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Medical examiner speaks of pressure around boot camp teens death
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    PANAMA CITY, Fla. — Intense pressure from then-Gov. Jeb Bush, civil rights activists and attorneys for a dead teen’s parents did not influence the conclusions of the second autopsy on the boy, the doctor who performed it testified Friday.
    Dr. Vernard Adams, Hillsborough County’s medical examiner, was on the stand in the manslaughter trial of seven boot camp guards and a nurse charged with killing Martin Lee Anderson, 14. The boy died a day after guards roughed him up in a 30-minute videotaped altercation at the Bay County sheriff’s boot camp.
    Adams performed the second autopsy after the case generated protests in the state Capitol, caused Bush to appoint a special prosecutor and gained national media attention because of the videotape showing the unresponsive boy being repeatedly hit.
    In his autopsy and on the stand Friday, Adams said the guards suffocated Anderson by covering his mouth and forcing him to inhale ammonia fumes. He said Anderson would have died even if he did not have sickle cell trait, a genetic blood disorder that the first autopsy blamed for the death.
    ‘‘My opinion is there is enough suffocation going on here to kill anybody,’’ Adams said.
    Waylon Graham, the attorney for guard Charles Helms, asked Adams whether he felt pressure to come to a different conclusion from Dr. Charles Siebert. He was the Bay County medical examiner who did the initial autopsy and ruled that Anderson died of the disorder’s natural complications.
    Graham went over the vilification of Siebert by civil rights groups, pressure from Bush and protesters marching in front of Adams’ office, among other factors.
    Here ‘‘you are a well-respected medical examiner and it is all coming down to this pinnacle, it is all focusing on you like a laser beam,’’ Graham said in cross-examination of Adams.
    Adams said he did not tailor his findings to satisfy the demands of anyone, including Bush, the NAACP or the special prosecutor, Hillsborough County State Attorney Mark Ober.
    Adams said he felt he would be criticized regardless of his findings and that he wouldn’t wish the type of scrutiny experienced by Siebert on anyone.
    ‘‘That’s why I took my time (with the second autopsy),’’ he said.
    Graham also suggested Adams was pressured by nationally known pathologist Dr. Michael Baden, who consulted on the case on behalf of Anderson’s family. He observed the second autopsy and said Anderson likely was suffocated during the confrontation.
    Adams said he only allowed Baden to observe the 12-hour autopsy. He said Baden’s fame did not influence his findings.
    Defense attorneys have argued Anderson’s death was unavoidable once he collapsed while running laps at the camp’s exercise yard. They said sickle cell trait was the only cause.
    The trait is a usually benign disorder generally found in one in eight African-Americans. It can cause blood cells to shrivel into a sickle shape and limit their ability to carry oxygen under stress.
    Graham asked Adams whether his testimony contradicted that of Dr. Thomas Andrew, New Hampshire’s chief medical examiner. He told jurors a day earlier that the death was caused by a chain of events that triggered the blood disorder’s complications.
    Adams said he differed from Andrew’s findings ‘‘not very much.’’
    ‘‘What I said was it was reasonably possible that sickle cell trait contributed to his death,’’ Adams said.
    Adams said that, along with the autopsy and a review of Anderson’s medical records, he spent hours watching an enhanced video of the altercation before he determined the boy did not die from natural causes.
    ‘‘It does not require a medical person to determine this. The video clearly shows his airway was obstructed by an external agency,’’ Adams said.
    Adams said sickle cell trait aggravated the problems Anderson was experiencing because of his lack of oxygen.

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