The process server came to the witness door a dozen times through the
months. Sometimes somebody was home but refused to answer knocks. Other
times, nobody was home at all.
Neighbors said the witness wasn't staying at her house. At times, she
quickly drove up to pick up her mail and then just as quickly drove off.
Forget phone calls. The witness never answered.
That's what attorneys in a major federal case out of Pensacola said they
faced last year in trying to subpoena former Pinellas-Pasco Medical
Examiner Joan Wood to give pretrial testimony in a case involving
allegations that Escambia County Jail guards fatally beat an inmate.
Wood's disappearance in the year after her September 2000 retirement has
become a familiar local story to attorneys who tried to force her
testimony in a handful of Pinellas-Pasco cases.
Wood also sometimes consulted for medical examiners in other jurisdictions
or law enforcement officers during her tenure.
Wood's whereabouts during much of 2001 has been an issue in a civil
lawsuit that accuses Escambia guards of beating Mark Bailey in January
1999. While she was still Pinellas-Pasco medical examiner, Wood was
brought in to do one of several autopsies on Bailey shortly after his
Todd LaDouceur, an attorney for Bailey's family, said his office tried to
serve a subpoena on Wood a dozen times last year, failing each time.
But attorneys representing the guards recently said Wood would testify at
trial, which LaDouceur objected to because he said he felt the doctor had
With the two-week trial scheduled to start Monday, LaDouceur said, defense
attorneys told him late Friday that Wood won't testify after all. No
explanation was offered.
Defense attorney John Jolly declined to comment. Wood did not return calls
"Our view is that you can't evade a (subpoena) and then reappear just
before trial to say you're now ready to testify," LaDouceur said. "I found
it odd that a former public servant would evade testifying in a case in
which she isn't even the defendant."
The federal judge in the case might not have allowed her to testify
anyway, LaDouceur said. Jolly hadn't listed her as a defense expert
witness, so the court might have barred her testimony, he said.
"Once she evades, I think she's kind of out of it," the attorney said.
Pinellas-Pasco Public Defender Bob Dillinger said he knows of no
additional local case in which Wood's testimony is at issue.
Wood attended a conference of state medical examiners in August in
Gainesville, making one of her first public appearances since her forced
retirement amid criticism for her reversal on the cause of death of
Scientologist Lisa McPherson.
Wood's reversal led prosecutors to drop criminal charges against the
Wood, 58, said in an interview in August that years of overwhelming job
stress led her to fear testifying in court. She said the courtroom caused
her to have panic attacks.
But Wood said she thought she put much of that fear behind her, to the
point that she had started a consulting business, offering herself as an
expert witness for lawyers in criminal or civil cases.
Her fear of testifying was so strong that Wood appeared to dodge subpoenas
in several cases, including a Pasco murder case in which a process server
went to her home eight times without finding her.
Wood's testimony in the Escambia case appeared to be critical to guards
who were never charged criminally, in part because Wood's autopsy linked a
cause of death to Bailey's bad heart.
Bailey, 39, had slugged a female guard while in custody on charges of
resisting arrest and assaulting a police officer.
Numerous guards came to the female guard's aid. According to statements by
other inmates, the guards severely beat Bailey.
The Escambia County medical examiner did an autopsy that found Bailey's
bad heart caused his death. A second autopsy arranged by Bailey's family
concluded that a severe beating was the cause. Wood was brought in to do
yet a third autopsy, and her findings backed the guards.
In noting injuries to Bailey's body, she said they were consistent with
guards trying to subdue him during a struggle. She said that Bailey's neck
was broken, but that it occurred after death as the result of the previous
autopsy by the physician hired by the family. An expert retained by the
family said the neck was broken during a beating.
After a coroner's inquest, an Escambia judge ruled in 2000 that the
guards' actions caused or contributed to Bailey's death. But prosecutors
declined to file charges.
O'Gwen King, a second attorney for Bailey's family, said it wouldn't be
too disappointing if Wood did testify. Given her record on Scientology, he
said, she might benefit his case.
"We can get her on the stand and turn her every which way but loose,"