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June 8, 2014

Backlogged autopsy reports prolong families' grief


The state’s chief medical examiner now says problems are so severe that possible homicides are being missed. Prosecutors say court cases are sometimes delayed, and some experts are increasingly concerned backlogs could result in unequal justice, as long-delayed cases are back-burnered.

“We’ve had delays in charging certain cases because we didn’t have their results in timely fashion,” former Middlesex district attorney Gerry Leone said. “Time is very rarely the friend of the prosecutor, whether you’re investigating a case or you’re prosecuting it.”

From 2011 to 2013, the number of death certificates waiting completion skyrocketed from 58 to 947. Those delays were driven in large part by report wait times that more than quadrupled after the state Medical Examiner’s Office went forward with a plan to send all its toxicology samples to the State Crime Laboratory, which had just shut two facilities following scandals.

Such management decisions are rarely scrutinized because the Medical Examiner’s sole oversight comes from an unpaid advisory commission that was unable to muster a quorum from 2011 through 2013. Five of the 13 appointed positions on the commission are vacant.

Another reason for delays is that the Medical Examiner’s office has only 10 medical examiners for a population that warrants 17, according to the National Association of Medical Examiners. And despite promises by state officials in 2008 to better fund the office after a series of scandals, its budget today is even smaller than during that time period.

Stalled court cases and uncollected insurance policies that require a death certificate are two results, but for thousands of families, the delays also prolong their grief.


Bio-safety officer Kimberly Boleza met security consultant Richard Parker in 2002. Boleza had a graduate degree and a promising career; Parker was a divorced father of two and Boston Fire Department lieutenant who had searched the World Trade Center rubble after 9-11. The couple married in 2005.

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