Lawrenceville, GA – A Gwinnett County medical examiner is facing discipline after she mislabeled the death of a murdered man as “natural causes.”
Michelle Smalls said she hadn’t been able to reach her brother, 61-year-old Ray Neal, by telephone on July 21, so she drove to his home in the 400-block of Lexington Drive to check on him, WAGA reported.
Smalls found Neal’s body on the floor of his bedroom, laying in a puddle of blood.
There was also blood on the bed, the bathroom walls and on a shower curtain, according to The Washington Post.
Smalls said she immediately suspected foul play, WAGA reported.
The police officer who was the first to arrive at the home also found the scene suspicious, The Washington Post reported.
"I observed a large amount of blood on the bed and underneath Ray Neal,” the officer wrote in his police report. “I also observed blood on the walls in the bathroom and on the shower curtain.”
Smalls said that when Gwinnett County Medical Examiner’s Office Investigator Shannon Byers arrived at the home, she went inside and only spent about 10 minutes investigating.
Then she came back out and said she was finished, WSB reported.
"She was in. She went in all of 10 minutes and said it was natural causes. The funeral home director came to pick him up. When he walked in, he said, 'This is something totally different than what they said,’" Smalls said.
Neal did have high blood pressure, liver problems, and hepatitis C, according to his sister, who said he was also a former crack user who had stopped taking drugs but was now abusing alcohol, The Washington Post reported.
But she still didn’t think her brother’s death scene appeared to be natural causes.
“There’s no way,” Smalls told WSB. “It was too much blood.”
The police report said that Byers released Neal’s body to the Byrd and Flanagan Funeral Home.
Once there, an employee noticed a hole in Neal’s neck that he believed to be a stab wound, WAGA reported.
Neal’s body was sent back to the Gwinnett County morgue where a second examination determined the man had, in fact, been murdered.
The medical examiner’s office changed the death finding to “homicide,” The Washington Post reported.
“What kind of peace do you have about doing that to someone that’s lost a loved one? You had one job to and you failed at that,” Smalls told WAGA.
Police said the two-day delay that resulted from the error didn’t hinder their investigation, because they had the good sense that the medical examiner didn't.
"We were aware of the situation prior to getting that final classification from the medical examiner's office," Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Corporal Michele Pihera told The Washington Post.
Cpl. Pihera said investigators are working to figure out who killed Neal and why, WAGA reported.
“I know it was someone he knew because he didn’t let anyone in his house,” Smalls said.