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Oklahoma ranks low in autopsies performed

About 3 percent of people who die in Oklahoma are autopsied, a number that falls below the national average. The state's new chief medical examiner said increased staff in 2013 will help boost that number.
BY ZEKE CAMPFIELD Published: March 31, 2013

Joe and Donna Turner were certain their daughter's shooting death in 2000 was not self-inflicted, but without a death certificate saying as much they found it impossible to persuade law enforcement to consider other possibilities.

No autopsy was conducted at the time, but after financing a private autopsy in 2009, the Elmore City couple were finally able to have Chanda Turner's manner of death changed from suicide to undetermined.

The change was enough to inspire Garvin County Sheriff Larry Rhodes to open a homicide investigation a dozen years after Chanda Turner's death.

Rhodes, as well as Tim Kuykendall, who was the county's district attorney when she died, said they believed the death was suspicious but that they were hamstrung by the medical examiner's report.

“When you take a case to trial and you present it to a jury, and you ask them to find someone guilty and your own star witness says, well, I'm not even sure there's a homicide — you won't win a case like that,” Tim Kuykendall, district attorney at the time of her death, told The Oklahoman in December.

‘Risky' autopsy behavior

Data provided by the Oklahoma medical examiner's office reveals that autopsies are performed in only about 3 percent of the state's reported deaths.

A report by the National Center for Health Statistics shows the national autopsy rate decreased from 19.1 percent of all deaths in 1972 to 8.5 percent in 2007.

Oklahoma was one of several states identified in a 2009 report by the nonprofit group ProPublica as engaging in “risky” autopsy behavior.

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