BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — A legal claim filed by a doctor against Kern County has its origins in the case of a man who served 25 years on death row before his murder conviction was overturned.
Los Angeles-based attorneys last month filed a claim, the precursor to a lawsuit, on behalf of Dr. James Dibdin, who in 1991 performed an autopsy on 21-month-old Consuelo Verdugo and ruled she died as a result of internal injuries inflicted during rape.
Vicente Figueroa Benavides, the boyfriend of Consuelo’s mother, was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. But in 2012 another doctor involved in the case reviewed medical records he said weren’t provided to him during the initial examination and said he no longer believed she was sexually assaulted.
That doctor, Jess Diamond, who previously agreed with Dibdin’s findings, wrote a declaration saying Dibdin got it wrong and Benavides didn’t receive a fair trial.
In 2018, the California Supreme Court overturned Benavides’ conviction, noting Diamond and other medical experts had recanted their testimony.
Dibdin’s claim says the county failed to give him “all relevant information both at the time of the death and subsequently over the period of the appeals.”
It adds, “The county of Kern failed to involve Dr. Dibdin in the appeal process in any meaningful way so that Dr. Dibdin would have the opportunity to defend his opinions and respond to false and inflammatory charges against his character.”
The county has 45 days from the date the claim was filed to respond.
The claim arose in part out of the deposition earlier this year of former chief deputy coroner Jim Malouf in a a federal civil rights lawsuit Benavides brought against the county. That suit is scheduled to go to trial next year.
Malouf’s testimony revealed “there was a total lack of quality control in the coroner’s office” at the time of Consuelo’s death, according to the claim, including “no protocol for child abuse reporting or a written quality control program for retention of specimens and tissue discovered from a body during autopsy, that he could recall.”
The county “lost or improperly disposed” of tissue samples from Consuelo that should have been preserved, according to the claim. It adds the body was “disposed of prematurely.”
Also, Dibdin wasn’t consulted on Consuelo’s death certificate, which was completed before he finished the autopsy report, according to the claim.