Epstein's death brings the spotlight back to the renowned pathologist

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NEW YORK – He testified for O.J. Simpson's defense helped investigate the murders of President John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., hosted an HBO show and led his pathological experience to coping with celebrity deaths and police murders.

Now Dr. Michael Baden is embroiled in another case of great interest, as the private pathologist who observed Jeffrey Epstein's autopsy on behalf of his lawyers.

The death of the well-connected financier in a prison cell confused a conspiracy case for carefully monitored human trafficking and trained control over the federal prison system. Epstein's accusers, the attorney general, politicians and others are asking for answers. But if Baden is entering a vortex, it is a familiar place for a scientist accustomed to the spotlight.

"Even when an autopsy is done, the speculation does not stop" when the well-known dies, Baden wrote in his 1990 book "Unnatural Death: Confessions of a Medical Examiner". But an autopsy, he wrote, is "part of the truth-seeking process."

Neither Baden nor the New York City coroner's office released any result of Epstein's autopsy, conducted on Sunday. Dr. Barbara Sampson, chief medical examiner, whose head office Baden headed decades ago, called it "routine practice" for private pathologists that can be observed, if required.

Private autopsies are on the agenda following deaths in prisons or prisons, particularly in high-profile cases, said Dr. Joe Cohen, a long-time pathologist who previously worked for the New York City medical examiner and is now in private practice in California.

Exams can provide families with some answers before official results are finalized, which can take weeks or even months. Such autopsies can also offer a degree of independence when accusations of official wrongdoing or malfunctions arise.

"It eliminates the appearance of something that has become corrupt," said Scott M. Schmidt, president of the New York State coroner and medical examiner. "To put an end to that suspicion, if you have the means to do so, it suppresses it a lot if you find someone who comes in and has an opposite view."

For example, in 2014 the death of Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old black man who was shot dead by police in Ferguson, Missouri, pathologists conducted three autopsies: one from the county medical examiner of St. Louis, one conducted by Baden and another ordered by the Department of Justice.

Families are often interested in a private autopsy, Schmidt said, but many cannot afford an exam that can cost up to $ 5,000.

At 85, Baden has over 20,000 autopsies during his career and is probably the best-known forensic pathologist in the nation, so much so that he hosted the HBO series "Autopsy".

"He is a delightful man and only a wealth of knowledge," said Schmidt.

Baden was part of many of America's most important death investigations since the 1970s, when he was the top pathologist for a congressional committee investigating the killings of Kennedy and King.

He would have continued to contribute to investigations into the deaths of other historical figures, including Tsar Nicholas II of Russia and American civil rights leader Medgar Evers. He was also part of a team that showed that the exhumed body of a man who was drowned by Brazil in 1979 was that of Dr. Josef Mengele, the infamous "Angel of death" from the Nazi concentration camps.

Baden was also involved in investigations of celebrity deaths, from the 1982 drug overdose of comedian John Belushi to prison suicide of the former footballer Aaron Hernandez in 2017. Baden also helped the celebrities' defenses.

He testified for record producer Phil Spector in his first murder trial in the death of actress Lana Clarkson in 2003. Baden's wife, lawyer Linda Kenney Baden, was Spector, who prosecutors suggested they had created a conflict of interest. The pathologist denied it and said he had made his findings before his wife joined Spector's defense team.

The jury stopped in that process, but Spector was later convicted.

In the Simpson case, Baden offered a testimony that was in conflict, sometimes brusquely, with the views of the county coroner on the 1994 killings of the actor's wife who became football star, Nicole Brown Simpson, and friend Ronald Goldman. Simpson was acquitted for murder after a nationwide television trial. A jury of the civil court later held him liable for an unjust death and ordered him to pay $ 33.5 million after a trial to which Baden also testified.

More recently, Baden performed an independent autopsy on Eric Garner, an unarmed black man killed in a meeting with the New York police weeks before Brown's death. The two murders stimulated protests and helped catalyze the Black Lives Matter movement.

Born in New York City, Baden graduated in medicine from New York University and served as chief medical examiner of the city from 1978 to 1979, when then Mayor Ed Koch dismissed him, citing frictions with other officials . Baden, who claimed to act with the right independence, sued the city unsuccessfully for his dismissal.

Baden later served as a coroner on the outskirts of Suffolk County and worked with New York State police.

He said he saw himself as "a witness to the dead".

"I'm not religious, but when I look inside a person's body, which is the first time a human being does it, it's a wonderful thing," he told the Albany Times Union in 2001. "And he never fails to convince me that each of us is a miracle. "

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