Probe of brain harvesting concludes


PORTLAND (AP) – State and federal prosecutors said Wednesday they have completed their investigation into brain harvesting activities within the state Medical Examiner’s Office and determined that no criminal charges are warranted.

The announcement was made by U.S. Attorney Paula Silsby and Maine Special Assistant Attorney General Richard Murphy, who oversaw the joint investigation conducted over the past two years.

The probe centered on the collection of at least 99 brains from deceased Mainers that were shipped to the Stanley Medical Research Institute of Bethesda, Md., between 1999 and 2003.

David Barry, an attorney who represented the institute and its founder, Dr. E. Fuller Torrey, said the joint federal-state investigation was “very thorough” and that his clients cooperated fully.

Barry also said he believed from the outset that the investigations would show no violation of criminal law.

More than a dozen families have filed civil lawsuits alleging that the brains of their loved ones were removed by the Medical Examiner’s Office without their consent.

The lawsuits in Maine target the Stanley Institute; Torrey; and Matthew Cyr, the former state funeral inspector within the Medical Examiner’s Office who was paid more than $150,000 to collect the brains. All have denied wrongdoing.

“We’ve never believed the civil cases to have merit,” said Tom Laprade, an attorney for the Stanley Institute and Torrey.

Cyr, who now works as a police officer in Bucksport, had been identified by lawyers involved in the civil litigation as a target of the federal investigation.

A message left for Cyr with Bucksport police was not returned and there was no phone listing for him in the area.

The Stanley Institute’s brain bank to promote research on mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder has received hundreds of brains from state and county morgues in Maine, California, Minnesota and Washington state.

The investigation in Maine focused on whether any federal or state laws were broken.

Because the Medical Examiner’s Office is a component of his department, Attorney General Steven Rowe appointed Murphy as a special prosecutor assigned to the case.

Murphy declined comment on the investigation beyond what was spelled out in a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

“The conduct of the investigation and the contents are confidential,” Murphy said. He noted that resources were provided by the FBI, but would not go into specifics.

A spokesman said Rowe’s office had no comment.

Attorney C. Donald Briggs of Rockport, who represents plaintiff Alice Geary in a lawsuit filed in Waldo County Superior Court, said he was disappointed but not necessarily surprised at the outcome of the investigation.

Briggs said the determination on criminal charges should have no effect on the civil litigation, “other than the fact that there won’t be any criminal case to hold up the civil case.”

Briggs said his client’s case, filed in Waldo County Superior Court, is awaiting arguments on a defense motion for a summary judgment.

AP-ES-01-24-07 1835EST