Memphis medical examiner attacked, bomb tied to his body

Monday, June 3, 2002

Associated Press WriterMEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) -- Federal and local authorities promise an intense investigation into why the city's chief medical examiner was attacked, bound with barbed wire and left with an apparent bomb tied to his body.

The device did not explode, and Medical Examiner O.C. Smith suffered minor injuries Saturday night.

The device, which apparently was capable of exploding, appeared similar to a crude bomb found in March in a stairway of the Shelby County Regional Forensic Center, where Smith and his staff work.

That bomb was destroyed by police.

Deputy Police Chief Bob Wright declined to speculate why Smith was attacked but noted he has played major roles in numerous criminal investigations. Smith, 49, and his staff perform autopsies on crime victims and often provide information used in prosecutions.

Smith was overpowered by one or more attackers after a chemical was thrown or sprayed in his face as he left his office on the campus of the University of Tennessee medical school downtown.

For nearly three hours, Smith was unable to move or shout for help because of barbed wire around his mouth. A security guard saw Smith's car in the parking lot, became suspicious and found him nearby with the device strapped to his chest 2 1/2 hours after the attack. The police bomb squad was called to free Smith from the device bound to his body.

Smith suffered minor cuts, bruises and a chemical burn to his face and returned to the scene Sunday to assist investigators.

Police X-rayed the device and rendered it harmless with an explosive charge. The X-rays and the remains of the device were sent to a lab in Atlanta run by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

"We're going to let the lab do the analysis and let us know if we have a functioning device or not. Our indications are right now that most of the components are there for a functioning device," said Gene Marquez, agent in charge of the ATF office in Memphis.

The FBI and a profiler have also joined the investigation, officials said Monday.

Wright wouldn't discuss Smith's whereabouts or say if he was under police guard.

"Obviously we're going to take the necessary precautions to assure Dr. Smith's safety," Wright said.

Marquez described the device tied to Smith and the bomb found near his office in March as "unsophisticated." Both, however, were capable of causing serious injuries or death, he said.

"We saw similarities between this device and the previous device at the morgue," Marquez said, declining to go into further detail.

Last June, during court hearings on convicted killer Philip Workman's attempt to avoid execution, authorities received an anonymous letter threatening Smith. A similar letter was sent to The Commercial Appeal newspaper of Memphis.

Smith's testimony supported Workman's conviction on charges of murdering a Memphis police officer in 1981. Workman doesn't deny taking part in a shootout with police but says the fatal bullet was fired by a fellow officer, not him. The courts have stayed the execution and Workman remains on death row.

Workman's attorney had challenged the validity of Smith's ballistics and laboratory tests. Smith said the tests proved Workman's bullet killed Memphis police Lt. Ronald Oliver.

The letter accused Smith of lying and referred to Workman as an innocent "LAMB OF GOD."

"Long have I waited for my HOLY ORDER to fight against the DOCTOR-KILLER abortionists, but now I know OUR LORD was saving me for something larger," the letter said in part.

The ATF also is offering a $5,000 reward for information about the case.

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