EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

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June 8, 2014

Backlogged autopsy reports prolong families' grief

In March 2013, Kimberly Parker, 45, was walking her beloved pair of golden retrievers when something went wrong. Her husband Richard told police he found her face down in the snow outside their East Bridgewater house and called 911. She was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital.

The hospital and a preliminary autopsy found no obvious signs of how she died.

But Parker’s family immediately suspected Parker’s husband, who is awaiting trial on charges of assault to murder Parker in December 2011, 15 months before her death. The Plymouth County District Attorney’s Office confirmed Parker’s death is under investigation.

Today, Parker’s family still doesn’t know how she died. More than a year later, the state has yet to produce toxicology and autopsy reports that national standards say should have been delivered within 90 days.

Richard Parker’s attorney, Gerald Noonan, denies his client had anything to do with his wife’s death. He said the delayed reports are allowing Kimberly Parker’s sister, Stephanie Deeley, to slander Parker.

“There is absolutely no medical evidence at all to support her allegations,” Noonan said.

And that’s true without a final autopsy report, a fact that frustrates Deeley.

“It’s a terrible burden to live with, to spend every day wondering if someone took her, and to extend that burden is just unconscionable,” Deeley said.

Kimberly Parker’s family is one of many waiting for answers. As of early May, autopsy reports on 1,121 deaths had been delayed at least three months, the time period after which they’re considered backlogged. The Medical Examiner’s Office said it did not have more detailed information about how long those cases had been waiting for attention.

MURDERS MISSED?

Many lives have been put on hold because of the state medical examiner’s inability to process death investigations in a timely way. While state officials cite underfunding as a key reason, the New England Center for Investigative Reporting found questionable management decisions and a pattern of lax oversight contributing to the delays.

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