O.C. SMITH RECONSIDERED When he nominated Dr. O. C. Smith as chief medical examiner in 2000, Shelby County Mayor Jim Rout praised him for being accessible and available. Right. And hes a natty dresser with an expensive haircut. Smith, who favors hospital scrubs and a crewcut, is the focus of one of the biggest cases confronting the medical examiners office since the death of Elvis Presley. But lately hes been more invisible than accessible, handing off cases to an assistant and answering no questions about the bizarre bomb-and-barbed-wire attack on him on June 1, 2002 or the attempted bombing of his office three months earlier. After initially hyping the case as possibly terrorism (see chronology), police and federal investigators have gone into no-comment mode as a federal grand jury convenes. District Attorney Bill Gibbons issues a cryptic three-sentence statement. Federal investigators say all avenues are still open. The Commercial Appeal cautions against a rush to judgment. A slow walk to indecision is more like it. Someone puts bombs in a public building and on a public official when the country is on terror alert, elite investigators swarm over the scene, then nothing happens for 16 months. A prominent medical examiner says the case is strange even by his standards. I must admit I was very, very skeptical when I heard about this, Dr. Cyril Wecht, the Allegheny County (Pa.) medical examiner and frequent television commentator who has testified in more than 500 murder cases told the Flyer. As a pathologist who has been involved in some controversial matters for 40 years, nobody has ever come close to physically assaulting me or tying me up or beating me up. Wecht said Smith case investigators had a lot to work with. A tenet of the trade called Locards Principle holds that whenever there is contact between two people, there will be some transfer of some physical substance between them. The more sustained the contact, the greater the likelihood of a physical transfer, Wecht said. If I bind you and tie this and that around you, that takes some time, he said. You got blood, you got threads, you got hairs. Did they ever find anything they could show came from somebody? There are some questions to be asked. Wecht does not know Smith but has a connection to him through the Philip Workman murder case. Wecht testified for Workmans attorneys in post-conviction appeals. Smith testified for the prosecution. Within a few months of the attack on Smith, the Flyer and presumably other local media began to get off-the-record reports of weird goings-on in Smiths office, including one about employees so fearful at work that they were packing pistols. When we tried to check them out with Smith, we were denied access by him and by Shelby County Health Department spokeswoman Brenda Ward. The sketchy details of the attack itself were so bizarre that we thought half-seriously of trying to recreate it in our office with a bale of barbed wire, an attacker, and a victim. Good sense and fear that we did not have enough mops and buckets to clean up the likely bath of blood prevented this. When we finally got an investigator to talk to us, he said it was indeed strange, but the working theory was still that the Smith attacker was also the office bomber and the author of threatening letters about Smith. Finally, someone pointed out the elephant at the dinner table last week. Given an opening by Gov. Phil Bredesen, Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton acted to remove Smith from office. Some things about the case came to my attention in the fall of last year, Wharton said. He wouldnt say exactly what or how, but his chief administrative officer is former assistant federal prosecutor John Fowlkes and Wharton is a former public defender. There was a cloud over a critical player, but I couldnt even say that there was an investigation going on, Wharton said. I was between a rock and a hard place. He feared that whatever the facts of the Smith case, the Shelby County criminal courts could end up with something like the O.J. Simpson case where police investigator Mark Fuhrman became a big issue. Considering my long history in the criminal justice system, I have a responsibility to say to the county commission that circumstances have developed that there is a great likelihood that he (Dr. Smith) cannot effectively perform his duties, said Wharton. When Bredesen delayed the execution of Philip Workman because of a 15-month- old federal investigation in West Tennessee, Wharton felt free to act. He refuses to say whether the information he has indicates a mad bomber or something else, but says it makes little difference as far as the ability of the medical examiner to do his job. A bomb is a bomb, and the mayor said recent events such as the Pennsylvania pizza bomber made him worry about public safety as well as efficient criminal investigations and trials. Numerous questions remain unanswered. Why did Bredesen and state Atty. Gen. Paul Summers let Workmans execution reach the 11th hour before halting it because of a 15-month-old investigation? What exactly is the relevance to O. C. Smith? And what was the purpose of the attack? If you really hate a guy and youre really disturbed, whats the point? asks Wecht. If you want to harm or kill him, do it. Jim Cavanaugh, special agent in charge of the Smith investigation for the ATF, said this week the case is very active and part of our everyday life. We don t forget cases after other people do. He said the theory that the same person attacked Smith, planted the bombs in the morgue, and wrote the letters is still a major-league category of the investigation. He said he cannot comment further until someone is charged.