• 59°

Crime lab blames coroner for delays

The state crime lab is blaming the Lincoln County coroner for delays on an autopsy report in a year-old murder case, but the local undertaker says it isn’t his fault.

Mississippi Department of Public Safety attorney Eric Brown on Nov. 1 filed a show cause response in Lincoln County Circuit Court that claims the final report on the examination of the late Billy Ray Thomas Jr. wasn’t completed in time for trial because Lincoln County Coroner Clay McMorris did not immediately send records to the crime lab needed to finalize the report. The filing was made in response to an Oct. 22 show cause order in which judge Mike Taylor demanded medical examiner Dr. J. Brent Davis appear in court personally to explain why his final report has not been completed.

“I would prefer the only two medical examiners in the state remain at the office to continue to work through their cases, especially when they are asked to provide final autopsy reports while missing information requested from coroners and deputy coroners nearly a year ago,” Brown said in an email to The Daily Leader.

The missing autopsy report is needed in the case against Justin Devon Anderson, who is facing first-degree murder and aggravated assault charges in the Nov. 25, 2017, shooting at The Oasis nightclub in Brookhaven. Thomas Jr. was fatally shot in the shooting, and six others were wounded.

Brown’s filing says Davis asked for the documents around the time of his Nov. 28, 2017, examination of Thomas’ body, but did not receive the paperwork until Tuesday, Oct. 30, three days after a newspaper story on the show cause order published.

“Since the order to show cause was entered, the Lincoln County coroner did what Dr. Davis requested nearly a year ago: Mr. McMorris sent the records to the (Office of the State Medical Examiner),” the response reads. “The pertinent medical records of Billy Ray Thomas Jr. have been received, and a final report will be generated once all documents have been reviewed, considered, and studied.”

Brown told The Daily Leader deputy coroner Robert Tyler was in charge of the case, and that when Davis and the district attorney’s office followed up with McMorris, the records were sent to the crime lab.

But McMorris said the request for records from his office was “unusual.”

“I don’t believe this is what’s holding up that autopsy report,” he said. “This is a very unusual request. In my last 23 years as coroner, I’ve never been requested to provide medical records on a gunshot wound homicide case.”

McMorris said his office forwarded the medical records on the deceased’s brief visit to King’s Daughters Medical Center in Brookhaven, from which he was transferred to University of Mississippi Medical Center, where he died.

Tyler said the request is new to him, too.

“I have never been asked for that kind of stuff for a murder trial,” he said. “If I had been asked, I would have tried to provide it.”

Tyler said he and McMorris had not met to discuss the case or the missing documents.

Lincoln County District Attorney Dee Bates declined to comment for this story.

Anderson’s case will resume on Nov. 19.