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Baden disappointed

Melissa Topey • Jul 24, 2014 at 10:03 PM


Dr. Michael Baden was disappointed when he saw the news come across his e-mail that a grand jury reviewing the 2007 jailhouse death of Craig Burdine found no criminal wrongdoing in the events leading up to his death on Aug. 7, 2007.

Baden reviewed the autopsy report and other results and findings from Lucas County deputy coroner Cynthia Beisser, who conducted the autopsy. He also reviewed surveillance video and other reports and witness statements.

Baden determined Burdine's death was a homicide. He suffocated — according to Baden — due to compression of his airway and fractured cartilage in his neck.

“My opinion has been the same this many years,” Baden said. The injured cartilage points clearly to the cause of death and it's confirmed in the emergency room doctor's report. 

Baden was a guest at noon today on "Between the Lines Live" at sanduskyregister.com. 

Baden would not discuss his thoughts on the grand jury finding the opinion of Dr. Kent Harshbarger as the more likely reason for Burdine's death.

Harshbarger's opinion was that Burdine's death was caused by an irregular heartbeat from an enlarged heart that was strained by drug use and the exertion of the events leading up to his death.

Beisser determined Burdine died as a result of acute combined drug intoxication that brought on excited delirium. It's not clear what information she reviewed prior to making that call. O'Connell and another Fremont police officer attended the autopsy and talked with her while she performed it, Beisser said during a 2010 deposition. 

Baden refused to speculate why local officials opted out of investigation, or what led to Beisser's inaccurate conclusions and Harshbarger's conflicting finding the injuries did not contribute to his death.

“Forensic pathologists can disagree," he said. "(But) it is unusual to disagree about a fractured windpipe. That affects the ability to breath.”

What killed Burdine seems pretty straightforward to Baden.

"This is typical restraint asphyxia," Baden said.

Baden sits on a five-panel review board in New York that reviews all deaths in New York prisons. He's reviewed prison deaths for the state since the 1970s after the Attica prison riots. 

"We found you can not depend on local people to conduct independent investigations," Baden said.

Local authorities — the Fremont police and the county sheriff's office — both neglected to conduct any criminal investigation after Burdine died. Police chief Tim Wiersm and Sheriff Kyle Overmyer have refused to provide an explanation why no investigation was ordered. 

O'Connell told Jess Burdine the day Craig was killed there would be a criminal investigation, and he told the Register earlier this year he did conduct a thorough investigation, but in a 2010 court deposition he acknowledged he wasn't investigating Burdine's death. He was only reviewing the involvement of the Fremont police officers, he testified, and he cleared them after reading their prepared statements. 

He did not officially speak to or ask the officers or guards any questions as part of his review, O'Connell testified, but likely had "off-the-record" conversations with them. 

O'Connell has politely refused to comment on the discrepancies, or what he might have discussed with the eye-witnesses that he kept from the record. 

It appears likely that DeWine's investigators also never questioned or interviewed the eyewitnesses. DeWine agreed in August 2013 — six years after Craig Burdine died — to conduct a criminal investigation. The Bureau of Criminal Investigation, an arm of the AG's office, in a report to lead prosecutor Matt Donahue, stated they relied on depositions from the witnesses from a previous civil case. It's not clear if any of the eyewitnesses were ever subpoenaed, or ever invoked the Fifth Amendment right to not testify. 

Some testimony in the depositions conflicts with other information prepared immediately after Burdine died, and with video surveillance from the jail and from police cruiser dash cameras. 

The deputies and guards prepared statements immediately after the death that all contended Burdine was being combative. It appears clear in the surveillance video, however, that Burdine is just semi-conscious or already unconscious through every frame of the encounter with police, and would have been physically incapable of being combative.

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