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Coroner Accused of Body Part Sales

January 31, 1998 GMT

NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ When Barbara Everett’s son was shot three years ago, she ended up at the coroner’s office waiting for someone to confirm that he was dead. She was finally shown a videotape of his head.

Nine months later, she learned his hip bone and corneas had been sold even though nobody ever asked her approval.

She has filed a lawsuit, claiming the coroner removed body parts from corpses at the city morgue and sold them without permission.

Mrs. Everett was in court Friday, seeking to turn the lawsuit against Dr. Frank Minyard into a class-action lawsuit. The judge said he would rule on the request in two to three weeks.

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Mrs. Everett said she learned of her son’s slaying about five hours after he was shot. She called the coroner’s office and was told it had an unidentified body, but no Leroy Everett. She went to Charity Hospital and was told that the body had been given to the coroner’s office.

``I went back to the coroner’s office. They said I had to wait for the head coroner,″ she testified.

After she was shown the videotape and she had identified her son, the autopsy was already over.

She learned that his hip bone and corneas had been removed when a woman from Southern Transplant Services Inc. called to ask about her son’s medical history. The Food and Drug Administration required the transplant agency to make the survey after finding it had failed to determine whether donor bodies had hepatitis or AIDS.

Minyard said it was Southern Transplant’s job to get the family’s permission if the body and relatives had been identified. If there was no identification and the hospital and police were unable to trace it, he approved the harvesting under Louisiana law.

Mrs. Everett said Southern Transplant indicated in the telephone call that it was unable to trace her son’s relatives.

``I said, `Leroy never was unknown,‴ Mrs. Everett recalled. ``She said, `Yes, but you were.′ I said, `If you’d put his Social Security number through, you would have found me.‴

Minyard said Southern Transplant paid one worker in his office $10 per corpse to take the bone and corneas, and paid clerks to call when bodies arrived. It also paid at least one pathologist with the Louisiana State University Medical Center, which has a contract to perform autopsies and testify to grand juries.

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Minyard said he had no objection to the payment to the workers in his office, but told the pathologist that payment to him was inappropriate because state law requires organs to be donated, not sold.

Minyard said is office performs about 1,500 to 2,000 autopsies each year.

T.J. Picou Jr., head of Southern Transplant, has testified that between January 1991 and April 1995, his firm took bone from 686 bodies after autopsies in New Orleans.

He said 117 of those bodies were unidentified at the time of the autopsy, though nearly all had been identified by the time the autopsy report was typed up. In 1995, after an investigation by the FDA, Southern Transplant stopped taking bone from unidentified corpses.