December 18, 2017
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Convicted murderers seek new trials over inability to question Maine medical examiner’s previous firing

By Judy Harrison, BDN Staff

Two men imprisoned for separate murders are asking the Maine Supreme Judicial Court to overturn their convictions because defense attorneys weren’t allowed to cross-examine Maine’s medical examiner about his termination from a prior job or his testimony at a trial out of state.

Attorneys for Keith Coleman, 30, of Garland and Abdirahman Huessin Haji-Hassan, 26, of Portland both argued in their briefs that Dr. Mark Flomenbaum’s 2007 firing from his job as chief medical examiner in Massachusetts was information jurors needed to judge his credibility. Lawyers for both men also said jurors should have known that a Connecticut judge found Flomenbaum’s testimony as an expert witness not credible.

Justices will hear oral arguments Wednesday in Coleman’s appeal and on Thursday in Haji-Hassan’s appeal. Both men seek new trials.

Coleman is serving life sentences for the Dec. 20, 2014, strangulation deaths of his girlfriend, Christina Sargent, 36, and her children, 8-year-old Destiny Sargent and 10-year-old Duwayne Coke. Coleman also was sentenced to 20 years in prison for sexually assaulting the girl. He was convicted a year ago by a Penobscot County jury.

Haji-Hassan is serving a 39-year sentence in the November 2014 shooting death of Richard Lobor, 23, of Portland in a Brighton Avenue apartment. He was convicted Dec. 12, 2016 by a Cumberland County jury.

The challenge to the medical examiner’s credibility was one of about half a dozen arguments made in the briefs but the only one argued by attorneys for both men.

The Maine attorney general’s office provided information about Flomenbaum to the defense teams prior to the trials.

Flomenbaum, who performed the autopsy on Destiny Sargent and Lobor, was fired as chief medical examiner in Massachusetts on Aug. 1, 2007, after his office misplaced a body and for a host of mechanical and procedural breakdowns in that office, according to a wrongful termination lawsuit Flomenbaum filed and eventually lost.

He came to work in Maine in January 2013 as the deputy medical examiner, then replaced Dr. Margaret Greenwald as chief medical examiner the following year when she retired.

Prosecutors argued in their briefs that the medical examiner’s work history as an administrator had no bearing on his work in Maine as a pathologist performing autopsies.

Prosecutors also argued that jurors did not need to hear about a Connecticut judge’s rejection of Flomenbaum’s opinion about how a child died in that state since it was unrelated to either Maine case. Flomenbaum was serving as Maine’s chief medical examiner at the time.

Flomenbaum declined to comment Tuesday on the pending cases.

Coleman’s attorney also argued that the state did not prove the elements of the gross sexual assault charge, that there was an inadequate chain of custody for the admission of a sexual assault kit taken from the girl, and that the aggravating factors the judge applied at sentencing we not proved by clear and convincing evidence.

In the Haji-Hassan case, attorneys also argued that the judge improperly instructed jurors about under what circumstances they could interpret the defendant’s arrest in Minneapolis.

The is no timetable under which the justices issue decisions.

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