TWINSBURG — The Ohio Supreme Court has ordered the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner's Office to turn over autopsy materials, including photos, of an infant to the father who was convicted of her 2006 murder.
The 4-3 decision was handed down Nov. 30, with justices Terrence O’Donnell, Sharon Kennedy, R. Patrick DeWine and Patrick Fischer concurring as the majority and Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and justices Judith French and William O’Neill dissenting.
"The Medical Examiner's Office is disappointed with the decision, but will comply with the court's ruling," said the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner’s Office in a written statement.
According to Twinsburg police, now 33-year-old Michael F. Clay called 911 on at about 9:30 a.m. Aug. 28, 2006, to report that his 8-month-old daughter Makaila Clay was not breathing. Twinsburg Emergency Medical Service responded and immediately transported Makaila to a Solon hospital, where she was pronounced dead.
In August 2007, a Summit County Court of Common Pleas found Clay guilty of murder, child endangering and felonious assault for the death of his daughter. A Cuyahoga County coroner testified during the trial that Makaila suffered "17 contusions" to the head and facial area, and that her cause of death was "blunt force trauma."
According to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections, Clay is currently incarcerated in the Mansfield Correctional Institution serving a 15-year to life sentence.
A three-judge panel of the Ohio Ninth District Court of Appeals unanimously rejected Clay’s appeal of his conviction in May 2008. Clay claimed he was not given a fair trial because evidence presented was insufficient to convict him.
According to the high court decision, Clay sent two written requests to the medical examiner’s office for "all copies of X-rays, autopsy photos, the death certificate and written doctors’ reports pertaining to his deceased daughter."
The ME’s office sent some documents, but not the ones Clay requested. The ME’s office said the death certificate could be acquired from Cleveland City Hall while the other records Clay requested would require a court subpoena.
Clay then appealed to the Ohio Eighth District Court of Appeals, which ordered the ME’s office to turn over the requested records in February 2016. The ME’s office appealed that decision to the state’s high court.
At the heart of the matter is conflicting state law. One statute limits the right of incarcerated people to records pertaining to the autopsies of those they have been convicted of killing. A second statute grants the right of next of kin to those records.
The ME argued that the two laws together create an "absurd consequence" that a next of kin of a murder victim incarcerated for the murder can request the records, but anyone else who is incarcerated for the murder of someone they are not a next of kin to cannot have access those records.
The majority opinion, however, states that the latter statute is unambiguous that Clay, as next of kin, has a right to the records. Although agreeing with the majority, Fischer, joined by O’Donnell, issued a separate opinion urging the Ohio General Assembly to address the conflict between the two laws.