Parents to Sue NYC After Dead Son's Brain is Spotted Floating in Jar by Classmates During Field Trip to City Mortuary
With the family's permission, an autopsy was performed the following day - and it was ruled that Jesse died of multiple blunt impact head injuries.
Funeral directors collected Jesse's body later that day and a burial and funeral service was held three days later.
But, unbeknown to the Shipley's, medical examiners had retained the dead body's brain for further study.
Two months later, several of Jesse's classmates from Port Richmond High School were on a forensic science club field trip at the Staten Island mortuary, where they saw a brain being kept in a jar of formeldahyde.
In what a judge called 'a surreal coincidence', the 'label on the jar indicated that the brain was that of Jesse Shipley'.
Shipley family lawyer Marvin Bed-Aron said: 'A couple of the kids noticed it immediately, and the kids who knew him became really distraught.'
Some of the students started taking mobile phone pictures of the brain, which were confiscated by their teacher. The excursion ended almost immediately after the discovery.
Students returned to the school and told Jesse's younger sister Shannon, then 15, who was also in the car with Jesse at the time of the accident and was forced to witness his painful death.
The school had to call the distraught girl's parents to come and take her home.
'It was definitely very traumatic for the parents and for Shannon,' Mr Ben-Aron said.
Told by a priest that Jesse's burial was not proper unless he was buried 'whole', the family demanded that the brain be returned to them. Jesse's body was disinterred and the Shipley's had to endure another agonising funeral service.
Five years on, and a judge has ruled that the Shipleys are entitled to sue the Medical Examiner over the incident.
Justice William F. Mastro said the medical examiner's office should have advised the Shipleys that Jesse's brain was being retained for further study.
He wrote: 'While the medical examiner has the statutory authority to ... perform an autopsy ... and to remove and retain bodily organs for further examination and testing ... he or she, also has the mandated obligation ... to turn over the decedent's remains to the next of kin for preservation and proper burial once the legitimate purposes for retention of those remains have been fulfilled.'
This duty could have been satisfied, Justice Mastro added, simply by telling the family that while the body was available for burial, an organ was being held.
Armed with such information, they could have decided whether to hold the burial until the brain was available, or proceed without it.
The case now returns to Justice Thomas P. Aliotta in state Supreme Court.
But the court denied the Shipleys' motion to sue for additional damages arising from what they alleged was the brain's public display.
It determined that the brain was simply kept in a cabinet with other specimens awaiting further examination and wasn't mishandled and publicly displayed as the Shipleys allege.
When asked to explain the two-month delay between the autopsy and brain probe, the acting deputy chief medical examiner on Staten Island said he typically waited months until he had six brains to have the studies performed.
Dr Stephen de Roux said: 'I wait months, until I have six brains, and then it's kind of worth [the neuropathologic examiner's] while to make the trip to Staten Island to examine six brains. It doesn't make sense for him to come and do one.'
The family has filed a suit against the city and the ME's office for unspecified money damages, saying their 'interference with the proper disposition' of their son had caused them severe emotional distress.
A city attorney says officials are 'evaluating our legal options' for resolving the case.
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