State examiner lists Ford death as 'undetermined'

February 16, 1994|By Bruce Reid | Bruce Reid,Sun Staff Writer

Despite a grand jury's recent conclusion that a Harford County inmate strangled himself with a pillowcase, Maryland's chief medical examiner says he will continue to list the manner of death as "undetermined."

In a statement released yesterday, Dr. John E. Smialek indicated that mistakes in the investigation of the death nearly two years ago make it impossible to change the officially listed manner of death to suicide or accidental.

In its report released Feb. 4, the grand jury said inmate William M. Ford, 28, of Wilmington, Del., killed himself intentionally or accidentally while faking a suicide and that he was not sexually assaulted.

After Mr. Ford's death March 1, 1992, his family alleged that he was raped and killed by jail guards.

Dr. Frank J. Peretti, a former assistant state medical examiner who performed the autopsy on Mr. Ford, maintains that Mr. Ford was killed, based on a fracture of his larynx and other evidence.

Dr. Peretti now works as an associate state medical examiner in Arkansas.

In his statement, Dr. Smialek said it was his "opinion that the conclusions reached by the Harford County grand jury . . . are reasonable and reflect all of the information provided to them. However, the official record of the [medical examiner's office] will continue to list the cause of death as being strangulation and the manner of death as being undetermined in nature."

"The Harford grand jury found to the contrary after hearing from Dr. Smialek and many, many others," said Ralph S. Terry, Maryland's deputy attorney general.

"In fact," Mr. Terry said, "the grand jury heard much more testimony than Dr. Smialek and ruled Mr. Ford's death was either a suicide or accidental."

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