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Medical examiner stands by finding

Dr. Charles F. Siebert Jr. knew he wanted to be a medical examiner when he was growing up in New Jersey watching Quincy, a television show about a crime-fighting coroner.

Now, the 44-year-old district medical examiner finds himself at the center of a storm over the case of Martin Lee Anderson, a 14-year-old who died after being restrained at a boot camp for juvenile offenders in Panama City, Fla.

Siebert said Thursday the teenager died of internal bleeding caused by sickle cell trait, and not from rough handling by guards.

His findings have been challenged and ridiculed by many medical experts across the state. One state lawmaker questioned whether he was engaging in a coverup.

Siebert said in an telephone interview on Friday that he remains confident in his findings, and that he has been both stressed out and disturbed by the reaction.

"I just got a call about 10 minutes ago from a viewer who was watching CNN. . . . He said I was an idiot," Siebert said.

It's the most high-profile case in the Panama City medical examiner's career, and an experience that was drawing sympathetic calls from colleagues, including Pinellas-Pasco medical examiner Jon Thogmartin.

"I feel sorry for Siebert getting a little business from these so-called experts," Thogmartin said.

The two men have known each other for years, training together in Dade County and working together at the Pinellas-Pasco Medical Examiner's Office, where Siebert was deputy chief.

Thogmartin describes Siebert as a "great guy" who is "very, very honest to a fault."

"He's not covering up, or in collusion with the state," Thogmartin said. "He's steady, calm and unflappable."

Thogmartin, who said he has handled at least six deaths related to sickle cell trait, has spoken to Siebert about the case and has seen some of the autopsy slides.

"This is the real deal," he said. "When they look at it, they'll see it."

Thogmartin said experts questioning Siebert's opinion don't have all the information.

"It's a little disappointing. People who think they're experts in sickle cell disease aren't necessarily expert in these cases," Thogmartin said.

Before Martin, Siebert has never had a case of sickle cell trait triggering death, but has been aware of other cases, he said. He requested a sickle cell test early on for Martin because he was an African-American and physical stress had been involved.

Siebert said the video footage and the autopsy helped determine that physical trauma was not the reason for Martin's death. "There have been a lot of characterizations of the tape. I've heard people describe it as the worst beating since Rodney King," Siebert said. "That is totally ludicrous."

"I'm glad the tape came out," Siebert said. "I knew when it did come out, there would be a lot more controversy. No matter what, some people will have their beliefs."

Siebert received his undergraduate degree from William Paterson College in New Jersey, then went to medical school at the University of Medicine and Dentistry in Newark. From there, he did a fellowship in Dade County, then worked at the medical examiner's office in Palm Beach before moving to the Pinellas-Pasco office. He took over the Panama City office in 2003.

Siebert lives with his wife and two children in Panama City. In the past, he has belonged to medieval recreation groups, doing activities like sword fighting. He also spends time woodworking and is an amateur magician, performing card tricks for his children.

Siebert believes people made a snap judgment about what happened to Martin without waiting for all the facts, including some of the medical experts quoted on television and in newspapers on Friday.

"They're making opinions without all the information, and that's always a dangerous thing to do," he said.

Jamie Thompson can be reached at (727) 893-8455. Send e-mail to jthompson@sptimes.com.

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