The autopsy report in the death of prominent Birmingham attorney Major Bashinsky presents no forensic evidence to support a finding of suicide.
Bashinsky was reported missing on March 3, 2010, and his body was recovered about two weeks later from a golf-course pond on Birmingham's Southside. Law enforcement officials announced on March 24 that Bashinsky's death had been ruled a suicide.
We have obtained a copy of the autopsy report, and it does not point to any scientific evidence in reaching its conclusion about Bashinsky's death. Instead, the two physicians who signed the report state that they based their findings on the investigation of police detectives.
In reading the case summary, it appears the suicide finding is based on the work of officers who are not qualified to determine manner of death. The 14-page report includes plenty of technical information. But based on the words of the two scientists who signed the report, none of that data points conclusively to suicide. That finding is based almost totally on the police investigation. (See the case summary from the autopsy report at the end of this post.)
Major Bashinsky, 63, was the son of one of Alabama's most renowned businessmen. The late Sloan Y. Bashinsky Sr. was the CEO of Golden Enterprises, the makers of Golden Flake potato chips and snack foods. The elder Bashinsky was long known for his association with University of Alabama football and its iconic coach, Paul "Bear" Bryant.
The disappearance and death of Major Bashinsky has been one of the biggest stories in Alabama so far this year. A prime source of information on the case has been goodmorningfloridakeys.com, a blog written by Sloan Bashinsky Jr., Major's older brother who also is a lawyer and lives in Key West, Florida. In fact, Sloan Bashinsky Jr. reported that his brother had died from a gunshot wound to the head almost a week before that was announced as the official cause of death.
Manner of death, suicide, has seemed suspect from the time it was announced. Sloan Bashinsky Jr. has written that he accepts the finding and believes his younger brother's bisexuality might have been a factor. But we have written several posts--here and here--that raise questions about the official finding. We also noted the sloppy, "trust me" journalism that has surrounded the case.
The quality of journalism on the story looks even worse now that we have seen the autopsy report. The case summary raises obvious questions about the findings, but no local mainstream reporters seem to have asked them. Did they bother looking at the autopsy report? Did they just not care to question authorities?
Gary T. Simmons, M.D., associate coroner/medical examiner for Jefferson County, and Diane C. Peterson, M.D., UAB pathology fellow, signed the report. The key findings come in the following lengthy paragraph:
The decedent was found in a golf course pond with ligatures as described. However, the ligatures were such that the decedent essentially had complete freedom of movement. As described, the decedent had a contact gunshot wound of his head consistent with causing this wound, car keys, duct tape similar to that used to bind on the decedent, and scissors being found in the ponder generally under the area where the decedent's body was found. Furthermore, the decedent was reportedly witnessed buying duct tape and rope similar to that found on the body at a hardware store with the decedent also being video taped the day he was reported missing in a coffee shop near this hardware store. At that time he was apparently dressed in the same clothes he was found in. The decedent appeared alone in this video. Taking these facts into consideration as well as the findings of the rest of the investigation it is our opinion that this was a self inflicted gunshot wound. It is therefore our opinion that the cause of death is best listed as contact gunshot wound to the head with the manner of death being suicide.
The key points in the 14-page report can be boiled down to the material in bold above--and none of it has to do with scientific findings. It revolves around alleged activities at a coffee shop and a hardware store, information that comes from police investigators.
We are not experts in the jargon of medical examiners, but the language here--"the cause of death is best listed as . . . "--is not terribly convincing. In fact, it appears that the medical examiners were faced with an inconclusive autopsy report, but listed suicide as the manner of death anyway.
An accidental death seems to be ruled out in the Major Bashinsky case--so that would leave only suicide or homicide. We see no conclusive evidence in the autopsy report to indicate Bashinsky was murdered. But we also see no conclusive evidence to indicate he killed himself--certainly none of a scientific variety.
A memorial service was held for Major Bashinsky on March 23, and the press reported the suicide findings the next day. Since then, mainstream reporters seemingly have lost interest in the case. But we have sensed for some time that the general public has many unanswered questions about the case.
Based on the autopsy report, we would say those questions are understandable.
(To be continued)