say about what happened in that car? And will Dr. Corey find any evidence to help the detectives?

Dr. Tracey Corey: The good forensic pathologist does not work for the prosecution or for the defense. The good forensic pathologist simply lets the victim tell their story.

She begins with the young woman. The x-rays show two bullet holes in her head.

Dr. Tracey Corey: This is Tracey dictating 0799, 0799 ...

0799 is the Louisville office's 99th autopsy of 2007.

Dr. Tracey Corey: The body is that of a normally developed, normally nourished female appearing around the given age of 18 years.

Dr. Corey closely examines Ashley's wounds. She's looking at damage to the skin that will tell her how close the gun was to the victim.

Dr. Tracey Corey: She shows what's called stippling, or tattooing, which is when the burned or burning gunpowder particles strike the skin surface and create little injuries.
Victoria Corderi: So you know it was at close range?
Dr. Tracey Corey: Well, what we're going to call this is intermediate range.

Dr. Tracey Corey: It was within a couple of feet away from her when that trigger was pulled.

Even though everyone strongly suspects the gunshots to the head killed the girl, investigators still don't know who did it or why. It's up to Dr. Corey to find whatever she can to help crack the case.

To that end, she also examines the victim's main internal organs.

Dr. Tracey Corey: We want to see if there are any other injuries present.
Victoria Corderi: Everything that will tell her story.
Dr. Tracey Corey: Right. Our problem is we don't know what will become important later.

Dr. Corey makes sure everything is photographed and documented as potential evidence. The examination involves an array of knives, scalpels and even a vibrating saw for heavy-duty cutting.

As emotionally detached as she must be, Dr. Corey says she and her team never forget they're working on the bodies of victims who will be seen by their loved ones.

Dr. Tracey Corey: Our goal is to place our incisions such that the family will be able to have their normal funeral arrangements that they would if the person had not undergone an autopsy.

Before long, she begins reconstructing the scene of the shooting based on her findings.

Dr. Tracey: So she was pretty much looking toward the gun at the time the gun was fired. And she could be turned like this [she demonstrates] at him, or her, when they point the gun at her and fire.

But the wounds only tell her and the investigators so much. More important are the bullets still lodged in the victim's head.

They could help police track down the murder weapon and, perhaps, a suspect.

She begins to search for the bullets, carefully retrieving them.

Dr. Tracey Corey: I think we're going to recover the bullet from right under there, the bullet that's associated with the gunshot wound to the face.

And minutes later, there's an unmistakable sound of metal on metal.

Dr. Tracey Corey: One down.

And before long, Dr. Corey finds the second bullet and extracts it.

Dr. Tracey Corey: Inside the scalp … Numero dos.

She's pleased that the condition of bullet will help police track the murder weapon.

Dr. Tracey Corey: It's relatively well preserved and it's got good markings on the outside of it.

Minutes later, Anthony, the man found dead in the driver's seat, is on Dr. Corey's autopsy table.

Dr. Tracey Corey: The body is received with the hands in paper bags.

Remember, police bagged his hands to preserve any evidence. They're looking for DNA and possible gunshot residue under his fingernails.

DNA could lead them to a suspect. Gunshot residue might tell them if Anthony himself recently fired a gun.

Now, Dr. Corey will send this evidence to the Kentucky state police crime lab for analysis, and also send blood and urine samples to the medical examiner's toxicology lab to test for alcohol and other drugs.

Unlike the fictional "CSI" with its hi-tech trappings, Dr. Corey's workspace is a barebones operation and the lab results from these cases will not be back before the fourth commercial break. It will take weeks before there's a final report.

Dr. Corey would like for that to change. She's seeking funding for a brand new facility that will help her team handle the workload and perhaps speed up the process.

Dr. Corey: Ideally, we would build a new building from the ground up that was designed specifically for our needs.

Dr. Tracey Corey [during autopsy]: Externally, he's got a couple of little scratches on the side of his face. I don't know how long they might have been there. They're oriented going down. They would be consistent with somebody's fingernails. Can I say that's what they're due to? No. But they're certainly consistent with that.

The man has a single gunshot to the back of his head, confirming what the police suspected.

Dr. Corey: Scalp demonstrates a quarter-inch, roughly circular gun shot wound of entrance on the right side, which would again be consistent with the shooter being in the back seat, kind of in the middle.

Finding the bullet embedded in the victim's head is proving harder than anticipated. But it's such an important part of the ongoing police case that she must keep looking.

Finally, she feels it.

Dr. Corey: There it is. This bullet is relatively pristine.

So in both cases, the bullets are in good enough shape to help investigators.

Dr. Corey: If the investigator then recovers a gun, the investigator can take that gun and that bullet and see whether or not those two bullets match.

After each autopsy, Dr. Corey closes her eyes in deep concentration and dictates her findings.

Dr. Corey: Opinion: death in this 18-year-old woman is attributed to penetrating gunshot wounds of the head. The code for that is...

We know it as murder, but in the autopsy room, the manner of death gets a code name.

Dr. Corey: E965. End of dictation on 0799. Thank you.

Then for Anthony.

Dr. Corey: On the cause of death statement, put single gunshot wound of the head under the manner of death in this case, check the box for homicide.

Within a couple of hours, the autopsies are completed and documented. Dr. Corey can now release the bodies to the funeral home and to the anxious families.

Victoria Corderi: You haven't seen her?
Angela Thompson: I haven't seen her.
Victoria Corderi: Do you want to see her?
Angela Thompson: Yes. I just want to hold her. Hold her hand.
Victoria Corderi: You have faith that they're going to find the killer?
Angela Thompson: Everything in me. Everything within my soul, I-- yes. I do.

Dr. Corey's office is about to play an unprecedented role in another murder case. That autopsy won't help to find the killer -- it will determine if a confessed killer is telling the truth.

Dr. Tracey Corey: We're there to try to answer the questions of "How did this person die? When did this person die? What was happening during the death?"

As the investigation into the slain couple in the car continues, another strange story about a killing and a buried body is playing out 50 miles away, in rural Hardin County, Ky.

It's a case in which Dr. Corey's office will take on a unique role, helping police verify if a confessed killer is telling the truth.

Victoria Corderi: How unusual is that?
Dr. Tracey Corey: I'd say that's not common. That that's a pretty rare event.

It all began in late January, when a 29-year-old fast food employee named Roy Jeffries disappeared, leaving in his wake two frantic parents and many unanswered questions.

Margaret Brown: Did somebody beat him up? Or hit him with a car? And he's laying out. And it's freezing. And he's going to die from exposure.

Desperate, they distributed fliers and scoured the area, including the dumpsters.

Charles: I thought, man, I don't want to find no bodies in this thing. That's the last thing I want to find.

Margaret Brown: We've looked until the police said "You've got to stop. Quit knocking on doors." You know, "Quit going places. We don't know what's happened here. Could be dangerous. We'll be looking for you next."

Monday, Feb. 5, Kentucky State Police Post
After days of more searching, there's a possible break in the case. Police get a tip. It's a call from a man who says he knows what happened to Roy Jeffries because, he says, he killed him.

Detective: How many times did you shoot?
Suspect: I only shot him once.

The man, 20-year-old Clayton Kerr, tells police that he will take them to where he has hidden the body. But only if the prosecutor, Chris Shaw, first agrees to a deal. Kerr would plead to manslaughter instead of facing a murder charge.

Prosecutor Shaw: Since my time in this office, as well as working as a practicing lawyer around this county, I've not seen one like it. We were being approached before there technically was a case.

The prosecutor wants to take the deal, but first he wanted to run it by Jeffries' parents.

Prosecutor Shaw: We knew we had a family out there who was missing their family member, that there was a body out there that we needed to try to recover.

As part of the deal Kerr would receive a 20 year sentence, of which he must serve 17 1/2 years. Reluctantly, Roy Jeffries' parents agree.

Charles: This is our best chance, you know.
Margaret Brown: And it's a hard decision.
Charles: And it is. 17 1/2 years isn't much for killing somebody.

So, with his attorney at his side, Clayton Kerr confesses to the killing, chapter and verse, to a homicide detective who is off-camera.

Detective Jason Propes: Did you kill Roy Marshall Jeffries?
Kerr: Yes, I did.
Detective: OK. And do you know where his body is located?
Kerr: Yes, I do.
Detective: OK, and where is that at?
Kerr: It's in the woods behind my mother and father's home.

Kerr tells police that his girlfriend worked with Jeffries at this fast food restaurant and that Jeffries made no secret of his desires.

Kerr: In the past he had made moves towards my fiancée … And it was openly in front of my face.
Detective: So he had -- he had flirted with her? Is that what we would call it?
Kerr: Yeah. He tried to hit on her.

On the day of the murder, Kerr says, he lured Jeffries into the woods near his house and his impulses suddenly took over. He pulled out a .22-caliber gun he'd taken from his parents' home.

Detective: What happened next?
Kerr: I just snapped and pulled out the gun … I looked away and I shot.
I just shot like this … And then as soon as he went down, I started throwing brush on him. And then I took off.

Later, he says, he returned to the woods to get rid of the gun and to dig a grave for Jeffries.

Kerr: I dug a hole and I threw him down in it.

Tuesday, Feb. 6: Kerr family farm
Kerr confessed, but now it's time to prove he was telling the truth.

Kerr is leading police into the woods behind his family's farm to where he claims he buried Roy Jeffries. Hardin County coroner Bill Lee is on hand to help the police.

Bill Lee: Twenty years as coroner, first time I had to uncover a buried body.

Coroner Lee will take charge of the body -- if they find one. Police at the scene wonder if Kerr may have made up the whole story.

Meanwhile, the missing man's parents have been told about the killer's confession. They are distraught, imagining how their son may have suffered.

Margaret Brown: I think that would be the worst thing in the world to know that you are going to your death. You're going to go to be executed. I just can't imagine that kind of fear.

Two hours have passed since Kerr led police deep into the woods. Suddenly, he appears -- and he's ushered off the property, cloaking his face from the cameras, handcuffed and clinging to a bible as he's placed in a police cruiser and taken to jail.

Now, it's up to coroner Lee, his deputy and two detectives to see if Kerr was telling the truth.

Back in the woods, the tranquil sounds of nature seem out of sync with the off-key clank of shovels hitting the frozen ground.

Our video camera was not allowed on the property to shoot in the woods, so it's police photographs of the excavation that you're seeing. But our microphone is capturing the real sounds of the digging as it's happening.

Bill Lee: The first inch or so of the covering was fairly hard.

Police make an important discovery: a .22-caliber gun hidden under the leaves.

After more digging, searchers uncover a sneaker.

Bill Lee: The shoe was off. There was a white sock.

Then some clothing...

Bill Lee: Here's a hand.

And, finally, they find a body. It's Roy Jeffries' body.

Bill Lee: He was face down. And the first thing that showed on the back was a University of Michigan jacket.

According to Kerr's confession, that jacket is what made him snap on the day of the murder.

(confession tape)
Kerr: He was wearing the same clothes he was wearing whenever he made those comments.

They were the same clothes Jeffries had worn weeks before when he'd supposedly flirted with Kerr's girlfriend.

Bill Lee: And we're just careful going around the perimeter not to disturb the body itself.

So why more than a week after the murder did Kerr come forward? Because, he told police in his videotaped confession, he was so overwhelmed with guilt he went to his church minister.

Detective: Did you tell him what you'd done?
Kerr: Yeah. I was a bad man. And I needed to pay for what I'd done.
Detective: Did you tell him what you'd done?
Clayton Kerr: Yeah. I was a bad man. And I needed to pay for what I'd done.

So far, the evidence on the scene suggests Kerr is telling the truth, but key forensic questions remain unanswered.

Shaw: So we were concerned to know from medical examiner was there any sign of whether he would have still been breathing at the time he was put in the ground.

It's a key issue, because if he buried Jeffries alive, Kerr's deal with the prosecutor would be null and void.

Charles: But if he lies, they said, then we just throw it all out. And we still got all the evidence.

Forensic science will serve as the lie detector for other questions as well: the number of gunshots, and whether Kerr fired from behind without even looking as he'd demonstrated in his confession.

For Dr. Corey's office it will be a rush to answer questions, solve a crime and determine punishment all at once. But first, coroner Bill Lee gets a phone call from the county dispatcher.

Coroner Bill Lee: Oh, god. Nelson county? Oh, my gosh … Eight people burned up in a house fire. Man, gosh.

It's the nature of the business, working on one death and getting news of another. This time, it's a massive tragedy -- a house fire -- that would send Dr. Corey's office into overdrive.

Dr. Tracey Corey: I try not to think about the actual tragedy of the event. Of course, as a human, you're always going to eventually think of that.

(911 tape)
Dispatcher: Nelson County dispatch.
Caller: Yes, there is a fire across from our house ... the people are still in the house. Nobody -- I mean they're screaming.

Tuesday, Feb. 6: Fire scene
Shortly before 4 a.m., an unstoppable fire raged through a small, one-story house southeast of Louisville, quickly trapping 10 people inside an inferno.

By the time emergency workers arrive, all 10 are dead.

Lizzy Maddox: I couldn't get in the front door.
Victoria Corderi: Because it was burning? Because it was on fire?
Lizzy Maddox: So I ran around the house to some windows and tried to break some windows and tried to see if we could get in. But it seemed that every time you break a window flames come flying out.

Lizzy Maddox was frantic to save her family.

Victoria Corderi: Were you hearing anything?
Lizzy Maddox: People messing with doorknobs trying to get out.
Victoria Corderi: So you were hearing your family screaming to try to get out.
Lizzy Maddox: Yes.

She lived in the house and had left to drive a friend home. She returned to find her world literally going up in flames.

Victoria Corderi: Your daughter was inside?
Lizzy Maddox: Seventeen-month-old daughter burned up in that fire.
Victoria Corderi: And who else did you lose?
Lizzy Maddox: I lost my mother, my father, my two sisters, my nieces, and my nephew, and my daughter.

Among the victims were six children. It was the deadliest fire in Kentucky in 30 years. Coroners from surrounding counties converge on the scene to help retrieve bodies.

Coroner on scene (talking to other coroners): If you don't know what's happened, you've got to treat it like a crime scene. There's no question about that.

Dr. Corey: Get information from him as far as the ages.

The scope of the tragedy is so great that it brings chief medical examiner Tracey Corey out of the autopsy room and into the field. Although it's rare for her to go to death scenes, this emergency requires extra help and her medical expertise.

She will help to uncover what exactly happened in those terrifying final minutes in that house.

First, the victims are sketched and photographed to show their position and location. Then they're removed from the house.

While she's working, Dr. Corey notices a distraught man hurrying toward the charred remains of the house. He just learned that his two-year-old twins died in the fire. Dr. Corey moves to stop him, to convince him to stay away.

Dr. Corey: My goal, at that point, was to get in between him and the house because I didn't want him to see his loved one there, in the house. That wouldn't do him any good, it wouldn't do the investigators any good, and it would only, probably, increase his shock and grief at that point.

After Dr. Corey's assurances, he agrees to back away.

Dr. Tracey Corey: I promised him that I would take good care of them. That I was a mother myself.

It's the toughest, most unscientific part of her job -- dealing with families.

Dr. Tracey Corey: I think that I have a greater appreciation, a greater empathy for the parents in that-- in those-- situations, being a parent myself.
Victoria Corderi: It's hard not to look at a child--
Dr. Tracey Corey: Oh, it is.
Victoria Corderi: --and think of your own children.
Dr. Tracey Corey: We all make personal associations, all of us do, whether we want to or not.

Her career spans years of seeing the consequences of painful death, but she says some cases haunt her like no others

Dr. Tracey Corey: One of the toughest cases in the long run, for me, was the case of the-- the Camm children, who were killed in southern Indiana.

It was a notorious case. In 2000, a former Indiana state trooper named David Camm shot to death his wife and two children.

Dr. Tracey Corey: Uhmm, it was ahh. Can I stop for a minute? It was tougher than it-- (cries) that came out of nowhere.
Victoria Corderi: No, no, no, no. I, I, I. Yeah. Listen, it has to go somewhere. Because I see you as a mother as, you know, a wife...

It's a rare crack in her professional veneer. Dr. Corey tries to regain control, but then needs to take a break to compose her self.

What was especially disturbing for Dr. Corey in that case was that the killer left one of his children to die a long, excruciating death.

Dr. Tracey Corey: The little boy's wounds were not immediately lethal or would not result in immediate unconsciousness. And I knew that … I had two little boys of my own at the time, and so, there was a personal connection.

Tuesday, Feb. 6: Autopsy room
By the afternoon, the 10 fire victims are in the medical examiner's office ready for autopsy. Dr. Corey sees beyond the charred remains.

Victoria Corderi: Why do autopsies? Clearly, there was a house fire and people died in the fire.
Dr. Tracey Corey: Until you do the autopsy, you don't know. Many times, people who kill other people may try to cover up that crime, by starting a fire.

While the body of the man dug up that morning, Roy Jeffries, is being readied for autopsy, Dr. Corey works with calm dispatch on the fire victims, focusing on identifying the bodies through family records.

Dr. Corey: Any history of any dentist whatsoever. Ask them if they've ever had sinus films, bad sinus infection.

Her goal is to complete the 10 fire autopsies and that of Roy Jeffries that same day, no matter how long it takes, so they can release the bodies to the families for funerals.

In the Jeffries case, the key forensic finding would be whether or not Roy was buried alive.

Victoria Corderi: And what physical evidence would there be that somebody was buried alive?
Dr. Tracey Corey: Depending on the soil, the nature of the substance they were buried in, you would find that substance, perhaps inhaled and/or swallowed.

But with Dr. Corey absorbed in her work on the fire victims, medical examiner Donna Hunsaker will handle Jeffries' autopsy.

The two autopsy tables are filled, doctors working on cases simultaneously.

Dr. Corey: And here's where you want to write it...

Dr. Corey reaches a conclusion first. She finds soot in the airways of the fire victims, which means there was no foul play...they all were alive when the fire broke out. Later, a fire investigation determines the official cause: a cigarette left burning near a couch.

But the family says no one was smoking.

By working efficiently, Dr. Corey and her team accomplish their goal of finishing all the fire autopsies before evening, enabling the families to get back the bodies of their loved ones quickly.

Meanwhile, the room is still crowded with people waiting for the result of Roy Jeffries' autopsy: two detectives photographing, observing and gathering evidence, and coroner Bill Lee, who will report the findings to the family.

Donna Hunsaker: Oh, there it is. I bet you that's it right there.

Each minute, they come closer to finding out if the killer told the truth about the shooting and burial.

Donna Hunsaker: A circular penetrating gunshot wound of entrance measure 0.1 inches in diameter. Period.

First, she finds one wound from only one bullet. So that part of confessed killer Clayton Kerr's story checks out.

She determines that the bullet entered above his right ear, seemingly supporting Kerr's claim that he was walking behind Jeffries when, he says, he looked away and fired the gun.

The investigators in the room are watching the autopsy play out like an episode of "CSI."

Building up to the climax, the answer to the all-important forensic question: was Jeffries buried alive? When it comes, there's no swelling television music, no dramatic declaration. Only a steady stream of diagnostic jargon.

Donna Hunsaker: Areas of livor mortis. Next. No foreign debris in the upper or lower airways.

No foreign debris. Translation: he did not inhale or swallow any dirt, so Jeffries was not buried alive.

Coroner Bill Lee calls the victim's parents right away.

Bill Lee (on phone): Looks like the cause of death will be that single gunshot wound to the head. And I'd say it was pretty much instantaneous.

The family finds a measure of comfort in the news.

Margaret Brown: We were so grateful to hear that he wasn't buried alive.

But their real comfort, they say, is their faith.

Margaret Brown: I think it's unfair. But maybe god thought he'd needed him more than I did. I don't know.

Dr. Tracey: We have no stake in the outcome, on whether somebody's found guilty or innocent.

(Local news report)
Tonight: Police say two suspects are behind bars for the killings of a young couple...

It's a major break in a high-profile case -- the double homicide of Ashley Yennes and Anthony Howzee, the two lovers shot to death in a car.

Dr. Tracy Corey performed their autopsies as part of the police investigation less than a week earlier.

Now, authorities say they know what happened in that alley and why.

Friday, Feb. 9: Louisville police headquarters
Under arrest are two young men, a 17-year-old and a 19-year-old who, police say, had been hanging out with the couple on the afternoon of the murder, though they'd denied having seen Ashley and Anthony when the police questioned them.

Chris Middleton (lead detective): You got somebody that's lying to you. And you know it. And there's a reason why they're lying to you.

Police say they had proof the men were lying. A surveillance tape from a convenience store shows the four of them together just hours before the murders.

Det. Chris Middleton: Those cameras, they're not capable of lying. They show what they see and tell what they see.

Middleton says seeing the tape broke the suspects down. But each accused the other of being the shooter. He says the motive for killing Anthony was robbery, and that Ashley was shot just because she was a witness.

Angela: He's a coward. And I'm very angry at him. She was just 18. Just turned 18.

So far, police have not found a gun, so the pristine bullets Dr. Tracey Corey carefully extracted in her forensic examinations have not been matched to a weapon -- yet.

Victoria Corderi: Eight days after the bodies were found, the detectives made two arrests in the case. How did that make you feel?
Dr. Tracey Corey: I'm happy for the families that that will help them get some closure, but my role does not involve being emotionally invested on whether or not someone is charged with a crime, whether or not someone is guilty or innocent. A good forensic pathologist remains impartial.

Her job, she says, is representing the victim by analyzing what happened in the last minutes of life.

Dr. Corey: I testify when subpoenaed by either side, and I testify, basically, as to what the victim told me.

A month later, another case that had been through Dr. Corey's autopsy room reached its conclusion as well.

Tuesday, March 6: Criminal court

(In court)
Judge: All right. Am I saying your last name correctly, K-e-r-r?
Kerr: Yes, your honor.

Remember, Clayton Kerr had made a deal before he confessed to murdering and burying Roy Jeffries.

But the medical examiner's office first had to determine if Kerr was telling the truth about how he killed and buried Jeffries. The autopsy backed up Kerr's story so it was time for a judge to sign off on Kerr's plea bargain -- a 20-year sentence -- of which he must serve 17 and a half years for manslaughter.

Judge: Are you pleading guilty because you are guilty and you make no claim of innocence?
Clayton Kerr: Yes, your honor.

The victim's parents had reluctantly agreed to the deal. Still, they could barely contain their anger.

Margaret: I want to know what makes him think he's god. Why would you do such a stupid thing? What puts it in a person's head that just because you don't get what you want, that you just go kill somebody?

It turns out Kerr had an accomplice the night he buried Jeffries -- his girlfriend, the woman he thought Jeffries was trying to steal from him. She was in court too.

Judge: So, is-- is your full name Savannah Marie Meeks?
Savannah Marie Meeks: Yes, ma'am.

In her own videotaped confession, Meeks admitted to police that hours after the murder she went to the woods with Kerr and shined a flashlight while he buried the body.

(Confession video)
Meeks: I held the flashlight while he started digging the hole.

And so she faced a charge of tampering with evidence -- the body. She says she did it because she wanted to protect the man she loved.

(Confession video)
Detective Jason Propes: Did you ever think about calling the police or anything like that?
Meeks: Part of me wanted to because I knew it was wrong … but, you know, part of me, which was stronger, just didn't want to lose Clayton … Didn't want to get in trouble.

In all, during our week in Louisville, the medical examiner's office performed 34 autopsies, including 10 fire victims, the young couple shot in a car, and the bizarre case of a man killed and buried for, of all things, flirting.

Dr. Corey: Humans can be quite creative in the ways they can actually end up causing the death of someone else.

But for Tracey Corey, each death is more than just a case -- it's a life left behind. She listens to the dead, she says, so she can help the living.

Dr. Tracey Corey: We're really dealing with living people who have experienced tremendous loss and tragedy. And we have to be compassionate. They're still going to be grieving, but if I can help answer questions for them, that puts their mind at ease. Hopefully, it will eventually help them accept what has happened, and be able to then move on with their life.

One final note in the case of that young couple. The two suspects arrested for the crime have pleaded not guilty to capital murder charges.

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