Parents of dead teen say state lost organs during autopsy

Family continues assertions that city police botched case

January 19, 2012|By Peter Hermann, The Baltimore Sun

The parents of a teenage girl from Virginia who was found dead next to a trash bin in Baltimore in 2008 are alleging that a state medical examiner threw away her heart and brain, among other organs.

During a news conference Thursday in Washington, Mary Jane and Daniel McCann also continued to sharply criticize the Baltimore Police Department's investigation and conclusions by detectives that the 16-year-old committed suicide by drinking a lethal dose of Bactine.

The alleged mistreatment of Annie McCann's remains is a further indignity, her parents said, adding to their continued suffering as they wage a years-long campaign to convince authorities that their daughter was murdered and that a killer remains on the loose.

"So, thugs stuffed Annie's dead or dying body behind a dumpster, then the police swiftly and silently trashed the investigation into her murder," a statement read by the parents says. "And then the medical examiner threw her organs out with the garbage. That's ugly. That's Baltimore ugly."

The McCanns said they first learned that Annie's organs might be missing in June 2009, seven months after her funeral, after obtaining an embalmer's report. They said they spent months trying to get answers and received "vague denials and rambling assertions of the medical examiner's right to retain organs for forensic or other purposes."

But the family statement says that they met with an assistant medical examiner, and "it finally became clear … the Medical Examiner had lost Annie's organs. … The state has no right to casually lose organs." The family said they feel the state violated their "right to sepulcher. The state has no right to abort our effort at a Christian burial by carelessly losing our Annie's brain and her heart, her very essence."

Dori Henry, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, declined to comment on the McCanns' assertions, noting that the family has filed an intent to sue over the issue. But she said the law allows the medical examiner to hold onto organs after releasing a body for burial to continue tests, and then disposes of the parts as medical waste.

Annie disappeared from her Alexandria home on Oct. 31, 2008. Police found numerous notes in her room, many crumpled and strewn under her bed, with the word "suicide" crossed out.

One note found on top of her bed said: "This morning I was going to kill myself. But I realized I can start over instead. I don't want help and I'm no longer scared. If you really love me you'll let me go. ... Please don't go looking for me."

Annie's body was found Nov. 2 in the Perkins Homes public housing complex in Southeast Baltimore.

The state medical examiner ruled that Annie overdosed on lidocaine, but said the manner of death — homicide, suicide or accident — could not be determined.

Police concluded that Annie committed suicide by drinking from a half-ounce bottle of Bactine, which contains lidocaine. The McCanns have said their own medical experts concluded there isn't enough lidocaine in a small bottle of Bactine to be fatal.

At Thursday's news conference at the National Press Club, the McCanns said they have a new lead — the identity of a woman who they think was seen with Annie in a Little Italy pastry shop the day before she died. The family had obtained a sketch of the woman shortly after Annie's body was found.

Daniel McCann would not divulge her name but said they traced her identity after showing the sketch to the woman's friend, who is jailed in Virginia for passing bad checks. McCann said he and his investigator have talked with the woman, but because of medical issues, did not press her on what happened to Annie. They said the woman is connected to the McCanns' church in Alexandria.

"We think it's best for police to handle this matter," McCann said, adding that he told this information to the Baltimore Police Department's new homicide commander, Lt. Col. Garnell W. Green, who met with the family last month.

In the statement, the McCanns said they were pleased that Green had reviewed the case but accused the "police hierarchy" of "hunkering down in denial" and muzzling Green for speaking with the family.

Baltimore police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi denied that Green was told to be quiet and said police have dismissed the new evidence because it was based on a sketch from a psychic. "In our humble opinion, it is not a credible sketch," the spokesman said.

The McCanns dispute that, saying the sketch was done by a retired Montgomery County police detective who interviewed a waitress at the pastry shop.

Guglielmi said Green met with the McCanns last month as a courtesy, and then reviewed the case file with prosecutors in the state's attorney's office. Green wrote the McCanns that he wanted to put a "fresh set of eyes" on the file.

The homicide commander wrote that the case remains open "pending any credible information" coming forward. But police said in March 2009 that they had stopped actively pursuing leads.

peter.hermann@baltsun.com

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