Genesee County mom waits for justice in daughter's death, frustrated with autopsy delay


    Michele Bennett is in the middle of her first dreadful year without her beloved daughter Jessica. Nearly nine months after her death Michelle still looks around thinking she’s coming home. (Photo: WEYI/WSMH)

    FLINT, Mich. - Imagine your loved one is murdered and instead of the accused killer going to trial quickly, the case gets stuck in court.

    That's the reality one Flint mom lives with.

    Jessica Flood’s mom has waited for justice since June.

    Someone at the now shut down Great Western Inn smelled a foul odor, leading to the discovery of Jessica’s body in a motel room.

    Now for Jessica's mom, it's sleepless nights and countless calls to make sure her daughter gets her day in court.

    Michele Bennett is in the middle of her first dreadful year without her beloved daughter Jessica. Nearly nine months after her death Michelle still looks around thinking she’s coming home.

    “She was a loving, caring person always smiling, always happy. She put others before herself,” Michele said.

    The grieving's barely begun, and Michele feels it can't until she gets closure. But that's not happening any time soon.

    “This is dragging on so every day it's just more pain and I feel sorry for others that have to go through it as well,” she said.

    Since June Michele's anxiously waited for court dates that have been rescheduled. She says at least three because of an autopsy report that wasn't finished on time. Until in October, when Michele took matters into her own hands.

    “Why do I have to make these calls why do I have to find out where the medical examiner’s office is and leave a message for every voicemail at your office to find out why my daughters autopsy isn't ready,” she said.

    “I think it costs the whole judicial system,” said Nathaniel Perry.

    Genesee County District Court judge Nathaniel Perry first noticed autopsy delays a decade ago. It's an issue he's learned to work around.

    “I've taken all the testimony necessary and left the autopsy as the last thing and until that's done I can't complete my hearing,” he said.

    Perry believes several things are behind late reports from the Genesee County Medical Examiner's Office.

    “You can have delays and it could be rooted in budgetary concerns, it could be in man power or woman power concerns, where the office of the medical examiner may be short staffed and they have to get to them when they can,” he said.

    Right now, there are a total of 27 Forensic Pathologists in the state of Michigan. These are Physicians licensed to perform autopsies.

    In Genesee County, where Jessica died, there’s only two.

    According to the University of Michigan autopsies are preformed when:

    death is unexpected

    result of an injury: for example, a car crash or drug overdose

    death is suspicious: suicide or murder

    will help health officials track a disease or a public health hazard

    if a family asks for one.

    “There really is no average depending on the complexity and circumstances of one’s death so it can take anywhere from an hour or so all the way to a couple of days or several days. It really depends on the circumstances,” said Dr. Theodore Brown.

    Dr. Theodore Brown is a professor at Western Michigan University and a Forensic Pathologist who serves 11 counties in West Michigan.

    He says the need for pathologists is greater now due to the opioid epidemic.

    More and more people are dying causing officials to deal with larger caseloads.

    “You don't make excuses you step up to the plate you work harder and you get the job done because ultimately there are families who need answers and deserve answers,” he said.

    Depending on the case the length of an autopsy can vary.

    “There really is no average depending on the complexity and circumstances of one’s death so it can take anywhere from an hour or so all the way to a couple of days or several days,” he said.

    “It could take up to two months to get the official report back and that’s most places,” Dr. Russell Bush said.

    Saginaw County Medical Examiner Dr. Russell Bush says reports can also take varying lengths of time.

    “It isn’t quite like they show on tv. Several things don’t occur nearly as fast or the way it gets presented,” he said.

    But we’ve discovered Michigan has no oversight when it comes to medical examiners and pathologists.

    Meaning, each county makes their own rules for their office and most report to the county commissioners.

    Not all are required to produce annual reports which is true in Genesee County.

    Meanwhile, Michele waited four months for her daughter’s autopsy results.

    “I’m the one that should be able to sit back and let justice happen and it’s just not,” she said.

    We reached out the Genesee County Medical Examiner on multiple occasions for details surrounding Jessica Flood’s death and the offices caseload. We were never granted an interview. And even though Michele says she has more questions than answers, she’s not giving up.

    “She’s not just a case she’s my daughter just because someone else isn’t doing their jobs doesn’t mean that murderers should walk free,” Michele said.

    Luckily Jessica’s case didn’t get thrown out.

    Aaron Thornton from Burton will stand trial on homicide and unlawful imprisonment charges for Jessica’s death.

    He’s back in court next week.

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