World-Known Expert Performs Third Autopsy on Gerald Washington - KPLC 7 News, Lake Charles, Louisiana

World-Known Expert Performs Third Autopsy on Gerald Washington

March 10, 2007
Reported By: Lee Peck

Two days after being exhumed, the body of Westlake Mayor-Elect Gerald Washington has undergone an independent third autopsy at the request of his family. Performing this latest autopsy is well-known forensic pathologist Cyril Wecht out of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 7 News spoke to him just hours after he examined the body.

"Mr. Washington has a gunshot wound to the chest anteriorly and an exit wound to the chest posteriorally," said Dr. Wecht. "Based upon the anatomic location of the gunshot wounds, there would have been sufficient damage to vital structures -- most likely the heart and the lungs."

Dr. Wecht says there was no other evidence of trauma or injury to Washington's body. He is now conducting microscopic examinations of tissues samples taken from the body. Dr. Wecht admits this case is a tough one, Washington having died more than two months ago with his body already undergone two autopsies.

"There's no question that findings are offuscated by virtue of the actual dissection itself, then you've got embalming procedures, which do not help. And then you've got some post-mortem changes," explained Dr. Wecht.  

Dr. Wecht noted the body was well preserved and says the unusual circumstances surrounding Washington's death now join a rare few. "Third autopsies, I would say, are very rare... second autopsies not so rare," said Dr. Wecht. "I've only done a handful, less than a handful of third autopsies over the years."

Results from his latest case are still pending comparison to investigation findings. Information Dr. Wecht and the Washington family have requested from Louisiana State Police.

"So far as autopsy reports, police reports, scene investigative reports, photographs, forensic science criminalistics exams, and so on... I have received nothing, absolutely nothing," said Dr. Wecht. "This information is very important. You cannot arrive and should not attempt to propose opinions of a definitive nature unless you have that kind of background information."

Louisiana State Police investigators tell 7 News because this is still considered an on-going case, they will not be releasing any information until it is officially closed. They say the timeline for that is within the next couple of weeks. 

Meanwhile, you'll remember that water found inside the grave vault. Washington's family says it appeared suspicious and sent off a sample to Pittsburgh. Dr. Wecht is testing it to see what it is, and if it could have caused the discoloration found on the casket.

Still no word yet on when the body will be returned for reburial.

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