Burdines' medical expert has high-profile resume

FREMONT The medical expert who believes Craig Burdine was killed by an officer has a history of high
JACOB LAMMERS
May 24, 2010

 

FREMONT

The medical expert who believes Craig Burdine was killed by an officer has a history of high-profile cases.

Burdine, 37, of Oak Harbor died Aug. 11 after Sandusky County Sheriff's deputies shocked him three times with a Taser.

Dr. Michael Baden, director of the Medicolegal Investigations Unit of the New York State Police, contends Burdine died from "asphyxia as the result of a severe neck compression by one of the officers who restrained him."

Baden's report is in direct contrast with a ruling from Sandusky County Coroner Dr. John Wukie, who said Burdine's death was an accident and he died from "combined drug intoxication" and a "drug induced excited delirium."

Baden, former chief medical examiner of New York City, was involved in the O.J. Simpson trial and investigated John Belushi's death.

Baden was hired by Toledo attorney Jeffrey Nunnari to review the toxicology and final autopsy report.

Nunnari is representing Burdine's father, Craig Burdine, in a lawsuit filed last week in Sandusky County Common Pleas Court against Wukie.

"I thought it was an appropriate case to review," Baden said. "Most of the work I do is not nationally-known cases. When I get contacted I see if there is a miscarriage of justice, and I go from there."

Baden said homicide was an appropriate conclusion, given the reports and witness statements.

"My opinion was caused by his inability to breathe when he was restrained," Baden said. "That's homicide in my interpretation. That doesn't make it a crime necessarily." The district attorney would have to decide if criminal charges are forthcoming.

Baden said it's important that people are protected, especially in cases when police use excessive force.

"I think they're important because citizens have to assume that if a loved one dies there will be a fair assessment," Baden said.

Jess Burdine paid Baden about $7,500 for the preliminary report, a portion of which appeared in the lawsuit. He said he's impressed with Baden's credentials.

"If he did not feel that there was some injustice, he wouldn't waste his reputation on Craig Burdine," Jess Burdine said. "He's going to testify just to get the retainer money? That's insane. Apparently, the man believes in justice."

It is not clear what role Sandusky County prosecutor Tom Stierwalt will play. He did not return calls last week.

Teresa Grigsby of Toledo is representing the county in the case. She described Baden as a "celebrity," but declined to elaborate.

"Dr. Baden is entitled to his opinion," Grigsby said. "We do not believe there's any factual support for it."

Grigsby said she has a number of experts who will refute Baden's homicide conclusion.

"At the appropriate time in the litigation process, we'll support proof that is quite different from Dr. Baden's," Grigsby said.

In the lawsuit, Jess Burdine is asking the court to order a hearing to determine the appropriateness of Wukie's ruling, to order the coroner "to change his verdict to reflect the actual cause, manner and mode of Mr. Burdine's death to asphyxia by strangulation through the commission of a homicide" and to grant "any other relief as may be just and proper."

Grigsby said another lawsuit is expected to be filed against the county.

Jess Burdine said he plans to file a wrongful death lawsuit in the Sixth District Federal Court in Toledo in mid-July.

The incident that led to Burdine's death began when he "launched onto" a 32-year-old Fremont man during a party at a Sycamore Street home in Fremont, according to a police report. He then ran "into a few fences, damaged some vehicles and houses," police said.

Burdine fought with police and sheriff's deputies -- including trying to bite and kick them -- following his arrest, authorities said. Officers tried to subdue him by shocking him with a Taser three times.

Jail personnel called for an ambulance when Burdine began vomiting. He was believed to be intoxicated, according to the Fremont police report.

He was later pronounced dead at Fremont Memorial Hospital.

Dr. Michael Baden

*Credentials: Director of the Medicolegal Investigations Unit of the New York State Police, former chief medical examiner of New York City

*Television: Hosts "Autopsy: Postmortem with Dr. Baden"

*High profile cases: Sat on the defense for the O.J. Simpson trial and Phil Spector's murder trial; investigated the John F. Kennedy assassination, Martin Luther King Jr. assassination and John Belushi's death