Bryan Terry for NPR
Donna and Joe Turner have been fighting for 10 years to find answers to how their daughter, Chanda, died.
Donna and Joe Turner have been fighting for 10 years to find answers to how their daughter, Chanda, died. Bryan Terry for NPR
In Oklahoma, some families are trying to change the law to force the medical examiner's office to perform more autopsies. If they get their wish, this could be the first state in the country where families could appeal for a review of a questionable autopsy.
Photo Courtesy of the Turner family
Chanda Turner Photo Courtesy of the Turner family
Among the families are Donna and Joe Turner. For 10 years they've been fighting the Oklahoma medical examiner's office to find out what really happened to their daughter Chanda. But after finally getting an autopsy last year, they're still struggling with the office over an incomplete and inaccurate death certificate.
Correct death certificates are necessary for families to settle estates, insurance claims and bring murderers to justice.
Just like the Turner family, Martha Seabolt is also fighting to change the laws in Oklahoma as part of the Justice for the Dead organization. She believes her husband's death was a workplace accident. The Oklahoma Medical Examiner's office did not do an autopsy on her husband's body before making a determination on his cause of death.
In July, 2000, Chanda was found dead with a gunshot wound to her upper chest at the home she shared with her boyfriend. He told police he woke up around midnight and found her slumped over on the back steps, bleeding.
When the investigator from the medical examiner's office arrived at the home, police told him the boyfriend said Chanda was suicidal. The investigator released the body to a funeral home and no autopsy was performed.
But Chanda's parents never believed she killed herself, so they made it their mission to find out who shot her.
"We buried Chanda in the best vault, in the best casket and everything to try to preserve her body as much, because our goal was we were going to get that autopsy some day," Donna Turner said.
Nine years later, after hiring a former police officer to investigate the case, the Turners lawyer took more than 300 pages of documents to the District Attorney, who then ordered an autopsy.
The official report by the Oklahoma Medical Examiner's Office:
Oklahoma's new Chief Medical Examiner Collie Trant performed the autopsy and Robert Bux, a forensic pathologist from Colorado observed. They determined the death was a homicide, but the autopsy report and death certificate were never written up to say homicide because Trant was fired. He is suing for wrongful dismissal.
Another pathologist in the Medical Examiners office was handed the file but has refused to change the death certificate.
In March 2010, the family received the certificate with the following inaccuracies:
Date of Birth:
Date of Death:
Despite the bullet wound, the death certificate shows a vehicle was involved:
The cause of death has not been changed to "Homicide" and it shows there's no autopsy report even though an annotated diagram from the autopsy was attached to this document:
The report is unsigned and lists a Medical Examiner who is no longer with the office: