Douglas County DA’s Office works in fentanyl-death case to discredit the same medical expert it relied on in dropping Eudora murder case

photo by: Journal-World File Photo

Left to right, Senior Assistant District Attorney David Greenwald, Judge Sally Pokorny, defense attorney Angela Keck

The Douglas County District Attorney’s Office is now working to discredit the work of the very medical examiner upon whom it relied when dropping a murder charge against a woman accused of killing a baby at a Eudora day care.

The validity of potential testimony from the medical examiner, Jane Turner, a forensic pathologist from St. Louis, was brought into question on Wednesday in Douglas County District Court in the case of Chloe L. Colby, 22, of Lawrence.

Colby is charged with one count of distribution of a controlled substance causing death. The charge relates to an incident on April 17, 2021, when she is alleged to have provided counterfeit Oxycodone to her boyfriend, Kendall Royce Stiffler, 21, of Lawrence, who, after taking the drug, died of complications of fentanyl intoxication, according to his autopsy report, as the Journal-World has reported.

Turner is the medical expert who provided a report to the state in January that District Attorney Suzanne Valdez relied on to dismiss charges against Carrody Buchhorn, 48, of Lawrence, who was convicted of murdering 9-month-old Oliver “Ollie” Ortiz, who was found unresponsive at a Eudora day care on Sept. 29, 2016. Buchhorn’s 2018 conviction was overturned in August of 2021 due to ineffective assistance of counsel, and Valdez, after first vowing to retry Buchhorn, eventually dismissed the case this past January, as the Journal-World reported.

Colby’s attorney, Angela Keck, retained Turner as an expert medical examiner to discredit findings in Stiffler’s autopsy report.

Both Keck and Senior Assistant District Attorney David Greenwald filed motions for a Daubert hearing for the opposing side’s expert witnesses. The purpose of a Daubert hearing, named after a 1993 U.S. Supreme Court case, is to determine whether an expert’s credentials are sufficient for the court or a jury to rely on and whether that testimony would be admissible at trial.

Greenwald called into question whether Turner’s findings about Stiffler’s death are reliable. He said that Turner determined that Stiffler did not die of a fentanyl overdose despite Turner not having reviewed the entirety of Stiffler’s medical records.

“By the defendant’s own admission, Dr. Turner has not completed a full review of the medical records, but can already affirmatively testify to the cause of death,” Greenwald wrote in his motion. “This obvious abuse of her credentials alone should justify the court’s exclusion of her testimony as an expert, but at the very least calls into question her findings and expertise.”

Keck’s motion was to disqualify law enforcement investigators who worked on Colby’s case, as well as Altaf Hossain, the Douglas County coroner who performed Stiffler’s autopsy. Greenwald’s motion requested the hearing to disqualify Turner; a crime scene specialist, Brent Turvey; and a psychologist, Aurelio Coronado.

“The function of a Daubert hearing is to prevent junk science from being put before a jury. The trial court functions as a gatekeeper to prevent unreliable scientific testimony from being admitted,” Greenwald wrote in the motion.

During the hearing on Wednesday, Greenwald argued that his experts have unimpeachable credentials and have testified in Douglas County courts numerous times while Turner and Keck’s other experts have not.

Greenwald said that one assertion Turner has made that is evidence that Turner has not fully examined the medical reports is that Stiffler was never given Narcan by paramedics at the scene or at the hospital, but Greenwald said that Stiffler’s report clearly says that he was administered Narcan twice the night he was brought into LMH Health and medical personnel suspected a drug overdose from the beginning.

Keck argued that it was suspicious that the state would rely on Turner’s expertise to dismiss Buchhorn’s murder case but now allege that Turner is not qualified. She said that the fentanyl found in Stiffler’s system was from the hospital after he spent four days in intensive care before his death and that Hossain’s conclusions should be re-examined.

Greenwald said that the fentanyl that Hossain cited in the autopsy report was found in a urine analysis prior to Stiffler being administered any drugs by hospital staff.

Keck wants to use Turner’s testimony to refute Hossain’s testimony and findings from Stiffler’s autopsy report. Keck said that Turner has called into question Hossain’s methods for determining that Stiffler died of an overdose and said that Hossain has ignored national medical examiner standards.

Judge Sally Pokorny said that all of the experts who have been identified in Colby’s case have verified credentials that qualify them as experts, including Turner, and Pokorny said that a Daubert hearing was not necessary. She added that Keck and Greenwald would be able to cross-examine the experts at trial and the jury could decide how to weigh the testimony from each expert.

The case is next scheduled for a hearing on July 11, when Keck will argue that statements Colby made to police after Stiffler’s death should not be admitted into evidence.


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