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Court still waiting on autopsy report

One of only two medical examiners in the state could not appear in Lincoln County Circuit Court Monday to explain why the office in charge of autopsy reports can’t produce one for a year-old homicide.

Dr. J. Brent Davis had a conflict and could not appear in court before Judge Michael Taylor to explain why his final report in the examination of the late Billy Ray Thomas Jr. has not been completed. Taylor had demanded in a show cause letter Oct. 22 that Davis do one or the other — either show up or produce the report.

Eric Brown, the attorney for the Mississippi Department of Public Safety, explained Davis could do neither so the judge set a new date of Dec. 17 for either Davis to appear in person or the report to be filed.

Brown said “barring anything crazy” the report should be completed by then. Three autopsy reports are still ahead of Thomas’, he said.

“I would hope that it would be done. I think that’s a reasonable request,” he said. “I think it’s one that can be met, but I cannot foresee the future on this to tell you exactly what will happen in the next couple of months. I expect them to be done.”

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 was fatally shot and six others were wounded.

Taylor wants a fair and speedy trial for Anderson, who remains in Lincoln County Jail.

“There’s no one else who can deliver the thing that is being sought,” Taylor said. “And it is, giving whatever limitations the office has, the statutory responsibility of the medical examiner’s office to do that and if it is impossible to be done, then they can come and explain on the record why that is. All that’s important but the business of the court is to make sure people get fair and prompt trials.”

A Nov. 1 filing by Brown says Davis asked the Lincoln County coroner’s office for certain documents around the time of his Nov. 28, 2017, examination of Thomas’ body, but did not receive the paperwork until Oct. 30, three days after a newspaper story on the show cause order published.

Brown told Taylor that Davis could not finalize the report until he received the information from the deputy coroner, and Davis understood the consequences of sending an incomplete report.

“Does he understand what it’s like to wait for a year in jail and not have your case even brought to trial because you’re waiting for a report?” Taylor asked.

Lincoln County Coroner Clay McMorris told The Daily Leader earlier this month the request for medical records from his office on a gunshot wound case was “unusual.” Thomas was treated briefly in Lincoln County then transferred to University of Mississippi Medical Center where he died.

Brown admitted Monday the year delay in the paperwork from the coroner’s office may not have changed the outcome of when the reports will be ready.

“If the deputy coroner would have gotten the information four days after they asked for it I don’t know what could have changed in as far as the number of cases they have to deal with,” he said.

Davis completes cases in the order they come in and the number of cases ahead of Thomas would not have changed, Brown said.

“No patient is more important than any other patient therefore he’s going to do them in the order they come,” Brown said, explaining patients in this case are deceased. “He feels if you start shuffling these around for different counties it will serve a precedent and will allow certain counties to start asking for certain patients to be moved up in the rotation.”

Brown said the two medical examiners are doing the work of 12 and “spinning plates as much as they can.”

“They try to recruit, then a story like this one comes out and Google searches make it harder for them to find doctors” who will do the job, he said.