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'Things Slip Through The Cracks In Investigations': Why Exhumations Happen

At CrimeCon 2022, top medical examiners and forensic pathologists discuss exhumations and dive into the new season of "Exhumed: Killer Revealed."

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How Can Exhumations Impact Cases? Medical Examiners Featured In Oxygen True Crime’s “Exhumed” Break It Down
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How Can Exhumations Impact Cases? Medical Examiners Featured In Oxygen True Crime’s “Exhumed” Break It Down

Dr. Joye Carter and Dr. Rebecca Hsu share how they got started in the field of forensic pathology and working as medical examiners. They lent their expertise to a panel at Crime Con 2022 in Las Vegas.

Some murders are solved through witnesses stepping forward. Others are solved through DNA evidence or fingerprint collection. But for some cases, only an exhumation can help crack the case.

Those kind of investigations are the focus of the Oxygen series "Exhumed: Killer Revealed," which returns for Season 2 on Sunday, May 8 at 7/6c. Co-executive producer of the show Maria Lane and forensic pathologists and medical examiners Dr. Joye Carter and Dr. Rebecca Hsu discussed how exhumations work, why they happen, and a case coming up in the new season in a panel moderated by Oxygen digital correspondent Stephanie Gomulka, "Exhumed: Unearthing Justice" at CrimeCon 2022.

For Dr. Carter, the first Black female chief medical examiner in the United States, her introduction into the field came by mistake. When she was just 14 years old, she managed to see an autopsy — "I don't know why the doctor let me in!" she laughed — and the experience truly stuck with her.

"It was everything I never dreamed of," Dr. Carter said.

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The work Dr. Carter and Dr. Hsu is incredibly important, as autopsies reveal much needed answers into deaths and provide families with closure. In fact, Dr. Hsu actually started Hsu Enterprise, which provides private autopsies and other pathology services because, as she noted, "not everyone automatically gets an autopsy and as 'Exhumed' will show, things will slip in the crack in investigations."

That's why exhumations, which are rare, do need to happen at times. As Dr. Carter and Dr. Hsu explained, not every coroner is trained the way forensic pathologists are and know to look at things with a "certain suspicion," which means crucial information in an autopsy may be missed. And sometimes the coroner wasn't informed of background knowledge by investigators or loved ones needed to accurately pinpoint what exactly happened. That's when an exhumation comes in handy to go back and find that information that was originally missed. 

Lane also noted that it's very difficult to change the manner of death after the autopsy, which is why exhumations sometimes have to happen: to pinpoint the signs on the body to confirm a homicide occurred.

For those interested in exhumations, Dr. Carter advised that "it's important to know yourself. It's not for everyone."

"I want to provide the medical records with facts and certify the death legally and do everything I can to tell this person's story. This is my patient, thats how I consider the deceased. ... If you want to take it on, and you have a lot of medical knowledge and are able to maintain your sensitivity because no one gets out of life alive, this is the job for you," she told Gomulka.

Dr. Hsu agreed, noting, "Anyone who's interested in this area, you have to be curious. If you're not curious and you're not compassionate, this is not the place for you."

The trio also discussed an upcoming case in Season 2 of "Exhumed: Killer Revealed" – the murder of LaQuinta Smith, a 36-year-old mother of two in Oregon who was found dead in her burning house in May 1999. Police had their suspicions about what exactly happened to Smith and who may have been behind it, but the murderer was only caught and the truth revealed after an exhumation. Learn more about the case here.

CrimeCon 2022 is produced by Red Seat Ventures and presented by Oxygen.

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