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Silent Witness: Secrets of Forensic Pathologists

Silent Witness Season 17

by Andrea Wolanin & Hannah Casey

Silent Witness is the all new British Drama coming to WGBX 44. More than your average crime scene procedural, Silent Witness takes all the tech & science of CSI, mixes it with the gritty morbidity of Luther, and adds a dash of delightfully salty humor and some creepily realistic dissection scenes. WGBH is delighted to begin airing Series 17 starting on May 7, 2018. But don't let that late season number out you off – much like CSI or Law and Order, each season is self-contained, so you can jump on at any point.

But watching Silent Witness started us thinking. What makes actual medical examiners, forensic pathologists or forensic anthropologists tick? What do they see every day that they take for normal? What do they consider out of the ordinary? What do they love about their job and what do they hate? And just how accurate are these shows that we love to binge on?

So, we on the WGBH Digital team reached out to forensic pathologists, anthropologists and others in the field, seeking to find answers to these and other questions. And while these people are perhaps more normal than their television counterparts, they have their own quirks, oddities and strange stories. Here, we’ve pulled together the best from men and women at the top of their field.

Silent Witness airs Monday nights at 9pm on WGBX 44.


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Cyril H. Wecht
First Civilian Pathologist to Examine JFK



Name: Joye M Carter, MD

Title: Forensic Pathologist and Consultant

What do you love about your job?
Being able to provide closure for families and loved ones.

What do you least like about your job?
Being witness to inhumanity.

How did you get into your field?
In the wrong place at the right time as a teenager... I saw a post mortem and knew then that was what I was going to do.

What’s your secret talent?
Painstaking dissection/Dog whisperer.

What do you think society misunderstands about your job?
[It’s] not glamorous.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Maintaining compassion.

What do you consider your worst missed opportunity?
I turned down the Dream Team offer by Johnny Cochran... I was the chief medical examiner of Washington, DC when the two victims were found and identified as OJ Simpson’s ex-wife and friend. I attended a press conference on the behalf of the late former Mayor Marion Barry in the DC area about the case. I must say that my attendance was under duress at the time because I do not like discussing cases where I do not have all of the facts. Later, I agreed to answer some questions for the DC CNN center in Washington as the case built up in the media as an independent consultant.

About six months into the case Johnny Cochran called me at home. I remember that it was close to New Year’s Eve. He asked me to join the defense team and I declined. I told him a chief medical examiner cannot take sides but only testify to the facts and that I did not sit behind any defendants at any time. I could not be on a defense team one day and go back to being neutral on my regular cases. He was not happy that I declined but a year or so later we worked on a NAACP panel together.

Who is your mentor?
The late Dr. Joseph Davis.

What is your motto for work?
Never give up and don’t leave home without my smile.

Do you enjoy television crime shows?
Just Perry Mason and old film noire movies where detectives had to use their senses of watching and listening to determine who did it!

Do you take issue with current portrayals of forensic pathologists on-screen?
The modern ones seem out of touch.

Your accomplishments include many impressive firsts: first board certified forensic pathologist from Howard University, first African-American Chief Medical Examiner for the state of Texas, first Black-owned forensic consulting firm. Can you speak to what has inspired you to break down so many barriers?
As a child I was told there was nothing that I could not do if I was trained and worked hard. I refuse to let someone limit my capacity for learning.

You’ve published three books – can you describe what sharing your work in that way has been like?
I write primarily about the spiritual aspect of death investigation. I hope to spread information to my readers and those struggling to get through the grief of a loss and those who need to know they are not alone.

One of the reasons that I was intrigued by forensic was the knowledge needed in human anatomy and physiology as well as helping those left behind cope. I found it easy to discuss death in a way that allows those grieving to feel normal and move through the process at their own speed. My books are geared to explaining the basic process without the gore to laypeople. The medical education process does not do enough to train medical students to explain the death and dying process but sets doctors up as reversing death or keeping it from occurring. There is a natural life death birth process. I use real life examples in my writings to assist survivors with their questions and give them opportunity to vent their emotions.

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