FAIRFIELD — An accused cop killer was in court Tuesday, but the focus of his brief hearing was something altogether different.
At issue was the growing controversy in the Sheriff’s Office and the courthouse about 37 autopsies done in homicide cases. That controversy came to light because of questions raised by defense attorneys for the Fairfield man accused of strangling and raping a 13-year-old foster child.
The deputy public defender for Henry A. Smith, wants a judge to review more than 1,000 pages of documents relating to events that led to the termination of the doctor who performed autopsies on Vallejo police Officer James Capoot, 13-year-old Genelle Conway-Allen and many other homicide victims, including two Vacaville men authorities allege were shot and killed by Richard R. Calkins in 2010.
Smith is accused of fatally shooting Capoot after a November 2011 bank robbery.
The investigation into Dr. Susan Hogan surfaced when the lawyers for Conway-Allen’s accused killer got a copy of an email Hogan sent to the District Attorney’s Office before an arrest in the girl’s killing, claiming that the girl’s death may have occurred accidentally during consensual sex. The email included the caveat, “just between you and me,” which infuriated defense attorneys, who did not learn of the email until seven months after it was sent.
Another email by Hogan to the District Attorney’s Office explained the recent decision she made not to testify at the upcoming Calkins’ jury trial was fueled by being “fired out of the blue for no reason.”
Sheriff Thomas Ferrara has refused to comment on Hogan’s claim of being fired and Sheriff’s Office officials who have repeatedly said Hogan “retired in December 2013.”
Prosecutors in the Conway-Allen murder case said in a recent court filing that FBI and Fairfield police investigators felt frustration over “pushback” from Hogan and were “concerned about (her) autopsy procedures.” In addition, during a February 2013 meeting between top Sheriff’s Office staff and prosecutors, it was revealed that Sheriff’s Office staff were conducting an “internal evaluation” of Hogan’s work and her “suitability to remain as primary pathologist for the Sheriff’s Office.”
The evaluation ended sometime before Sept. 16, 2013, when the Hogan email was provided to defense attorneys.
Last week in Calkins’ case, Judge Donna Stashyn completed a review of more than 1,000 pages of documents relating to Hogan that were provided by county attorneys in request to a subpoena. Stashyn ruled that most of the documents would remain confidential but she gave prosecutor Karen Jensen a thick sheath of documents that might affect several pending criminal cases, including the Calkins case.
Jensen is also prosecuting Smith for the Capoot killing. She revealed Tuesday, after spending part of her weekend reviewing the newly obtained documents about Hogan, that at least four pending murder cases may be flawed by problems with Hogan’s autopsies and her other work.
“I feel uncomfortable sitting on these materials,” Jensen said at Tuesday’s hearing of a package of copies of documents about Hogan that she handed over to Smith’s defense attorney and to Judge Peter B. Foor, the judge in Smith’s case.
Foor promptly ordered nobody to copy the documents and reminded all parties in the Smith case to abide by a standing gag order. Foor’s review of the documents is pending and several other judges are expected to make similar reviews in the upcoming weeks.
Jensen said some of the documents about Hogan’s autopsies and related work revealed substandard work, interference with police investigations and having sometimes provided law enforcement authorities with inaccurate information.
Hogan’s personal attorney, who has attended several recent hearings about the documents, told Foor her client has never seen the documents reviewed by Stashyn and Jensen.
Questions about Hogan’s quality of work and how it may affect pending criminal cases are echoing revelations three years ago about Hogan’s predecessor in the Sheriff’s Office – Dr. Thomas Gill. District Attorney Donald A. du Bain in 2011 announced that at least 27 homicide cases were going to be reviewed in the wake of concerns about questionable autopsies done by Gill.
The reviews turned up nothing prompting any changes in any of the homicide cases. The reviews were done by Hogan.
Reach Jess Sullivan at 427-6919 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jsullivandr.