Post Mortem: Death Investigation In America An NPR News Investigation in partnership with ProPublica and PBS Frontline looks at the nation's 2,300 coroner and medical examiner offices and finds a troubled system that buries its mistakes.
The New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator.
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Post Mortem: Death Investigation In America

Unlike what you see on CSI, many suspicious deaths aren't properly investigated.

Ernie Lopez hugs his daughter, Nikki Lopez. He was released from prison on March 2, 2012, in Amarillo, Texas, after serving nine years. Katie Hayes Luke for NPR hide caption

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Katie Hayes Luke for NPR

Shirley Ree Smith, whose prison sentence was commuted by California Gov. Jerry Brown, began creating greeting cards for her grandchildren while she was incarcerated. While she was out of custody after a series of legal appeals, until today, she still faced the possibility of returning to prison. Courtney Perry for NPR hide caption

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Courtney Perry for NPR

Shirley Ree Smith sits in the living room of her daughter's upstairs duplex in Alexandria, Minn. Smith is waiting to hear if California Gov. Jerry Brown will grant her clemency. "They say things happen for a reason. I'm not sure if I'll ever figure out a reason for all of this," she says. Courtney Perry for NPR hide caption

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Courtney Perry for NPR

Ernie Lopez hugs his daughter, Nikki Lopez, for the first time since 2009. Ernie was released from prison on March 2 in Amarillo, Texas, after nine years, while he awaits a new trial. Katie Hayes Luke/Katie Hayes Luke for NPR hide caption

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Katie Hayes Luke/Katie Hayes Luke for NPR

Colleagues of Renee Royak-Schaler at the University of Maryland School of Medicine paid for and conducted an autopsy that revealed that cancer had ravaged her body. Today, autopsies are conducted on just 5 percent of patients. Jenna Isaacson Pfueller/ProPublica hide caption

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Jenna Isaacson Pfueller/ProPublica

Ernie Lopez is serving a 60-year prison sentence for a crime he, and medical experts, said he didn't commit. Courtesy of Frontline hide caption

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Courtesy of Frontline

The Child Cases: Guilty Until Proved Innocent

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A forensic pathologist prepares for an autopsy at The New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator. John W. Poole/NPR hide caption

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John W. Poole/NPR

Television shows like CSI provide an unrealistic view of the technology available to death investigators. In this photo from a recent episode of CSI:NY, characters Det. Josephine "Jo" Danville (Sela Ward) confers with Dr. Sheldon Hawkes (Hill Harper) and Dr. Sid Hammerback (Robert Joy) in their lab. Sonja Flemming/CBS hide caption

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Sonja Flemming/CBS

A morphology technician at The New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator stores one of the bodies that is autopsied there. The office was created by the state legislature in 1972 replacing the county coroner system. John W. Poole/NPR hide caption

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John W. Poole/NPR