Court of Appeal drops case against coroner for retaining heart of young man


By Bay City News Service

An appellate court has overturned a ruling in San Mateo County Superior Court that held the coroner's office liable for retaining the heart of a 23-year-old man who died unexpectedly in 2006.

San Mateo County Coroner Robert Foucrault Wednesday (May 26) expressed his sympathy toward the Picon family for the loss of Nicholas Picon, but said the coroner's office followed the law when they removed his heart to determine his cause of death.

"The case had no merit to begin with," Foucrault said. "There was no evidence to prove (the) allegations."

Nicholas Picon died at his home in the shower in October 2006. The coroner's office brought his body to the county morgue, where forensic pathologist Dr. Peter Benson began the autopsy process, according to Deputy County Council Glenn Levy.

Benson soon noticed a structural defect in Picon's heart and ordered additional tests to determine whether the defect was the cause of death, Levy said.

Before the coroner's office released Picon's body back to his family, Benson decided to retain his heart for further investigation.

A few weeks later, however, Picon's mother Isolina Picon contacted the coroner's office and asked whether any organs or body parts had been retained, Levy said.

The coroner's office confirmed the heart had been retained to investigate the cause of death, but she said she hadn't known that and "demanded the heart be released back to her," Levy said.

The coroner's office complied, but in October 2007 she filed a lawsuit against San Mateo County, the coroner's office and Benson alleging that the retention of the heart by the forensic pathologist was not authorized by law, according to Levy.

After a San Mateo County Superior Court judge denied the county's motions to dismiss the case and set a trial date for January 2010, the county requested the Court of Appeal review the case, Levy said.

According to Levy, state law does not require notification for retention of organs for purposes of investigating the cause of death or confirmation of the findings.

In an unusual move, the Court of Appeal agreed to hear the case before it went to trial, and was briefed on the case on May 11.

Then, on Tuesday (May 25), the appellate court effectively dismissed the case, Levy said.

Despite the fact that the Court of Appeal agreed with the county's stance, Levy said it's important to remember the tragedy of the case: that Isolina Picon lost her son.

"The county and coroner's office are sorry for her loss," Levy said. "It's a tragedy and it's sad."

Levy also pointed out that after Isolina Picon claimed she hadn't been notified that her son's heart had been retained, the coroner's office changed its policy to notify families if organs are being retained before the body is released to the family.

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Like this comment
Posted by DThomas
a resident of another community
on May 27, 2010 at 2:08 pm

Sounds to me totally illegal and that, once again, minorities are given the shaft.
The coroner could have, with a fresh heart, have sold it for around $100,000 with his connections to hospitals across the country.
It HAS been done......what a perfect situation. A 23 year old drops dead. His heart is not returned after the rest of the organs.
The mother had every right to ask for her COMPLETE son.
This is ghoulish and unfair. I believe Mrs. Picon should file and go to the Supreme Court....A medical detective could check and see how many transplants were done across country on a medical database.
The coroner should also be questioned further for his past. [Portion removed; terms of use]

Like this comment
Posted by R.GORDON
a resident of another community
on May 29, 2010 at 9:42 am

R.GORDON is a registered user.

What would YOU do if you found out the coroner kept part of your dead child's body "to examine" and THEN be given a 'go ahead' to do the indefensible act? I contacted the Los Angeleles Coroner's office and the LA Times and a criminal attorney friend. All of them said there was something odd about this.
ALMANAC is burying this story to protect the coroner, I am sure.
Who bought off the coroner? This is not as complex as a Miss Marple TV drama. It is a hideous affront to the family and mother of the victim who have had to go through hell.

Like this comment
Posted by R.GORDON
a resident of another community
on Jun 1, 2010 at 11:10 am

R.GORDON is a registered user.

This is a strange case to close so fast.
Especially ending your column with "the county and coroner's office is so sorry for her loss" Levy (Deputy County Council is quoted as saying 23 year old's sudden death was a "It's a tragedy and it's sad".
Well, along with Grant Levy and forensic pathologist Dr.Peter Benson began the autopsy process.
This case is not closed as long as the the opinion of people outside this area are concerned.
I looked in the ALMANAC archives and there is little or no information as to the findings.

Like this comment
Posted by Khaki
a resident of another community
on Jun 1, 2010 at 1:16 pm

It sounds like they took the heart out, then sold it to an in between at Stanford.
It is all about money here. The kid probably just had a seizure.
Sounds fishy to me too.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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