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Another mom assails autopsies

Published Feb. 22, 2006

Frances Terry watched on TV as a grieving mother criticized a medical examiner who said her son died of a blood disorder, not a beating by guards at a juvenile boot camp.

Terry could relate. The same medical examiner signed off on mistake-laden autopsy reports for her husband and daughter after their deaths two years ago in Hurricane Ivan.

She's convinced he's wrong again.

"There's no excuse for any of it," Terry said.

Dr. Charles Siebert concluded that Terry's only daughter, Donna Reed, had an "unremarkable" prostate gland and testicles, both male organs. The report said the same of her appendix, gallbladder, uterus and ovaries, though they all had been removed years earlier.

"The testicles were what really blew our mind. My daughter was a full-blooded woman," Terry said Monday after meeting Jones.

The 2004 mixup is likely to draw more attention to Siebert, already the focus of much criticism in the case of 14-year-old Martin Anderson, who died last month after being roughed up by guards at a Panama City boot camp.

Besides the errors about her daughter, the 2004 report also made several mistakes about Terry's hus

band, James Terry. It said no scars were found on his abdomen or back, when he actually had scars in both areas and another 8-inch scar between his shoulder blades, Terry said.

"A blind person could almost see these scars on my husband's back," Terry said, showing a Polaroid of him after surgery in 1999. Another photograph shows him with a scar on his belly.

Last week, Siebert determined that the teenager died from internal bleeding caused by a genetic disorder known as sickle cell trait.

The finding was condemned by the youth's mother, Gina Jones, and several medical experts. But it also was praised by other experts.

On Monday, Terry, 57, drove from her Blountstown home to Tallahassee to meet with Jones and her attorney. Terry said she went public with her story to support Jones in her quest for the truth.

"I cannot describe to you what it's done to me," Terry said, at times crying during an interview.

Despite a videotape showing guards kneeing and punching the teen, Siebert said the body showed no signs of trauma, except for abrasions behind his ears and small cuts on his lips.

Benjamin Crump, the Anderson family attorney, said the previous autopsies are relevant because Siebert's report overlooked scarring. "You can only ask yourself what scarring and bruising was on Martin Anderson that we don't know about," Crump said.

Members of the state Legislature's black caucus have demanded an independent medical review. Crump said Monday, "there will be some comment coming real soon on that. We're working closely with some other people."

Siebert did not return calls Monday but defended his autopsy in an interview with the St. Petersburg Times on Friday. Of the doctors who questioned his finding, he said: "They're making opinions without all the information and that's always a dangerous thing to do."

Terry's husband and daughter died Sept. 15, 2004, when a tornado spawned by Hurricane Ivan picked up their home and threw it onto another home. Terry was badly injured and spent three weeks in intensive care, missing her husband's and daughter's funeral.

She said her granddaughter asked for the autopsy reports to help her deal with the loss.

"She said, "Granny if I could just know my mama had cancer or something and would suffer, I could be glad she went quick.' "

The reports came in February 2005. Upon reading them, Terry said she wanted to scream, though her injuries prevented that.

"It's an effect that can't be described," she said. "It's a feeling inside that you're angry, you're hurt. There's a void there that won't ever be filled anyway and then some crackpot comes up with an autopsy report like this."

She said she attempted to contact Siebert, but he did not call her back. Someone else in the office called to apologize and said the office had been without power for a few days.

"I told her they must have performed these autopsies in the dark," Terry said.

Terry then went to State Attorney Steve Meadows. She said he made copies of the autopsies and promised to look into the matter. But Meadows never called back, Terry said.

"I thought about going to the medical examiner's office in Panama City and just barging in and demanding to see him face to face," she said.

On Monday, a spokesman for the 14th Judicial Circuit in Panama City, Joe Grammer, said Meadows recalled speaking with Siebert and that the doctor attributed the mistakes to "transcription errors." Siebert said a corrected autopsy would be completed.

But Terry said she did not want corrected forms, that she knew how her husband and daughter died. "I wanted somebody to slap Dr. Siebert's face. Maybe on both sides."

Siebert, 44, was first appointed as interim medical examiner to the six-county, largely rural District 14 in July 2003. A year later, after review by the state's Medical Examiner Commission, he was appointed permanently to the job by Gov. Jeb Bush.

Siebert is given $512,820 annually to run his office and hire personnel. How much of the budget goes for Siebert's pay couldn't be determined Monday, said officials for Bay County.

"There are no complaints we're aware of in this county," said Bay County budget officer Mary Dayton. "He's been very responsible and responsive from what we've seen."

State records indicate Siebert failed to renew his medical license before it expired Jan. 31 and is not authorized to practice in Florida.

Reporter Alex Leary can be reached at (850) 224-7263 or