Mississippi Names Next Chief Medical Examiner

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The state of Mississippi has named its next chief medical examiner.

Dr. Staci Turner, previously the state's interim chief medical examiner, is stepping into the role, Mississippi Public Safety Commissioner Sean Tindell announced Wednesday.

Turner joined the state medical examiner's office in January 2020 as the first full-time pathologist in south Mississippi at the start of what would become one of the deadliest years in state history. There were 578 homicides in Mississippi in 2020, a state of 3 million, compared with 440 in 2019 and 389 in 2018.

Pathologists were dealing with an increased workload at the same time as they were trying to whittle down a backlog of unfinished autopsy reports. Tindell said in September there were 1,600 pending reports, some dating back to 2015.

Turner gained a reputation with coroners and within the medical examiner's office as being dependable and timely with reports.

“She wraps reports up so fast, it’s almost making our head spin," Forrest County Coroner Butch Benedict said. “We finally got somebody that can communicate with us and help us out. We’re excited to have her down there. She's really doing a great job.”

She was was named interim chief medical examiner after the departure of former head, Dr. Mark Levaughn, this past January. Levaughn resigned after being placed on administrative leave for an undisclosed “personnel matter.” He had worked at State Medical Examiner’s office for around a decade.

Tindell did not say why Levaughn was put on leave. He has since been back at the medical examiner's office working part time, finishing up old reports and cases.

Prior to coming to Mississippi, Turner served as the regional deputy chief medical examiner for the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences. She also previously served as the assistant medical examiner at Forensic Medical in Nashville, Tennessee, and as the medical examiner for the Southwestern Institute of Forensic Sciences.

Turner received her medical degree from the University of Kentucky and completed pathology residency training at the University of Kentucky. She also completed the forensic pathology fellowship program at the Southwestern Institute of Forensic Sciences in Dallas.

She will be one of three pathologists in the state conducting autopsies at the medical examiner's office. Currently, Turner and another doctor in Jackson are the only state of Mississippi employees performing autopsies. The state also uses private contractors to help with the workload.

Tindell said Wednesday that Dr. Ariane Robison was hired to join the medical examiner's office as a third pathologist performing autopsies. Robison will be a deputy medical examiner.

Robison received her medical degree from Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, Germany. She completed a postdoctoral research fellowship at the Johns Hopkins Department of Pathology in Baltimore. She completed pathology residency training at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, and forensic pathology training at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Tindell said the state has hired a director for the state medical examiner's office that will allow the chief medical examiner to focus on doing autopsies instead of the day-to-day operations of the medical examiner’s office.

Kristy Simmons is serving in the director role. Simmons has served with the state medical examiner’s office for more than 15 years as a chief pathology technician, administrator and investigator.

The state has also hired four medical examiner investigators, created as a result of legislation passed during the 2021 legislative session. Medical examiner investigators aren't doctors, but they do have a medical background, such as in nursing, emergency services or forensics. They work as liaisons between the coroners and the doctors and assist with death investigations.


Leah Willingham is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.