Charges dismissed, man sues medical examiner After his indictment was dismissed, David Long files a negligence suit over the diagnosis that cast suspicion on him. By CARY DAVIS, Times Staff Writer © St. Petersburg Times published December 17, 2002
NEW PORT RICHEY -- David Long was indicted on murder charges in 1999 on the basis of an autopsy that concluded his infant daughter was shaken to death.
A review of that autopsy earlier this year found that former Pasco-Pinellas Medical Examiner Joan Wood and an associate misdiagnosed the cause of death. The review concluded that 7-month-old Rebecca Long did not die from shaken baby syndrome, as Wood and assistant medical examiner Marie Hansen said. Rebecca died from pneumonia.
Prosecutors dismissed the indictment against Long, now 36, who lost his job and filed for bankruptcy while fighting the murder charge.
On Monday, Long struck back, filing a negligence lawsuit against Wood, Hansen, Pasco County and the state of Florida. The suit, filed in Pasco Circuit Count, seeks a jury trial and unspecified damages in excess of $15,000.
"This is not someone who got off on a technicality," said St. Petersburg civil attorney Alan Gross, who represents Long. "This is a person who did nothing wrong and had his life ruined."
Wood resigned in September 2000 after prosecutors blamed her for the collapse of a high-profile criminal case against the Church of Scientology. In that case, Wood originally concluded that Lisa McPherson died of complications from dehydration in 1995 after spending 17 days in the care of fellow Scientologists. She later reversed her findings, ruling that McPherson's death was an accident.
Rebecca Long died on March 7, 1998, and Hansen's autopsy, approved by Wood, concluded that the child suffered traumatic head and neck injuries. Blame fell squarely on Long, the only adult at home when Rebecca stopped breathing. Long, of Holiday, was under indictment for more than two years.
This April, the new medical examiner, Jon Thogmartin, reviewed the autopsy conducted on Rebecca Long. He concluded that Rebecca died from natural causes.
More recently, Thogmartin concluded that Wood erred in ruling that a 2-month-old Pinellas boy died in 1998 as a result of shaken baby syndrome. After Wood's autopsy findings in that case, John Peel pleaded guilty to manslaughter charges and spent four years in prison. In October, after Thogmartin questioned Wood's autopsy, a judge threw out the conviction and ordered Peel released.
Neither Wood nor Hansen, who now works as an assistant medical examiner in Panama City, could be reached for comment Monday.
Gross, Long's attorney, said he would seek to take Wood's deposition as soon as possible. Wood now works as a private consultant.
In Florida, governmental agencies and state employees are liable for only $100,000 in damages -- unless the Legislature steps in and passes a special appropriations bill for a larger award.
"If there was ever a case that cries out for the Legislature to belly up the bar," Gross said, "it's this one."
-- Cary Davis covers courts in west Pasco County. He can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6236, or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6236. His e-mail address is [email protected] .