The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist is the story of an outrageous scientific fraud was perpetrated by the justice system of Mississippi, leaving a trail of victims in it’s wake. In 2008, Kennedy Brewer finally walked out of a courtroom a free man 16 years after being wrongly accused of a sexual assault and murder. He served 13 years on death row. Likewise, Levon Brooks served 16 years for a rape and murder he didn’t commit.
In 2001 DNA evidence proved that Kennedy Brewer had not committed the murder he was accused of. Despite that fact, he remained in prison for 5 more years awaiting retrial. The work by the Innocence Project which exonerated Brewer eventually freed Levon Brooks as well. Furthermore, it lead to the book The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist which we are discussing here. As in previous cases, I listened to the audiobook as opposed to reading the print version.
As I listened, I grew more and more outraged at the injustice that was unfolding before my ears. I was watching as two men, wrongly convicted of murder, languished in prison. Not only was the case against each man weak, but the validity of the first conviction was called into question by the second crime. The second murder was so similar to the first that authorities suspected that both crimes were committed by the same man. Indeed, they were. Making matters worse, the actual perpetrator was the strongest suspect in both cases. Had he been arrested and charged in the first murder, the second would have never been committed. So how did all of this happen?
The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist:
The Cadaver King was a medical examiner by the name of Steven Hayne. He served as a medical examiner doing way too many autopsies for the state of Mississippi. In same years he performed well over 1,000. He was all too willing to give the cops the exact story they wanted. Thus, he quickly became their favorite medical examiner. his methods were spotty, and he often testified to things he couldn’t possibly have known. He once went so far as to testify that he could tell that two individuals had been holding a gun when it was fired based on the trajectory of the bullet. Similarly, he once testified that he could tell the position of a shooter based on the path of the bullet through the victim, despite not knowing the position of the victim when he was shot.
The Country Dentist was Michael West. He is an even more outrageous character than the Cadaver King. This guy claimed to be able to see bite marks on victims that nobody else could see. He had his own “scientific method” which was nothing more than using dental molds of suspects to create bite marks on victims. He was even caught on video creating such marks. Later, he was exposed in a sting by a lawyer who had lost a case involving Dr. West. This lawyer submitted his own dental mold for comparison in a case that had been solved. True to form, Dr. West confirmed that the lawyer had “indeed and without doubt” bitten the victim.
The Mississippi Justice System
In addition to the Cadaver King, this book takes a look at the Justice System in Mississippi as a whole. The result isn’t pretty. The book makes the case, and a pretty strong one at that, that the entire system needs to be revamped. It has gone from using the justice system to coverup crimes against blacks, to abusing to get resolution in cold civil rights cases. Now, as it was then, the result being far more important than the process.
The Cadaver King is the audiobook version of a page turner. I was shocked, outraged, and yet enthralled by the things I was learning as I listened. The narration is very well done. The subject matter captivating, and the story easy to follow. I highly recommend this audiobook, which is available from Audible here.