Accuracy in Media

      In our last commentary we discussed the evidence that the medical examiner who performed the autopsy on Vincent Foster had destroyed or concealed the x-rays he had taken of Foster’s head because they supported the testimony of a police officer and two other doctors who had examined Foster’s head and had found no exit wound.

      You may find it hard to believe that a medical examiner would destroy x-ray evidence in a high profile case, but there is proof that this was done in the death of Ron Brown, Clinton’s secretary of commerce, who died in a plane crash in Croatia in April 1996. His body was flown to Dover Air Force Base where Chief Petty Officer Kathleen Janoski photographed it from head to toe. She saw what appeared to be a .45 caliber bullet wound in the top of Ron Brown’s head.

      Janoski called this to the attention of others. Army Lt. Col. David Hause, an expert on gunshot wounds, examined the hole and said it looked like a gunshot wound. Col. William Gormley, the senior pathologist at Dover, claimed the hole in the head did not expose the brain and that there was no exit wound. He refused to perform an autopsy, a decision that Air Force Lt. Col. Steven Cogswell, another Dover pathologist, criticized in lectures he gave around the country on mistakes in pathology.

      Ron Brown’s x-rays were displayed on light boxes, and Kathleen Janoski photographed them. The head x-ray showed what appeared to be a lot of small metallic fragments inside the skull. It looked like what is called a “lead snowstorm,” small fragments of a bullet that has disintegrated when fired into the head. That, added to the hole in the top of Brown’s head, helped make the case that an autopsy should be performed, but Col. Gormley remained opposed to it.

      Kathleen Janoski says Jeanmarie Sentell, a Navy civilian criminal investigator, told her that the head x-ray had been destroyed and that it would be replaced by one that would eliminate the appearance of a “lead snowstorm.” There was no x-ray machine in the morgue, and Janoski says Brown’s body was never taken out to be x-rayed again. Two years later, Lt. Col. Cogswell and Lt. Col. David Hause told Chris Ruddy, then of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, that the head x-ray was missing. Only the photos taken by Kathleen Janoski remained as evidence of the hole in Brown’s head and what could have been a lead snowstorm. Janoski told AIM that Dover Air Force Base had always been very meticulous in safe-guarding evidence and keeping detailed records.

      She said the destruction of the x-ray of Brown’s head was unprecedented. The case was handled so differently from anything she had previously seen that she wondered where the orders were coming from. She and three officers, Cogswell, Hause and Major Tom Parsons, all paid a price for criticizing the handling of the Ron Brown case and talking to the media. If an x-ray of Brown’s head that showed possible evidence of foul play could be destroyed at Dover Air Force Base, who can say that an x-ray showing that Vince Foster was murdered could not have been destroyed by the office of the medical examiner for Northern Virginia?

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