Dissecting Dr. Carter

Harris County's chief pathologist finds herself under the microscope.

"Sometimes it might be valid to question the rulings of the medical examiner's office," wrote Kilborn.

Kilborn's letter evokes memories of the case of Claudette Kibble. In September 1995, Kibble was charged with three counts of murder in connection with the deaths of her three infant sons on separate occasions over a four-year period. While law enforcement and child welfare authorities had pushed for rulings of homicide, it was not until after Kibble confessed to her mother that she had suffocated her three children that the medical examiner's office agreed to change its rulings as to the cause of the little boys' deaths.

To her credit, Carter has, on occasion, demonstrated a willingness to take a second look at controversial cases. Last summer, Carter ordered the exhumation of the body of Donald Wayne Chaline, a former police informant, drug dealer and gambler who had died under questionable circumstances. A second examination of Chaline confirmed the results of the first: that Chaline had died as the result of an accidental fall. However, in February 1997, after another exhumation, Carter overturned an earlier cause of death ruling by her office when she determined that Paul Beauchamp of Montgomery County had died of gunshot wounds to the head rather than drowning. Beauchamp's murder is still under investigation.

And, at least for now, Carter appears somewhat secure as the county's chief medical examiner. In addition to Commissioner Lee, Carter's support on commissioners court is backed up by Harris County Judge Robert Eckels. The judge volunteers that he is concerned about the $315,000 civil judgment against the county in the whistle-blower lawsuit and says that Carter's first 19 months have been rockier than he would have anticipated. But, overall, says Eckels, he is pleased with Carter's performance.

Of course, if a grand jury decided to indict Carter, all bets would be off.
Last July, Carter wrote a letter to members of the Harris County Commissioners Court. In the letter, Carter noted that since her arrival in Houston the previous July, she had been renting, and she wanted to know if it would be okay for her to purchase a home outside of Harris County. At the time, one county official only half-jokingly suggested that, considering the way things were going at the medical examiner's officer, Carter should continue to rent. If she hasn't purchased a home already, maybe now she should. Maybe.

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