Family claims medical examiner refused autopsy following mystery death


by Sybil Hoffman

Posted on May 9, 2013 at 10:40 PM

Updated Thursday, May 9 at 3:08 PM

PRESCOTT VALLEY, Ariz. --  A young woman with her whole life ahead of her suddenly dies. While foul play was ruled out, the cause of her death remained a mystery because the medical examiner refused to investigate.

But as 3TV has uncovered, her family fought back.

Nothing could prepare Janine Tolly for the horror she would encounter on December 20, 2012.

"I came through and I found her like this, face down. She had contusions all over her face. She had a gash on her forehead and she had a laceration on the inside of her lip," said Tolly.

Tolly discovered her 28-year-old daughter, Jessie, unconscious. The effort to revive her failed.

"To find her like that, what in the world happened?" asked Tolly.

Rather than schedule an autopsy, Tolly claims she got a disturbing call from the Medical Examiner's Office.

"She kept telling me, did you know she was x-amount of pounds? She just wouldn't get off the subject of her being overweight. They took one look at Jessica and decided she did it to herself, and natural causes, call it a day," Tolly stated.

Tolly says she was not only shocked with the level of insensitivity coming from the Medical Examiner, as she felt they wanted to close the case based on the assumption Jessie's obesity led to her sudden death.

Especially since days prior, her doctor gave Jessie a clean bill of health.

"The last thing that she needed was to be on that cold slab and have that form of discrimination leveled at her and that's what upset me the most," explained Tolly.

Since Jessie was so young and classified as an unattended death, Tolly thought an autopsy was guaranteed under state law. Turns out the law recently changed.

Dr. Philip Keen is a pathologist.

"Under the new law, there's been a delegation of authority so the decision of whether or not an autopsy will be done, it's a little unclear," said Dr. Keen.

Determined to get answer, Tolly hired Dr. Keen to perform the autopsy the county wouldn't.

"I really wanted the autopsy," Tolly explained.

Dr. Keen completed Jessie's autopsy and then what happened next caught everyone off guard.

"I received a telephone call from a death investigator in Yavapai County and they asked if they could have a copy of my report," said Dr. Keen.

Tolly felt betrayed.

"They just went ahead and contacted him behind our backs," she proclaimed.

Mark Fischione is the Chief Medical Examiner in Maricopa County. He oversees the Yavapai County Office.

"I just can't believe how low these people will go. I just can't believe it," Tolly said.

Why did the Medical Examiner decide not to perform an autopsy and then ask for Dr. Keen's report?

To find out, we requested an interview with the Chief Medical Examiner Mark Fischione. Even though we submitted our request in March, two months later, we have yet to get a response.

Meanwhile, Tolly is left to wonder why no one in Yavapai County wanted to investigate Jessie's death.

"We're not rich, we don't have a lot of money and we're just middle income, you know, I felt in many respects that, in their minds, she just didn't rate," said Tolly.

The Tolly family had to pay nearly $2,000 for the private autopsy that the county decided after the fact they wanted to have. As for what killed Jessie, a defective heart artery.