BANGOR, Maine — World-renowned forensic pathologist Michael Baden didn’t hold back any gory details while relaying his experiences in forensic investigations to a Hollywood Casino conference room filled mostly with dentists and dentist’s assistants attending Saturday’s Concord Dental Seminar.
Baden has been consulted as an expert in high-profile cases involving O.J. Simpson, Kobe Bryant and actor Marlon Brando’s late son Christian. Baden also served as chairman on the Forensic Pathology Panel of the U.S. Congress Select Committee on Assassinations, which re-examined the shootings of President John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr.
The 45-year medical examiner has performed more than 20,000 autopsies and he shared details of some of the more memorable ones with the audience of dentists.
In 2008, Baden was called in to exhume the body of Joyce McLain, who was killed 32 years ago in East Millinocket. The 16-year-old Schenck High School sophomore was killed sometime around the night of Aug. 8, 1980. Her body was found two days later in a power line clearing about 200 feet from the school’s soccer fields. Her head and neck had been struck repeatedly with a blunt object.
The mysterious killing has drawn attention on television programs and in magazine articles ever since.
“It’s a sad case,” Baden said in his hotel room Saturday.
Dr. Henry Lee, who found fame during his work on the O.J. Simpson case, led the examination of McLain’s remains and found a few pieces of previously undiscovered trace evidence, according to Baden.
Baden said he couldn’t remember details about what he and Lee found but that they passed the evidence on to police.
“It isn’t that there aren’t suspects — they’ve got a number of suspects,” Baden said. “It’s up to the police to decide if there’s truly enough evidence to come to the conclusion of who caused her death.”
Nearly four years after the exhumation, police have yet to make an arrest in the case.
“I think they had certain suspicions at the time, and we discussed those suspicions,” Baden said, “It is up to the police and district attorney to determine if it’s sufficient to lead to an arrest.”
Baden said the focus of Saturday’s nearly seven-hour forensic course was to show how odontology relates to other aspects of forensics — from decomposition and rigor mortis to fatal injuries caused by guns, knives and baseball bats.
The course featured graphic crime scene photos, including several from the home where Simpson’s ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman were stabbed to death.
“We love vomitus,” Baden said while showing a picture of stomach contents taken from Nicole Brown Simpson’s stomach. “[It contains] precious little pieces of food that are important to us.”
The stomach contents were key to determining time of death of the victims in that case, he said.
Baden said forensic pathology has come under fire in recent years, especially after a 2009 National Academy of Science report criticized the “badly fragmented” field of forensic science.
After nearly half a century of forensic pathology work, Baden said he expects to see major shifts in the way pathologists and crime scene investigators do their work over the next few years.
“What’s next is we’re going to get more science into forensic science,” Baden said. “Much of what is done now in forensic science doesn’t really have a forensic basis.”
For example, he said, attempts to match hair samples from crime scenes will be replaced by drawing DNA from those samples for a far more accurate result.
Baden argued that more needs to be done to prevent pathologists from pushing for convictions in criminal cases, which sometimes can lead to putting the wrong suspect behind bars, he said. A large majority of pathologists are trained within law enforcement circles, meaning they can develop a way of thinking that leads to a bias in favor of prosecuting rather than defending.
“We’re going to try to get the bias out of forensic science,” Baden said.