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Doctor in baby murder case stands by autopsy

The doctor whose bungled autopsy of a baby led to a murder charge that was dropped this week against an Alabama mother maintains the findings were correct, the medical examiner's lawyer said Friday.
Baby Death Botched Autopsy
Webb County Medical Examiner Corinne Stern shows one of the freezers at the new county morgue in Laredo, Texas, last year. State experts determined Stern, a former Alabama medical examiner now working in Texas, was wrong when she concluded that a boy's death was  homicide. Ricardo Santos / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

The doctor whose bungled autopsy of a baby led to a murder charge that was dropped this week against an Alabama mother maintains the findings were correct, the medical examiner's lawyer said Friday.

Six experts disagreed with the autopsy report by Dr. Corinne Stern, who ruled that a newborn was suffocated in 2006. The experts' opinion that the baby boy was stillborn led a judge to dismiss the charge Thursday against Bridget Lee, 34, who spent nine months in jail after being charged with capital murder.

Jay Lewis, who represented Stern in a lawsuit she filed after leaving Alabama to work in Laredo, Texas, said Stern believes her original autopsy report was correct.

"She stands by her findings," Lewis said.

'Being raked over the coals'
Three of the state experts who now maintain the baby was stillborn initially signed off on Stern's ruling that Bridget Lee's child was purposely suffocated after birth, he said.

"She is appalled that she is being raked over the coals like this," said Lewis. "It's unprecedented."

Dr. Kenneth Snell, who is Alabama's chief medical examiner and who testified during a hearing that Stern made a mistake, declined comment Friday.

Snell previously said the Alabama Department of Forensic Science would review as many as 100 homicide autopsies performed by Stern to determine whether more cases were flawed.

Stern's autopsy was the primary evidence against Lee, who said she panicked and hid the child's body in a plastic container in her sport utility vehicle after delivering the boy stillborn. The case fell apart when the defense successfully showed the medical report was flawed and prosecutors agreed.

Stern is currently the chief medical examiner in Webb County, Texas, where she and a five-person staff handled 430 death cases in 2007, 15 of which were classified as homicides. She took the job after leaving Alabama amid conflict with colleagues.

Court records and testimony during Lee's case indicated Stern finished her autopsy on the baby on her last day at work in Alabama — Dec. 15, 2006. She quit earlier in the month with a letter that complained about conditions at the state forensic agency.

"I hope the unprofessional and unfair treatment afforded me and the daily harassment that I face in my own office, with the knowledge of my superiors, will not fall on another unsuspecting physician," Stern wrote.

Filed a federal lawsuit
Stern filed a federal lawsuit blaming gender discrimination for a demotion, but a judge threw out the claim in December.

Stern left another forensics job in Texas amid turmoil before coming to Alabama.

Stern gave sworn testimony that she quit the medical examiner's office in El Paso, Texas, after complaining that her free-speech rights were being violated. Records indicate Stern maintained that law enforcement was getting too involved in her work.

A copy of her settlement with El Paso County shows Stern received about $80,000 in pay and agreed to quit by July 31, 2005. She agreed not to perform any autopsies during the last month of her employment.

Lewis, Stern's attorney, said the quality of her autopsies has never before been an issue. She helped examine human remains after both Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the shuttle Columbia accident in 2003, when seven astronauts died.

"She has a good reputation for being a pathologist," said Lewis.