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Indy autopsies by coroner fired in Chicago reviewed

July 24, 2018

An out-of-state consultant will review the work in Indiana of a part-time forensic pathologist who was fired in Chicago last year after his work was called into question.

Dr. John E. Cavanaugh was fired from the Cook County, Illinois, medical examiner’s office in November after an internal review found he had “botched autopsies,” including one where he “failed to recognize homicide,” the Chicago Sun-Times reported in May.

Cavanaugh also worked part-time for the coroner’s office in Marion County during the 10 months he worked for the Cook County medical examiner.

Cavanaugh has previously attributed the problems that led to his dismissal in Chicago to his struggling to master the county’s computer system.

The Marion County coroner’s office conducted an internal review “of a number of Dr. Cavanaugh’s cases” after learning of his issues in Chicago, “but none contained errors that would significantly alter the cause and manner of death,” said Alfie Ballew, chief deputy coroner.

The Marion County coroner’s office is still reviewing documents supplied by Cook County regarding Cavanaugh, the Sun-Times reported.

An external review of Cavanaugh’s Indiana cases is expected to start within a month. The review by Ohio-based Dr. Kent Harshbarger will include 15 pending criminal cases chosen by the Marion County prosecutor, and will involve case files containing the autopsy report, notes, diagrams, photographs, sketches and slides of tissue sections.

Cavanaugh remains employed by the Marion county coroner and continues working on cases part-time, the Indianapolis Star reported. Ballew said Cavanaugh’s work is under direct supervision.

“For years, his work has been supervised by another pathologist,” she said. “He’s not at that level where everything he says goes.”

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