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Enter Dr. Baden

Melissa Topey • Jul 10, 2014 at 6:00 AM


The spotlight wasn't as bright as when he testified in the O.J. Simpson trial as famed forensic pathologist Dr. Michael Baden made his way inside a Sandusky County courtroom.

Baden testified Wednesday in front of a Sandusky County grand jury hearing evidence in the 2007 jailhouse death of Craig Burdine. 

As he's stated before when asked, and repeated, Baden said he told grand jurors Craig Burdine was the victim of a homicide. 

“My opinion is he died as I have said in my reports of restraint asphyxiation, excluding all other causes of death,” Baden told the Register outside the courthouse after he testified.

But that's not how Lucas County deputy coroner Cynthia Beisser saw it. She relied heavily on officers accounts of events in the early morning hours of Aug. 11, 2007, and determined Burdine's death was self-inflicted, caused by alcohol and drug intoxification and a condition known as excited delirium. 

It's not clear whether Beisser ever independently reviewed video surveillance from police cruiser and jail cameras. The video made available shows Craig Burdine to be just semi-conscious or already unconscious in every frame, contrary to information jail guards and Fremont police officers provided immediately after Craig Burdine died. Written statements they provided all matched in their descriptions that Burdine was being combative. 

Craig Burdine was already severely injured in a fight when police found him in a Sycamore Street neighborhood.  They canceled an initial ambulance call after recognizing Burdine when he allegedly kicked at an officer. 

Jess Burdine, Craig Burdine's father, said he was delighted Baden was finally called as a witness.

“You know he has some powerful testimony. I am sure he laid out a case of homicide,” Jess Burdine, 80, said.

Baden's testimony comes more than two months after the start of grand jury hearings, and after a parade of more than 40 witnesses, most, if not all of them, who gave second-hand accounts of what happened.  


Feds 'monitoring'

The New York state pathologist, who testified in numerous past celebrity trials including the deaths of John Belushi and Sid Viscious, was famous before the 1994 trial of O.J. Simpson for the murder of Simpson's ex-wife and an aquaintence in 1994. He's testified in thousands of cases and before numerous grand juries.

Baden testified for more than three hours, saying it was a fair exchange between him and Attorney General prosecutor Matt Donahue.

Jury members also asked their own questions and Baden said he noticed they were receptive to what he said.

“This was better than most communities where juries seemed to have had an agenda. There was no agenda here,” Baden said.

The case has become important to Baden, not only because it involved the death of a young man, but also because he hopes Sandusky County will review whether procedures need to be changed as to how investigation are conducted when there is a death of a person in custody.

In the Burdine case, no criminal investigation was conducted by local law enforcement after Craig Burdine died, even though the circumstances of his death required one be conducted. A deadly force review also would have been necessary, given Burdine was handcuffed and shackled and he was Tasered repeatedly by an officer just moments before he died. 

DeWine agreed to conduct a criminal investigation in August 2013, six years after the death after he was pressed for one by Jess Burdine and his family.

Another witness on Wednesday slipped in and out before he could be identified or asked for comment.

Baden said the previous witness was introduced to him as Montgomery County Coroner Kent Harshbarger.

Fremont police detective Dean Bliss was the third witness Wednesday. He said he testified about attending the autopsy conducted by Beisser.

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