Martin Lee Anderson might have survived a severe reaction to strenuous exercise if officials at a Panama City boot camp had given him prompt medical attention, the Bay County medical examiner said Wednesday.
In a wide-ranging, 90-minute interview with Miami Herald editors and reporters, Dr. Charles Siebert stood by his autopsy finding that the teenager died from complications of sickle cell trait. But he said Martin might have survived if guards at the boot camp had taken seriously the youth's complaints that he was having trouble breathing and could no longer exercise.
Siebert ignited a firestorm Feb. 16 when he released an autopsy report concluding Martin died Jan. 6 of natural causes. Siebert ruled the teen essentially bled to death after the genetic disorder set off a cascade of events that caused his blood to cease clotting.
Dying from the condition is extremely rare, Siebert said, though deaths from sickle cell trait have been documented by other pathologists.
"This is a valid, backed-by-science diagnosis, " Siebert said. "People just aren't believing it."
Martin, who was 14, entered the Bay County Sheriff's Office boot camp Jan. 5 after being convicted of taking his grandmother's Jeep for a joyride. After completing several laps around a track, the teen complained that he couldn't breathe well and couldn't continue running.
Guards responded with 30 to 40 minutes of force, punching and kneeing Martin and inserting ammonia capsules under his nose. Siebert insisted that the manhandling did not result in the teen's death, though he acknowledged the youth may have recovered from the incident had guards and a camp nurse sought immediate medical attention, rather than using physical force to encourage him to continue running. He also said the stress of the encounter with guards - but not the physical blows themselves - may have aggravated Anderson's condition.
"There was no trauma significant enough to contribute to or cause his death, " Siebert said.
Siebert's autopsy report listed Anderson's cause of death as "complications of sickle cell trait" and his manner of death as "natural."
A second autopsy was conducted last month. A final report has not been released, but a spokeswoman for the state attorney appointed to investigate the case said last month that "preliminary findings indicate that Martin Anderson did not die of sickle cell trait, nor did he die of natural causes."
Siebert said he ruled the death "natural" because Anderson was having physical problems before his encounter with the guards. But he suggested there was room for debate over the manner of death, which he called a "philosophical" decision an examiner must make.
Siebert disputed comments by Michael Baden, a New York pathologist hired by Martin's family, that the youth may have died from asphyxiation. Siebert said he ruled out that diagnosis because Martin did not have an elevated level of carbon dioxide in his blood when he arrived at the hospital, which would have been consistent with oxygen deprivation.