Tennessean Shelby County ME Indicted
Tennessean Editorial:  A Review in Workman Case

Thursday, 02/12/04
Clarification sought in Workman case

Staff Writer

Bredesen asks Metro medical examiner to study evidence

Gov. Phil Bredesen has tapped Metro's medical examiner to try to help clarify the increasingly murky after-effects of a staged abduction case in Memphis and a death-row case in Nashville.

Philip Workman has been on death row since his conviction for the 1981 murder of Memphis police Lt. Ronald Oliver. In 2001 he faced a clemency hearing before the state parole board, at which Shelby County medical examiner O.C. Smith testified that his microscopic analysis showed that Workman's bullet was the one that felled Oliver.

The parole board voted not to recommend clemency.

Since that hearing, Workman's attorneys have charged that Smith perjured himself.

Smith's credibility took a giant blow Tuesday when a federal grand jury indicted him for staging a bizarre abduction outside his Memphis office in 2002.

Originally, local, state and federal investigators thought it was an anonymous, letter-writing Workman sympathizer who had sprayed a caustic substance in Smith's face, tied him with barbed wire and strapped a bomb around his neck.

Investigators from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives grew suspicious of Smith's account.

The governor was advised privately of the ongoing federal investigation into Smith, and without explaining exactly which federal case in West Tennessee prompted him to do so, Bredesen granted Workman a reprieve from execution, a delay that remains in effect.

Now Bredesen wants Dr. Bruce Levy, Metro's medical examiner, to study the forensic evidence that has arisen since Workman's conviction.

Workman's defense team contends that its ballistic experts have evidence showing that Workman did not fire the fatal bullet. They have pledged to cooperate fully with Levy's inquiry. He has until April 15 to report to the governor. Levy said yesterday that he has advised the governor that he may find no conclusive evidence either way.

Shelby County District Attorney General Bill Gibbons said he wishes the governor would set aside Smith's clemency-hearing testimony and focus on what evidence led a jury to convict and condemn Workman in the first place. Smith, he emphasized, was not the medical examiner who conducted the Oliver autopsy more than two decades ago.

Meanwhile, with Smith indicted on charges of making false statements to federal agents and possession of a bomb, he finds himself with increasingly limited duties as Shelby County's medical examiner.

Nevertheless, the cases he has undertaken remain in the court system. The day of his initial afternoon appearance in federal court, he testified in the morning as a Shelby County jury heard evidence about a gangland killing in Memphis.

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