Tennessean Shelby County ME Indicted
Clarification sought in Workman case

A review in Workman case

Shelby County Medical Examiner O.C. Smith, who was indicted this week on federal charges, is presumed innocent. He is not, however, presumed credible.

Smith provided major testimony to the state parole board during its 2001 clemency hearing for death row inmate Philip Workman. Smith testified that tests showed conclusively that Workman killed Memphis police officer Ronald Oliver. The board voted unanimously against clemency.

After Smith's indictment this week, Gov. Phil Bredesen asked state medical examiner Bruce Levy to review the clemency-hearing evidence in the Workman case and report back to him. In the meanwhile, the reprieve Bredesen gave Workman late last year remains in effect.

Such caution in a death penalty case isn't just commendable, it is required.

The charges against Smith allege conduct that is not only bizarre, it seems clearly connected to Workman. Two months after the Workman clemency hearing, the Memphis prosecutor and Workman's attorney received anonymous letters threatening Smith. In March 2002, an explosive device was found in the building where Smith works. Then in June 2002, a security guard found Smith tied up with barbed wire and strapped to a bomb. He claimed he was abducted.

Yet investigators began to believe that Smith was his own abductor. He is charged with lying to federal investigators and illegal possession of a bomb.

Smith has pleaded not guilty. He may be cleared of these charges, and he may be able to resume his full professional duties. But for now, the testimony he rendered in the Workman case — testimony that was a crucial step in a scheduled execution — must be set aside so that an objective, credible review can be rendered.

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