A woman 70-year-old, wrongly accused of murder in the death of her husband, will have the opportunity to pursue her lawsuit against the Los Angeles medical examiner who wrongly classified the man’s accidental death as a homicide.
Lois Goodman, 70, a prominent U.S. Open tennis referee, was arrested in 2014 while dressed in her referee uniform and on her way to the U.S. Open match.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last week refused to grant immunity to the medical examiner who changed the cause of death on Alan Goodman’s autopsy from “pending investigation” to “homicide.” The decision came in a non-precedent-setting decision.
Goodman came home in 2012 to find her husband dead in their bed, covered in blood and blood throughout the house. There was no sign of forced entry and Goodman was the last person to see him alive, the court said.
Initial judgment was that he died from an accidental fall. The initial autopsy lead to a long investigation and in 2014 medical examiner, Dr. Yulai Wang, changed the report to show homicide as the cause of death with no explanation.
Later lab tests showed Goodman’s DNA was not on the coffee mug suspected of being the murder weapon and Goodman passed a polygraph test. Experts concluded the death was an accident, discrediting Wang’s conclusion.
The District Attorney dismissed the criminal case. Goodman sued the LA Police Department and Wang.
The appeals court agreed the police should be dismissed from the suit but refused to dismiss Wang.
A reasonable jury could find that “Wang recklessly or intentionally falsified an autopsy report when he changed Alan’s cause of death from ‘pending investigation’ to ‘homicide,’” and that he deliberately left out evidence that Alan fell and hit his head on the mug.
Judge Harry Pregerson would have gone farther, allowing the case to proceed against the police as well. He said the murder charge against Lois rested on a shaky foundation from the beginning. Although there was blood throughout the house there was no blood spatter anywhere.
“No reasonable officer could have believed there was probable cause to arrest Mrs. Goodman for murder,” he wrote in dissent.
Case: Goodman v. City of Los Angeles, No. 15-55757