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Disclosure problem found in homicide case involving troubled doctor

Michael McClureDr. Thomas Gill at the Jackson County Medical Examiner’s Office in Kansas City, Mo. in 2004.

The Solano County District Attorney’s Office for years kept what it knew about Dr. Thomas Gill’s controversial forensic pathology career on a pair of computer discs.

Prosecutors were supposed to turn over copies of the discs to defense attorneys in any case that Gill performed the autopsy.

The files existed to ensure those involved in criminal prosecutions had all the potentially exculpatory evidence that police investigators uncovered.

Over the past two decades, Gill, 67, has repeatedly resurrected his career after autopsy errors undermined criminal cases and caused misdiagnosed causes of death. The California State Bar called the doctor “incompetent” in a 2006 report on a bungled homicide investigation in Sonoma County.

But the Solano County District Attorney’s Office has found that information sharing did not always take place.

“In at least one case, the discs were not disclosed,” Don du Bain, Solano County district attorney, said.

Last year, a jury convicted Lavell McGary, an Antioch man, of killing Ronnel Rucks in June 2008. County records show Gill performed an autopsy on Rucks, who died of multiple gunshot wounds.

McGary’s attorney, John Mendenhall, did not receive information about Gill’s professional history until February, as his client awaited sentencing.

Mendenhall, who works for Solano County’s public defender, has filed a motion requesting a new trial for McGary. That filing is based in large part on the prosecutor’s failure to disclose information about Gill.

Mendenhall did not return calls for comment Tuesday.

Du Bain said the district attorney’s office as a whole is responsible for the mistake, not Barry Taira, the prosecutor. Taira is not part of the homicide unit and was unaware of Gill’s past errors.

“The procedures that were in place in our office were not systematic enough to ensure he received that information,” du Bain said.

Police and prosecutors in Solano and Yolo counties are reviewing dozens of homicide cases that Gill worked on since 2007.

The doctor did not respond to an interview request Tuesday.

The counties’ inquiries come in response to reporting on Gill’s autopsy work published in February as part of a joint collaboration between California Watch, ProPublica, Frontline, NPR and the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley.

The collaboration’s reporting detailed how Gill was fired or resigned from forensic pathology jobs in Indianapolis, Northern California and Kansas City, Mo., following controversies over the competency of his autopsies.

It is unknown how much of Gill’s career was detailed in the Solano County district attorney’s files. Jeff Kauffman, a prosecutor in the office working on the review of the doctor’s autopsies, said he could not provide any details about the information on the discs.

“We had a fairly large discovery package on Dr. Gill,” Kauffman said. “We’ve always had that, but a few things have been added to that along the way.”

Gill worked for Forensic Medical Group Inc., a private autopsy firm based in Fairfield that contracts with more than a dozen jurisdictions across Northern California.

The firm cut its ties with Gill at the end of last year, explaining in a written statement that it no longer had enough cases to justify employing the doctor.

 

Filed under: Public Safety, Daily Report

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