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Doctor: Teen didn't die because of sickle cell

After observing the second autopsy of the youth who died after a boot camp beating, he contradicts the initial finding.

By KEVIN GRAHAM
Published March 14, 2006


TAMPA - A high-profile doctor hired to observe the second autopsy of 14-year-old Martin Lee Anderson went on national television Monday night and said the teen did not die of sickle cell trait, contradicting the first medical examiner's findings.

Dr. Michael Baden gave Fox News' host Greta Van Susteren the only public statement that emerged after the 12-hour autopsy of the teen who died after a beating by guards at a Panama City boot camp.

Hillsborough County Medical Examiner Vernard Adams, who conducted the autopsy, released no information about what he found Monday.

Shortly after the autopsy ended at 9:30 p.m., attorneys for the boy's family said results would remain secret until an 8 a.m. news conference today.

Dale Landry, a state NAACP officer, said the family's attorney asked that the findings not be shared with the public immediately.

"The word from the lawyers is that they are encouraged based on the second autopsy," Landry said, declining to elaborate.

Martin's body was exhumed last week and brought to Tampa as part of Hillsborough County State Attorney Mark Ober's investigation into the death.

Ober, appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush to look into the case, said the full investigation will take months to complete.

Even before the second autopsy and Baden's public statement, Martin's family remained certain that he died because of the beating, not sickle cell trait, as ruled by Bay County Medical Examiner Charles Siebert.

"My baby was beaten, tortured and killed in a boot camp," the teen's mother, Gina Jones, said before the autopsy. "All I want is justice for the ones that are responsible."

She said the guards who beat her son should be punished. So, Jones said, should the nurse, who appeared to be standing by and doing nothing.

"She could have stopped it," Jones said.

The Sickle Cell Disease Association of America Inc., based in Baltimore, also disputes Siebert's autopsy report. The group issued a statement that called Siebert's finding "completely baseless."

Frank Reddick, chief operating officer for the sickle cell association's Florida office, said that one in 10 African-Americans has the sickle cell trait and doesn't know it. They go on to live healthy, normal lives, he said.

"We're saddened that sickle cell has been associated with this death," Reddick said.

Complications from having the trait tend to be minor, Reddick said. Someone flying in an airplane or climbing a mountain may have difficulty breathing because of the high altitude. But the association has no "medical proof" that the trait causes death, he said.

Martin's mother was convinced of that already.

Early in the day Monday, she walked with trepidation toward the television cameras outside the medical examiner's office, then turned toward one of her attorneys. "Can I show them the pictures?" Jones asked him.

She pulled two photographs from a blue folder and held them up, side by side. The one in her left hand showed Martin, halfway smiling and posing for his mother, the day before she dropped him off at boot camp. The second picture showed how Jones said Martin ended up after just two hours there: lying in a casket.

"A dear family has been robbed of a precious child," said the Rev. Charles S. McKenzie Jr., with the Florida Rainbow PUSH Coalition. "This is not about black and white. This is about right and wrong. Human suffering goes deeper than skin."

About 50 demonstrators joined Martin's family at the medical examiner's office in Tampa, demanding answers in the teen's death. Florida NAACP president Adora Obi Nweze drove to Tampa from Miami to lead the rally, called "Resurrection for Justice."

The crowd included community activists Connie Burton, member of the International People's Democratic Uhuru Movement, and Michelle Patty, who acted as spiritual guide to Lisa Wilkins, whose two sons died after a hit-and-run accident involving dance teacher Jennifer Porter.

"Our concern is that we get a truth," Obi Nweze said. "We have reason to doubt our state based on what has happened in Panama City."

Demonstrators began arriving at the medical examiner's office on Morgan Street before 8 a.m. Many stayed through the warm afternoon, beyond sunset and after the street lights had come on. They wanted to know for themselves what doctors had discovered.

Witnessing the autopsy was Baden, former chief medical examiner in New York City. Martin Anderson's family hired Baden to be there. Because Baden doesn't have a Florida license to perform autopsies, he could only watch and give input.

Baden headed a forensic panel that reinvestigated the deaths of President John F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Baden has also been popularized through features on the HBO series Autopsy.

He appeared on the steps of the medical examiner's office briefly Monday afternoon, wearing green scrubs, then just as quickly disappeared back inside. When the autopsy was completed, he walked out wearing a dark suit and red tie, then he drove away.

"Martin Anderson is going to tell us what happened today," Benjamin Crump, an attorney for the teen's family, said before the autopsy. "We believe completely that we are going to get answers."

--Kevin Graham can be reached at 813 226-3433 or kgraham@sptimes.com

[Last modified March 14, 2006, 00:54:19]


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