Status quo to remain in coroner’s office
Change deemed too expensive
After hearing from a consultant who says that replacing the Sangamon County coroner with a medical examiner would cost more than $300,000 a year, county board chairman Andy Van Meter says the county will keep a coroner system that is vulnerable to the whims of whomever gets elected to the office.
The county is already paying more than $570,000 for a coroner’s office that lost public confidence under former coroner Susan Boone, who resigned under pressure from Van Meter and other top county officials who threatened to abolish the office if she didn’t leave. Boone, who remains under investigation by a special prosecutor, was suspected of botching cases, and she had refused to use a board-certified forensic pathologist to conduct autopsies.
Cinda Edwards, who vowed to support whatever conclusion the county board and its consultant reached regarding the coroner’s office when she was appointed coroner last spring, said that she will run for the office in next year’s election and has organized a fundraiser.
But not everyone agrees that the county should stick with the least-expensive option.
“A few hundred thousand dollars can make or break a family, especially in a case like ours,” said Michele Credit, grandmother of the late Anakin Credit, a two-year-old Springfield boy who died in 2008. “We’ve had so many messed up cases in the last few years.”
Based on an autopsy by Dr. Jessica Bowman, Boone ruled that Anakin died from previously undiagnosed cancer, even though he had bruises on his body, a laceration on his liver and blood in his belly. The state reopened the investigation, and a murder charge is now pending against Mason L. Weems, who was alone with Anakin when the boy stopped breathing.
Richard Burns, brother of Patrick Burns, who died last year after a struggle with county sheriff’s deputies, said that he would like to see an appointed medical examiner replace an elected coroner. Richard Burns is suing the county for wrongful death. The criminal investigation into Boone began at the request of Richard Burns, who accused the coroner’s office of botching the investigation and altering an inquest transcript.
“Add up how much money is going to be spent defending Susan Boone’s errors or inefficiencies or incompetency,” Richard Burns said. “How much money is going to be spent reopening cases? I would say that a medical examiner would be, in the purest sense, the best way to go.”
Both Credit and Maximus, the consulting firm hired to assess the county’s death-investigation system, agree that Edwards is taking steps to fix an office in desperate need of change.
“I think the new coroner’s doing the best she can,” Credit said. “She really walked into a mess.”
Edwards has suggested hiring a chief deputy coroner to review cases to ensure quality, according to the Maximus report, but the consultant rejected that idea, saying that if existing employees can’t be trained to do that job, then they should be replaced by employees who can.
Edwards has vowed to revamp death investigation procedures, but her purchase of a camera has raised concerns in the sheriff’s office, according to the Maximus report.
According to the consultant, sheriff’s officials were concerned that defense attorneys might attack inconsequential differences in photographic evidence if two sets of pictures are taken.
The consultant recommended that the state’s attorney’s office provide advice on protocol, and state’s attorney John Milhiser said he’s prepared to do that. However, Edwards says that she won’t take photographs at scenes if the lead law enforcement agency wants to handle the job.
“We’ll come to an agreement,” Edwards said. “It won’t be any problem.”
Milhiser and Sheriff Neil Williamson both praised Edwards, a fellow Republican.
“She’s doing a good job, and she’s a nice lady,” Williamson said.
Contact Bruce Rushton at email@example.com.