Last week, medical examiner Dr. Michael Berkland let his Pensacola, Florida storage unit go into default. Much to the dismay of the man who won Berkland’s unit at auction, the locker contained human brains, hearts and lungs stored crudely in formaldehyde-filled Tupperware, garbage bags and cups. One human heart was inside a cracked convenience store Styrofoam cup. At the moment, it is not known why Berkland was keeping the organs of over 100 people in a storage unit. Authorities are trying to track down family members of the deceased– a difficult task, as many of the jars’ labels are indecipherable.
Although Berkland has not been formally charged with a crime in this self-storage incident, it is clear that he is anything but a model medical examiner. He was fired from the Jackson County, Missouri Medical Examiner’s office in 1996 for falsifying autopsy reports. Back then, he attributed the myriad disputes over his autopsy reports to “proofreading errors.”
In 1998, the Circuit Court of Jackson County said Berkland “poses a substantial probability of serious danger to the health, safety and welfare of his patients, clients and/or the residents of Missouri.”
His license to practice medicine of any sort was eventually revoked in the state of Missouri in 1999. Berkland also came under fire for taking sections of brains, which he claimed he needed for “teaching purposes.” Berkland’s bizarre behavior has had serious ramifications, as the revocation of his Missouri license has jeopardized over nine criminal cases in that state. To date, there have been at least two cases in Missouri in which a reversal of judgment has been requested on the basis of false testimony from Berkland.
After his troubles in Missouri, Berkland was somehow able to find work in Florida from 1997 until 2003, when he was fired again, this time for failing to complete autopsy reports.
What this means for previously closed criminal cases…
Over a 25-year career, Berkland has investigated over 6,000 deaths and has appeared as an expert witness in many criminal court cases. One can only imagine how many criminal investigations this man has affected to date. I would humbly suggest that some of these cases be reopened, especially the 2001 death of 28-year-old Lori Klausutis.
When former Florida Congressman Joe Scarborough sought to “extinguish the fires of speculation” that there was foul play involved in the 2001 death of his aide Klausutis, he authorized the release of an 18-page autopsy report. Unfortunately, anyone who does even a cursory background check on his medical examiner – Michael Berkland himself – will realize the report is unreliable.
Around 8:00 am on June 20, 2001, Andreas and Juanita Bergmann appeared at Scarborough’s Fort Walton office to meet with the Congressman about a green card application. What they found was Lori Klausutis lying supine and unconscious on the floor.
According to Dr. Michael Berkland, who unfortunately did the autopsy report, Klausutis died of an undiagnosed heart-valve disease. Berkland’s theory is that she suffered cardiac arrhythmia, an irregular heartbeat which in turn caused her to lose consciousness and smack her head against her desk.
Klausutis, a constituent services coordinator in Joe Scarborough’s Fort Walton Beach office, was a warm and easy-going woman who colleagues described as “Little Miss Mary Sunshine.” She ran five miles every day.
Within three hours of discovering the body, Wear-TV, an ABC affiliate in Pensacola, reported that “Scarborough’s office says Klausutis had a history of health problems.” Scarborough called Anna Dobbins of Wear-TV, proclaiming that “a young woman had died in his office and that she had a complicated medical history, specifically surrounding stroke and epilepsy.” Klausutis’ family was infuriated by the insinuations that she had health problems.
Despite being recently reelected to a fourth term, Scarborough had announced he would resign as a congressman that summer. Recently divorced, Scarborough said he resigned so he could spend more time with his family. He also abruptly quit his post as publisher of The Independent Florida Sun.
Compared to the Chandra Levy-Gary Condit scandal, which was reported ad nauseam that same year, the death of Lori Klausutis was overlooked by almost every national news outlet. Aside from articles from Northwest Florida Daily News, there was virtually no coverage of the incident. The Washington Post gave the story a single paragraph in their “Nation in Brief” column. Based on the autopsy report of Dr. Berkland, there was no instance of foul play, and thus no story to cover.
Over the years, Scarborough has been publicly vilified in connection with Klausutis’ death. Extremist Michael Moore purchased the domain name “joescarboroughkilledhisintern.com” and most famously, Vanity Fair writer James Wolcott published an accusatory article in October 2003 that prompted Scarborough to formerly respond after two years.
In November 2005, Scarborough wrote to Vanity Fair, “While I cringe at responding to Mr. Wolcott’s gutter reporting two years later, I need to set the record straight on your article’s implications that I am a murderer. Here are the facts Vanity Fair and James Wolcott would have learned had they spent five minutes on the telephone engaging in rudimentary fact-checking: (1) [Klausutis] worked in my annex office in Okaloosa County, Florida. (2) I met her no more than three times; I was never alone with her. (3) I didn’t leave Congress because of her death; I announced my retirement from Congress in May 2001— she passed away several months later.”
While I cannot definitively say that someone murdered Lori Klausutis, I do not have any faith in the veracity of Berkland’s autopsy report. After all, this is a man who lost his medical examiner’s license in two states for falsifying reports.
Berkland’s failure to pay rent on a storage locker full of human organs is further proof that the man is unhinged, and that his 2001 testimony should be questioned. Now that he is once again in the media limelight, this time for stashing human organs in storage, perhaps we can expect to see past criminal cases reopened across the country.
Featured image courtesy of newson6.com. Scarborough image via MSNBC.