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Judge drops dentist from wrongful arrest suit

The ruling says Dr. Richard Souviron's contract with the sheriff's office protects him from being sued over his opinion in a murder case.


© St. Petersburg Times, published June 29, 2000

DADE CITY -- A judge on Wednesday cleared a renowned forensic dentist from the lawsuit over the arrest of Dale Morris Jr., who was accused of killing 9-year-old Sharra Ferger in 1997 and jailed for four months before investigators determined he was the wrong man and set him free.

Dr. Richard Souviron -- a Coral Gables dentist who gained fame linking serial killer Ted Bundy to a Florida murder through a bite mark -- can't be sued for telling investigators Morris' teeth matched a bite mark found on Ferger's body because he was protected by his contract with the Pasco County Sheriff's Office, Circuit Judge Maynard Swanson ruled.

The same opinion of a second dentist, Dr. Kenneth Martin of Holiday, is also protected, Swanson ruled. But Martin will remain involved in the suit, the judge said, based on a separate claim that he might have made an error when he made or supervised the making of an impression of Morris' teeth.

Morris is suing Sheriff Lee Cannon claiming wrongful arrest. His attorney, A.R. "Chip" Mander, added Souviron and Martin to the case last year.

Morris was arrested in October 1997 after Martin told Cannon that Morris' teeth matched a bite mark on Ferger's body. Investigators flew to Wyoming to get a second opinion from a vacationing Souviron.

Cannon claims Souviron, in a late-night phone call, told him he was "positive" that Morris was the man who made the bite mark.

Souviron, in a deposition with Mander, said he didn't recall his exact words but said it was never made clear to him that his opinion was all that was needed for the arrest. He said he had consumed "a couple of drinks" before examining a photograph of the bite mark and then talking with the sheriff by telephone.

Souviron also said he kept a photograph of Ferger's body and used it in a presentation to a roomful of dentists at a conference, even though the case remains unsolved. He said he told the dentists that the mark was a poor one to try to make an identification from.

In Wednesday's hearing, attorney Helen Hauser argued there was plenty of case law protecting experts who offer opinions on behalf of law enforcement agencies and attorneys.

"You can't sue the expert for his opinions," Hauser argued. "You don't want to discourage these kinds of people for helping."

Swanson dismissed Souviron from the suit, but did not bar Mander from refiling against him if he can refine his claims against the dentist.

Martin's attorney, Howard Hunter, said he expected to gather more information on Martin's role and ask a judge to dismiss him from the suit as well.

Mander said that while the issues of the dentists' involvement remains, it was impossible to say when a trial in the suit against Cannon might be held.

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