ABC Action News

Another man jailed because of medical examiner's mistake
an ABC Action News report 11/23/02

CLEARWATER - In part one of this ABC Action News report, investigator Mike Mason uncovered the wrongful imprisonment of David Long, based on medical examiner Joan Wood's erroneous diagnosis of his son's cause of death.

However, Long is not the only father who wrongly spent time in jail because of Wood. John Peel, and possibly others, were also victimized.

When John Peel (right) goes to work each morning, he is doing more than renovating a home: he is rebuilding his life. At the young age of 18, he was sent to jail for murdering his baby boy.

But he didn't do it.

"He was my son. I loved him more than anything in this world," John said.

John would often fall asleep while holding John Junior. One day he woke up to find his baby dead on the floor.

"It's hard. You know, nothing's going to bring him back. I wish I could," he continued.

At the time, the medical examiner for Pinellas and Pasco counties was Joan Wood; she determined the baby was murdered, a victim of Shaken Baby Syndrome.

John was arrested and convicted of first-degree murder. However, after spending four and a half long years in jail, the new medical examiner discovered wood made a big mistake.

"In my opinion, his baby was not murdered, certainly wasn't shaken to death," stated medical examiner Jon Thogmartin.

Thogmartin and four other pathologists reviewed John Junior's autopsy report, and found major discrepancies.

For example, in Joan Wood's microscopic examination, she writes there is "no retinal hemorrhage," or no bleeding in the eyes. In another part of the report, she contradicts that, writing she did find "gross retinal hemorrhage."

In file video, Joan Wood is seen testifying in a trial.
"Clearly, from reading the testimony of the doctors involved, the opinions regarding whether this was shaken baby or abusive head trauma was based upon the fact that there was retinal hemorrhage, when there was not," Thogmartin explained.

Mike Mason confronted Joan Wood at her Clearwater home, but she told him she could not recall the case, and refused to comment.

"I really get panicky when I get around cameras, so I'm really better off just not talking," she said.

Wood was a chief medical examiner for 18 years, and helped prosecute at least six cases of shaken baby in the past 10 years. In recent months, prosecutors found two of those fathers were wrongly accused. Both John Peel and David Long were released from jail.

So why didn't anyone question wood's findings? Shockingly, Action News found she was the chairperson of Florida's Medical Examiner's Commission, the commission that regulates medical examiners. Wood held the position for six years, essentially regulating herself.

"Certainly, I think Joan Wood should be exposed for what she was and is…an incompetent physician who should never have held that position for the length of time that she did," insisted attorney Norman Cannella, who represents John Peel.

Current medical examiner Jon Thogmartin says he would apologize on behalf of his profession.
"If Joan Wood done this to me [sic], I'm sure she's done this to other people," John added.

Jon Thogmartin is double-checking to find out. In the meantime, he can only promise this will not happen again.

"I would apologize to John Peel on behalf of my profession," Thogmartin said.

The Medical Examiner's Commission told Action News it has never received a complaint against Joan Wood that has risen to the level of an investigation; Peel and Long both plan to file complaints with the Board of Medicine.

Wood has gone on to open her own practice as a medical consultant, so she is still practicing medicine

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