Blumenfeld/Post series on JFK highlighted prosecutorial pressure on coroner.
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PETER'S NEW YORK, Monday, April 22, 2013--The Associated Press reported yesterday that Massachusetts' chief medical examiner has not yet assigned a cause of death to one of two suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing. Medical examiners are often under intense pressure from authorities to arrive at conclusions on the cause of death based on whatever storyline police investigators or prosecutors have assigned to the events in question.
According to an AP dispatch published by ABC News, "Terrel Harris of the state Executive Office of Public Safety and Security says the medical examiner hasn't determined the cause of death of 26-year-old Tamerlan Tsarnaev."
Tsarnaev's brother, Dzhokhar, is hospitalized after being taken into police custody with serious injuries. Both men are accused by authorities of having planted and detonated explosives near the finish line of this year's Boston Marathon that killed three people and injured scores more.
Some official accounts indicate that Dzhokhar accidentally killed Tamerlan with the automobile Dzhokhar was driving. Authorities would look to the medical examiner's report to verify this assertion. Such a determination of the cause of death would deflect responsibility from the police or other security personnel, and assign it punishingly to Dzhokhar. It is not uncommon for police agencies and prosecutors to flirt with hyperbole in putting together a case against a defendant.
The case is reminiscent of that surrounding the shooting death of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy.
On June 6, 1968, Kennedy was felled after a speaking engagement while campaigning for the Democratic Party's nomination for U.S. president. Sirhan Sirhan, of Middle East extraction, was said to have been the assailant. Thomas T. Noguchi performed the autopsy on Kennedy's body.
According to a May 20, 1975 account by Ralph Blumenfeld of the New York Post, Noguchi had told a grand jury convened shortly after Kennedy's death that there were powder burns on Kennedy's right ear that could only have been caused by the discharge of a firearm from a distance of no more than two or three inches.
Later, in testimony at a hearing in 1974, convened by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, Noguchi said, "One of the deputy district attorneys approached me after I testified in Grand Jury on June 7, 1968, after having my testimony already transcribed. He said, 'Tom, are you sure three inches?' He offered that if I misunderstood--if I misstated--this is time now to correct it, but I thanked them because I don't have to concern about witnesses because I based my opinion totally on physical evidence...
"His reaction seemed to be--he was surprised that there was such a distance we were talking about."
According to Blumenfeld's account, two months later, "Noguchi's office was publicly accused of 'deficiencies' that caused murders to go undetected, and suicides to be "mislabeled."
Blumenfeld's account continues:
"Noguchi was scheduled to testify at Sirhan's trial on Feb. 26, 1969. On Feb. 23, county supervisors leaked word to reporters that Noguchi's alleged sins would be aired at an 'ouster' hearing--on Feb. 25. The pressure was on. He was about to lose his $31,000-a-year job and his Sirhan testimony would be his 'last oficial act.'"
When Noguchi testified at Sirhans trial, he said Kennedy had suffered two gunshot wounds to the back at very close range.
When asked what he meant by very close, Noguchi answered: "When I said 'very close,' we are talking about the term of either contact or a half-inch or one inch in distance."
Other witnesses at the same trial, according to Blumenfeld, had testified that Sirhan shot Kennedy from a distance of from three to six feet, or at arm's length. The implication, however inconvenient to some, including, possibly, the district attorney handling the case, was that it was not Sirhan's bullet that caused Kennedy's death, and that another shooter must have been involved. Blumenfeld tells us what happened to Noguchi after his testimony.
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