Parents sue coroner over his comments

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 21, 2003

VIDALIA, La. &045; Rachel and Sam Hudson, parents of a Vidalia child found dead in a pond last fall, have filed a civil suit against Adams County Coroner James Lee.

The Hudsons, whose 5-year-old son Eric died Nov. 9 in a pond behind their house, are suing for damages including severe emotional distress.

Several physicians and pathologists have examined Eric’s body, but no definite cause of death has been found &045; that has been an issue of debate.

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The Hudsons’ suit claims that Lee &uot;made numerous statements to Louisiana news media and others within Louisiana in which he claimed that the death of Eric Hudson was a homicide, that he (Lee) knows the ‘true identity’ of the killer, and that the sheriff of Concordia Parish is covering up the identity of the killer.&uot;

Lee, who was served papers at a press conference Friday at which the Hudsons announced the lawsuit, said he is &uot;disappointed&uot; in the turn of events.

&uot;I am very disappointed the Hudsons have singled me out when I am the person who has worked day and night to find out who killed their son,&uot; Lee said.

&uot;I wouldn’t dare to do anything to hurt this family. If I have done anything to harm the Hudson family I apologize, but I am not going to stop making this an issue until the perpetrator is identified.&uot;

The Hudsons have said they were not told officials suspected their child was murdered until the day of his funeral, several days after his death.

Sheriff’s office investigators initially believed the child’s death was accidental. However, a report from Lee &045; based on examinations by him and Natchez Regional physicians &045; stated the boy died of strangulation, not drowning. His report also stated the possibility the child had been sexually molested.

According to Paul Scott, director for the District Attorney’s Office, Steven Haynes, a Mississippi forensic pathologist, performed an autopsy on Eric Hudson and found &uot;suggested manual strangulation.&uot; The reason the report says &uot;suggested&uot; is because there was no trace evidence, such as DNA, Scott said.

Earlier this year, Concordia Parish authorities said they did not have conclusive evidence that the boy was murdered &045; or that the death was accidental. Scientific reports list the cause of Hudson’s death as asphyxiation, not strangulation.

Concordia Parish investigators have theorized Eric’s death could even have been a dry drowning, a unique instance in which sudden panic or shock causes shock to the larynx, which goes into spasms so no air could get into the lungs.

Earlier this month, Lee was asked to a meeting by the Seventh Judicial District Attorney’s to discuss some of his accusations of homicide and sexual abuse and to reconcile differences.

Concordia Parish Sheriff Randy Maxwell said Lee was asked if he knew the identity of the killer and to provide that information if so.

&uot;James Lee has not offered one piece of new or conclusive evidence,&uot; Maxwell said. &uot;We’re working for Eric, not James Lee.&uot;

The Hudsons’ suit questions Lee’s qualifications as a coroner. &uot;He has no training sufficient to allow him to opine as to the cause or manner of death. He has no training sufficient to allow him to properly examine a deceased person to determine the cause or manner of death,&uot; the lawsuit claims.

But Lee said he did go through a required Mississippi training course to become coroner. Lee said that the training program includes watching how an autopsy is performed.

Lee said he continues his education as a coroner by attending conferences.

Lee has 30 days to respond to the lawsuit.