October 5, 2007
By David Angier
The News Herald
The medical examiner who performed the second autopsy on Martin Lee Anderson’s body said today that his opinion as to the cause of death was a historical first because the situation surrounding Anderson’s death was one-of-a-kind.
Tampa Medical Examiner Vernard Adams said sickle cell trait played no — or little — role in Anderson’s death. His opinion conflicts with two state experts who testified Thursday that Anderson would have lived through his encounter with boot camp drill instructors if he did not have the hereditary blood disorder.
“What you see in the videotape,” Adams said, referring to a recording of the encounter between Anderson and the drill instructors on Jan. 5, 2006, “is sufficient to kill someone without sickle cell trait.”
Adams said his 12-hour second autopsy of Anderson’s body was not as informational as the videotape. The autopsy was mainly to rule out other potential causes of death and his opinion was not bolstered by anything he discovered in the examination.
“The actions of the guards, especially at the end of the tape, caused his death,” Adams said.
“Are you saying they smothered this young man to death?” defense attorney Waylon Graham asked him.
“Yes,” Adams replied.
Former boot camp drill instructors Henry Dickens, Charles Enfinger, Patrick Garrett, Raymond Hauck, Charles Helms Jr., Henry McFadden Jr. and Joseph Walsh II, along with former camp nurse Kristin Schmidt, face charges of aggravated manslaughter of a child and 30 years in prison each if convicted as charged.
They’re accused of culpable negligence in 14-year-old Anderson’s death. Anderson died Jan. 6, 2006, after collapsing during his initiation into the camp.
The trial, held inside the Bay County Juvenile Justice Courthouse on 11th Street, began
Wednesday and is expected to end Oct. 12 or 13. Testimony resumes at 8:30 a.m. Monday.
Defense attorney Bob Sombathy said deaths from exertional sickle cell trait collapse are rare, but the number of recorded deaths by spasms caused by smelling salts is “one” — Anderson’s.
“This boot camp was the only place in the world where ammonia capsules were used in this way,” Adams said. “So where else could such a death occur?”
“So if your interpretation of the video is wrong, then your cause of death is wrong,” Sombathy said.
“Yes,” Adams said.
Graham asked Adams about the pressure he was under to come up with an alternative opinion than the highly criticized one offered by Panama City Medical Examiner Charles Siebert Jr.
Adams said he was aware of the way Siebert was “vilified” and said, “I wouldn’t wish that on anybody.”
Adams said he was not motivated or pressured into a finding that would keep him from being criticized. He said he expected criticism and objected to Graham’s term “safe opinion.”
“No matter what I opined, I would be criticized from one quarter or another,” he said.