Expert to review officer's alleged suicide
By T.J. Wilham
ALBUQUERQUE - An expert witness in the O.J. Simpson, Robert Blake and Kobe Bryant cases has agreed to give a second opinion as to how a high-ranking Albuquerque police officer died last year.
Michael Baden, the former New York City Chief Medical Examiner and host of HBO's "Autopsy," will issue a report on the death of Lt. Todd Parkins - a development applauded by local law enforcement and the officer's family.
The New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator ruled last month that Parkins committed suicide, a finding that has come under fire by APD, the officer's family and the Bernalillo County Sheriff's Department, which investigated the death.
Last weekend, Sheriff Darren White contacted Baden, who agreed to review the case and issue a report.
On Monday, White's office mailed Baden autopsy photos, witness statements, pathologists reports and the firearms examiner's report.
Baden, chief pathologist for the New York State Police, has not given a timetable on when his report will be ready. White said Baden has not asked to be compensated.
"This is the legacy of a good cop and a good man," White said of Parkins' death. "Based on our own investigation, we disagree with (OMI's) findings and feel that this deserves a second opinion."
New Mexico Chief Medical Investigator Ross Zumwalt didn't return phone calls seeking comment Monday.
Parkins, 38, was killed Sept. 24 when his shotgun went off inside his home, sending pellets through his collarbone and into the ceiling. His wife and one of his two sons were nearby when the gun went off.
At the time, investigators said Parkins was preparing to leave with a group of officers on a four-day camping trip to the Pecos Wilderness. Bernalillo County Sheriff's Department deputies said they did not know what caused the shotgun to go off, although it appeared to have been an accident.
The OMI disagreed and officially ruled the death a suicide on Parkins' death certificate.
White has said the OMI should have ruled the death "undetermined," which it has done hundreds of times before.
The sheriff's department has pointed to facts it says don't fit with a suicide ruling: Parkins had just asked his wife to make him a sandwich; he had just packed his truck for the camping trip and left it running; several handguns were nearby, which he could have used; the shotgun was at least three inches from his body when it went off; and, after he was shot, Parkins looked at his wife and said, "What happened? Please call."
When interviewed about the ruling last week, Zumwalt said he wasn't "100 percent sure" the death was suicide, despite the ruling on the certificate.
White said that statement prompted him to contact Baden.
"When I heard he had said that, I scratched my head," White said. "If he is not sure, then why are we even having this conversation?"
According to a biography posted on HBO's Web site, Baden has been a consultant to the FBI, DEA, ATF and the U.S. Justice Department. He is also the forensic science contributor for Fox News. According to the bio, he has conducted more than 22,000 autopsies and was a member of the Congress Select Committee that re-investigated the deaths of President John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr.
Family may sue
Parkins' father-in-law, John Duff, who is a retired Albuquerque police officer, said Monday he was pleased to learn that Baden was reviewing the case. He also said the family is planning to request a meeting with OMI to see if it will change the ruling.
If not, Duff said, the family will take OMI to court. If the ruling stands, the family will lose about $130,000 in life insurance money, but Duff said the loss is minimal because the family is still getting a substantial payment.
"The concern is for (Todd's) children," he said. "We want OMI to change it. As long as we believe it is a reasonable outcome, we will pursue this issue as far as we can, including legal action."