‘Unreliable’: A medical examiner’s testimony led to a lucrative business, even as his cases kept falling apart

A medical examiner’s testimony led to a lucrative business, even as his cases kept falling apart

5 INVESTIGATES started reviewing Michael McGee's contracts earlier this year after a federal judge called out his "well-documented history of providing false or inaccurate testimony in court."

Michael Hansen calls the six years he spent in prison for a murder he did not commit his “hiatus.”

Inside the St. Paul tattoo shop he opened after receiving a payout for his wrongful conviction, Hansen chuckled as he reflected on that gap in time. “I mean, what would you call that?”

During a recent interview with 5 INVESTIGATES, Hansen also reflected on another small business owner: the former medical examiner who helped convict him of murdering his daughter.

“His word was the only thing I had against me. There was nothing else,” Hansen said about Dr. Michael McGee.

Based on testimony from the longtime Ramsey County medical examiner, prosecutors argued that Hansen killed his 3-month-old daughter, Avryonna, in 2004. 

He received a nearly 15-year prison sentence but was released after six years when a judge called McGee’s testimony “not credible.”

A panel of doctors said that McGee downplayed a fall that Avryonna had days earlier, and that’s what actually caused her death.

“I absolutely thought that he was at the very least going to be fired, or at the very least he would retire and get out of there sooner,” Hansen said. 

Instead, the veteran medical examiner kept testifying in criminal cases for the next decade while he built a lucrative business. Counties across the state paid him millions of dollars to examine victims and then testify about what happened to them. 

But McGee’s testimony is now under growing scrutiny. And his ability to charge hundreds of thousands of dollars every year for that expertise until his retirement in 2021 is being called “utterly baffling,” according to another longtime medical examiner.

The M.B. McGee Corporation

5 INVESTIGATES started reviewing McGee’s contracts earlier this year after a federal judge called out his “well-documented history of providing false or inaccurate testimony in court.”

Invoices and receipts show his company, M.B. McGee, collected more than $9 million from at least 19 counties dating back to 2011.  

McGee has not responded to multiple requests for comment.

In the decade after Michael Hansen was exonerated, Ramsey County alone paid McGee’s business more than $700,000 every year and also covered his malpractice insurance.

Ramsey County refused multiple requests for an on-camera interview. In a statement, a spokesperson said contracts with McGee’s company were approved by the Ramsey County Board.

“It’s always kind of baffled me that Ramsey County was OK with this,” said Dr. Lindsay Thomas, a longtime medical examiner in Minnesota. “It’s just not good government.”

Thomas now works with the Great North Innocence Project, which helped get Hansen out of prison. It also helped free Thomas Rhodes earlier this year.

Flawed and Unreliable

Rhodes spent 25 years in prison for the murder of his wife in 1996. But in January, the state Attorney General’s Office said it could no longer prove that case due to “flawed” testimony from McGee.

The medical examiner testified that Rhodes’ wife, Jane, died after being pushed into a lake and being rammed several times by a boat. Multiple independent experts have since said they would not have ruled her death a homicide.

In his first interview after being released from prison, Rhodes told 5 INVESTIGATES that he believes Ramsey County repeatedly missed red flags in McGee’s testimony.

“They had to because all the things that are coming out now,” Rhodes said. “I mean, it’s massive.”

Last month, the U.S. Department of Justice announced it would no longer seek the death penalty for the North Dakota man who murdered Dru Sjodin after a federal judge called McGee’s testimony “unreliable.”

As 5 INVESTIGATES first reported, that scathing ruling also prompted the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office to order an independent review of more than 70 cases where McGee’s findings or testimony played a critical role in supporting a conviction.

“We will do the right thing, whatever that might be,” Choi said during an interview in January.

He also ordered a limited review of McGee’s cases after Hansen’s conviction was tossed out more than a decade earlier. 

Choi said he does not regret standing by McGee at that time.

“We couldn’t find anything in which there was untruthful or false or misleading type of testimony,” he said.

Since Hansen’s exoneration, criminal cases have now crumbled in at least three states because of McGee’s testimony.

Several other counties in Minnesota have confirmed to 5 INVESTIGATES that they are also reviewing convictions where McGee played a significant role.

“For everyday people out there that think this can’t happen to them, it can,” Hansen said. “I’m an everyday blue-collar guy, takes care of his family, loves his kids, goes home to his family every day after work. And it happened to me, it happened to Thomas Rhodes, it’s happened to many people.”

Dr. Michael McGee’s career under scrutiny debrief

Dr. Michael McGee's career under scrutiny debrief