Accuracy in Media

The death of J. Cliff Baxter, the former vice chairman of Enron, looks a lot like that of former White House Deputy Counsel Vincent W. Foster, Jr. Foster’s death was pronounced a suicide by the U.S. Park Police when they found a gun in his hand. The media accepted the word of the police, who had made no investigation worthy of the name.

The day after Baxter’s death, the New York Times reported that the Sugar Land police had “ruled out foul play but a justice of the peace ordered an autopsy as a precaution.” Like the U.S. Park Police in the Foster case, they ignored the rule that an unattended violent death must be investigated as a homicide until they have enough evidence to rule that out. Dr. Joye Carter, the Harris County medical examiner, pronounced it a suicide without even knowing if the gun found in Baxter’s car belonged to him.

The police requested a trace on the gun, confirming information from a source close to the family that no one identified it as Baxter’s. That was also the case with the gun found in Foster’s hand. Finally the FBI agents working on that case got Foster’s widow to say that the 1913 black revolver resembled the modern silver revolver that she brought to Washington from Arkansas. That was accepted as positive identification by Special Prosecutor Robert Fiske and Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr. Their reports concealed the fact that the two guns were different colors and ages.

The autopsy found that Baxter was killed by a contact shot to his temple, not by a conventional .38 bullet, but by rat-shot, small pellets used to kill rats. If the police found any .38 rat-shot ammunition in Baxter’s home, they aren’t talking about it. Nor have they revealed if Baxter’s fingerprints and blood were found on the gun. In Foster’s case, his fingerprints and blood were not found on the gun in his hand.

The claim that Foster killed himself came as a shock to his family, close friends and co-workers. Close friend Webster Hubbell told a partner at the Rose Law Firm not to believe the stories that Foster committed suicide. Mrs. Foster accepted the suicide finding, but Vincent Jr., the oldest son, told classmates that his father did not kill himself. The New York Times reported that a former business associate of Cliff Baxter’s called him the day before his death, congratu-lating him for having criticized Enron’s practices before resigning. Someone had suggested that Baxter hire a bodyguard, and Baxter told the caller, “I’m a businessman. Why do I need a bodyguard?” The Baxter family, according to close friends, all believe he was murdered.

The police have a suicide note, but they refuse to say where it was found, who found it, if it was in Baxter’s handwriting and if his fingerprints were on it. They won’t disclose what it says. A reliable source says it doesn’t mention his wife and children and is not really a suicide note. The note in the Foster case that was allegedly found in his briefcase did not mention his family or suicide. It was in 17 pieces. Foster’s fingerprints were not found on any of them. The contents were released, but copies of the handwritten note were withheld for over two years. Then three independent experts examined it and said it was a forgery.

The medical examiners in both cases have records of deference to police and prosecutors in performing autopsies. Dr. James Beyer, who did the Foster autopsy, had ruled two cases to be suicides that second autopsies found to be homicides. Dr. Beyer concealed or destroyed an x-ray he had taken of Foster’s head. He lied to explain its absence. The x-ray no doubt confirmed an FBI report that the police found no exit wound in Foster’s head and that the fatal bullet was a small caliber and was not fired by the .38 found in his hand.

Dr. Joye Carter was accused of falsifying an autopsy report when she was the chief medical examiner in Washington, D.C. In Harris County, an employee charged that Dr. Carter fired her because she reported the suppression of evidence favorable to a murder defendant and two cases of destruction of evidence. The employee sued. The county paid $325,000 plus her legal costs to settle.

The media are calling Baxter’s death a suicide. Earnest Taylor, Sugar Land’s police chief, says nothing to discourage that. The Foster case shows that if he stalls long enough the cover-up will succeed.




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