Robair's sister, Pearl LeFlore, said her sibling's battered body was communicating a message: "This is what happened to me. ... I died brutally. I was beaten." McGarry's autopsy was "a lie altogether," she said.
Based on McGarry's autopsy, records show, the district attorney's office decided not to prosecute any police officers in connection with Robair's death. "The officers were effectively exonerated by the initial autopsy performed by the Orleans Parish Coroner's Office," wrote an assistant district attorney in a 2008 letter sent to the police department.
Ultimately, in 2010, after conducting an extensive investigation, the U.S. Department of Justice indicted New Orleans Police officer Melvin Williams for allegedly beating Robair to death and charged another officer with allegedly helping to cover it up. The officers have pleaded not guilty.
Cayne Miceli's father is still seeking justice. Mike Miceli has sued McGarry in Orleans Parish court, saying his actions were "extreme and outrageous," and has filed a separate suit against the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Department for wrongful death. Both cases are pending.
"There's no reason for a family to have to go through this," Mike Miceli said. After the lawsuits were filed, Minyard amended the autopsy report, changing Miceli's cause of death from a drug overdose to asthma and labeling it a natural death.
Minyard declined to discuss the Miceli autopsy or other cases in which McGarry's findings have been challenged. He defended McGarry's work more generally. "I'm not aware of any impropriety," the coroner said. "I'm not aware of any mistakes."
Last year, McGarry stopped doing autopsies for Orleans Parish, but he is still working for three Mississippi counties. "He lives in Mississippi, and he's helping them over there," Minyard said. "The travel back and forth was too much."
The Debate Over Coroners
Some experts see coroners like Minyard as throwbacks to an earlier, less scientific era.
The qualifications of those who oversee death investigations vary widely from state to state -- and, in some areas, from county to county. But the main divide is between medical examiner systems, run by doctors specially trained in forensic pathology, and coroner systems, run by elected or appointed officials who often do not have to be doctors.
While Minyard happens to be a physician -- he worked as an obstetrician-gynecologist before becoming coroner -- he isn't a forensic pathologist and never actually puts scalpel to flesh. In the end, though, it is Minyard who decides what words will be typed on the death certificate.
The 2009 report by the National Academy of Sciences, a comprehensive overview of defects in the nation's death investigation system authored by more than 50 luminaries in the field, recommended phasing out coroners and replacing them with medical examiners. (For a detailed, state-by-state breakdown, see our app.)
For Fierro, the Virginia forensic pathologist, the coroner-versus-medical-examiner debate is fundamentally about competence. In her view, only trained specialists should oversee death investigations. "I'm not anti-coroner," said Fierro, one of the authors of the academy's report. "I'm pro-competency."
But another concern raised by the academy is that coroners often are closely aligned with law enforcement agencies. In 48 California counties, the local sheriff serves as coroner. In Nebraska, county prosecutors perform the coroner's duties. "Sensitive cases, such as police shootings and police encounter deaths ... require an unbiased death investigation that is clearly independent of law enforcement," the NAS report stated.
Minyard's close ties to law enforcement have provoked controversy throughout his long career, and his decisions in certain cases, particularly that of Adolph Archie, illustrate just how much power a coroner can wield.