6 On Your Side: Illegal Autopsies? - KAUZ-TV: Newschannel 6 Now | Wichita Falls, TX

6 On Your Side: Illegal Autopsies?

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Newschannel 6 Anchor Christina Myers is digging into whether it is illegal for Wichita County to send bodies to Tarrant County for autopsy. 

The story is still in the research phase, but Christina has been pouring over any legal documents having to do with autopsies performed in Texas.

The Code of Criminal Procedure is rather vague on the issue of sending bodies out of county for autopsy.  "The commissioners court shall pay a reasonable fee for the transportation of a body to a place where an autopsy can be performed under this article if a justice of the peace orders the body to be transported to the place," states Article 49.10 (h) of the Code of Criminal Procedure.

An Attorney General Opinion issued in 1969 by (then current) AG Crawford Martin issues the following clarification on sending bodies out of county: "We have carefully considered the provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure relating to inquests and autopsies and are of the opinion that they do not authorize that an autopsy be performed in a county other than that in which death occurred."  

That same Opinion also reads: "You are therefore advised that a Commissioners' Court cannot pay for transporting a body to another county for autopsy purposes."

A later Opinion issued by then AG John Cornyn in 1999 states, "…the county where the death occurred may not contract away its duty to conduct and pay for the autopsy. Conversely, a county has no authority to conduct or pay for an autopsy if the death occurred in another county." 

This clarification was issued in reference to a question about whether a justice of the peace can order an autopsy for a resident of their county who died in another county. So Newschannel 6 has calls out to Senator Cornyn for clarification on his Opinion.

Christina had an interview set up with Wichita Co. Judge Woody Gossom about this issue. However, he called before they were supposed to meet to say the District Attorney's office had asked him to wait until the trial of Brent Benefield was over to do the interview. 

The tip about this potentially illegal act was initially given to Newschannel 6 by legal consultant David Fisher. He was also at the center of major changes that came to the Wichita Co. Medical Examiner's office in 2010. 


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