View Mobile Site

Deputy DA says ‘politics’ almost let killer walk

Text Size: Small Large Medium
POSTED December 21, 2017 1:20 a.m.

Did San Joaquin County Sheriff Steve Moore’s internal office politics nearly help a killer walk free of a Halloween murder in Manteca back in 2011?
According to a letter from San Joaquin County Deputy District Attorney Sherri Adams – now the chief deputy – to Moore in January of 2013, the withholding of the services of the county’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Bennet Omalu, allowed the defense attorney for Dawson McGehee to introduce enough doubt as to the prosecution’s timeline that some on the jury actually had reservations as to moving forward with a guilty verdict.
McGehee was eventually convicted of murder for stabbing his mother to death on Oct. 30, 2011 – leaving her body to be discovered by Manteca Fire Department personnel doing a welfare check after a family member contacted authorities after becoming concerned that she hadn’t talked to her.
But because Omalu was not notified of the request from the Manteca Police Department to visit the crime scene in order to determine the date and time of death of Mrs. McGehee, according to Adams’ letter, the defense was able to introduce the possibility that she was alive on Oct. 31 and therefore somebody other than her son must have killed her.
“My concern is that Detective Miller recognized the need for Dr. Omalu to be called to the scene to examine the body and make a determination as to when the victim was killed based on the condition of the body when discovered,” Adams wrote. “Unfortunately, when Detective Tony Souza called to make such request Lt. Angeli informed him that Dr. Omalu would not be called to the scene.
“Dr. Omalu was never informed of the case, nor the request for him to visit the scene.”
The muzzling of Omalu became a political lightning rod earlier this month when he and the county’s only other forensic pathologist resigned from their positions citing interference on behalf of Moore in investigations and the withholding of information from them both that prevented from their effectively doing their jobs as medical doctors.
Both doctors have said they would rescind their resignations as long the county separated the coroner’s office from Moore’s authority – as the elected Sherriff/Coroner of San Joaquin County he has the legal authority to determine the manner of death in coroner cases – and the request has gained traction and support across the legal community.
Some of San Joaquin County’s most accomplished defense attorneys have submitted a letter to the Board of Supervisors calling for the department to be autonomous, as has the San Joaquin County District Attorney’s office, which is also investigating the allegations that Omalu and Dr. Susan Parson made in a series of memorandums that were released after they announced they would be leaving the county early next year.
“I hope that in writing this letter it brings to your attention how the failure to have the Forensic Pathologist come to the scene can have an affect on the prosecution of some cases,” Adams wrote. “I can appreciate how difficult it would be to require a Forensic Pathologist (to) go to each and every homicide scene and view the body before it is removed and refrigerated.
“However, the established standards of forensic science and medicine should not be a matter of dispute when the lead detective recognizes the need for the expertise of a Forensic Pathologist at the scene, especially in suspicious or unusual cases like this one.”
Adams’ letter said that it was, ironically, Omalu that helped secure the guilty verdict by retaining and photographing the “gastric content of the victim at the autopsy” that allowed him to determine when she last ate and offer an opinion – something that prosecutors were able to use to pinpoint the time she must have been killed.
Even though the opinion was enough to help secure a verdict in the case, it wasn’t without controversy of its own.
“Based on the prolonged post-mortem interval, and the body being refrigerated before autopsy, Dr. Omalu’s ability to perform forensic pathological analysis to ascertain the time of death was significantly impaired,” Adams wrote. “These issues were explored with Dr. Omalu on cross examination by the Defense Attorney in an effort to discredit his opinion as to the date and time of death.
“The jury told me that they found it unacceptable that such a request was denied.”
The letter was written during the tenure of James P. Willett as the county’s District Attorney.
A phone call for comment from Moore on the letter was not returned.

To contact reporter Jason Campbell email or call 209.249.3544.

Commenting is not available.

Commenting not available.

Please wait ...