Michael Baden: Sandra Birchmore’s death was homicide, not suicide

Posted at 11:42 AM, June 26, 2024

DEDHAM, Mass. (Court TV) — A prominent forensic pathologist has released a new report indicating that a woman alleged to have died by suicide may have been murdered.

Sandra Birchmore was 23 when her body was found inside her apartment in Canton, Mass. on Feb. 4, 2021. After her death, Birchmore’s family filed a lawsuit against three police officers, the city of Stoughton, Mass., and the Stoughton Police Department for alleged sexual abuse and negligence that was alleged to have led Birchmore to take her own life. But forensic pathologist Michael Baden, who has been involved in high-profile cases including O.J. Simpson, Jeffrey Epstein, and Phil Spector, says evidence points to Birchmore being murdered, rather than taking her own life.

Michael Baden

Michael Baden testifies in the 2007 trial of music producer Phil Spector. (Court TV)

The wrongful death lawsuit, which refers to Birchmore’s death as an “alleged suicide,” says that three members of the Stoughton Police Department groomed Birchmore for several years and engaged in illegal sexual activity with her. None of the officers have been criminally charged, and all three have left the department. According to the lawsuit, Matthew and William Farwell, twin brothers, as well as Robert Devine, all had sexual relationships with Birchmore and there had been “repeated contacts with (Birchmore) while on duty.” Birchmore was 13 when she joined the Stoughton Police Department Explorers Program, headed by Devine. The Farwell brothers worked as officers and educators in the program. According to the suit, Matthew’s sexual relationship began when Birchmore was 15 years old.

The lawsuit alleges that four days before Birchmore’s body was found, Matthew was seen on surveillance video at her home, and, “upon information and belief, was the last person to see Ms. Birchmore alive.”

When Birchmore died, she was three months pregnant. The lawsuit alleges that the child was fathered by one of the officers, but Baden noted in his report, obtained by The Boston Globe, “While the state medical examiner found that Birchmore was pregnant when she died, the office ‘apparently did not send fetal tissue for DNA analysis to determine who the father was.'” In his report, Baden pointed to a fractured hyoid bone as evidence that Birchmore was strangled and did not hang herself.

Birchmore’s pregnancy is one reason why those who knew her insist that she did not take her own life. “She was so excited to become a mother,” Melissa Berry, who created the Justice for Sandra Birchmore Facebook page, told Court TV’s Vinnie Politan. “These men took advantage of her and it’s just heartbreaking to see what was done to her.”

Donna McNamara, the current chief of the Stoughton Police Department, issued a statement acknowledging the breadth of the investigation.

As chief of the Stoughton Police Department, I have directly participated in this lengthy and aggressive internal affairs investigation. In September of 2022, I released an executive summary which revealed for the first time, the horrific injustices including grooming and sexual abuse inflicted upon Sandra Birchmore at the hands of one rogue and corrupt former police officer and additional inappropriate sexual relationships by other former police officers.

I need to be clear that our police department has no jurisdiction over the investigation of Sandra’s death, which occurred in a different community. However, I will reiterate that the Stoughton Police Department has assisted and continues to cooperate with other law enforcement agencies. Sandra received not so much as a sliver of justice during her life, and we will not cease in our efforts to ensure our duty to administer justice, and she is not forgotten in the aftermath of her death.

However, as a police administrator and investigator with decades of experience, I would be remiss if I did not remark that I have reviewed the findings of the outside doctor retained by Sandra’s family. I was profoundly disturbed and troubled by what I read. While I am not a trained medical examiner, and I am not qualified to draw any direct conclusions, the findings certainly warrant further examination at the highest level.”

While the officers worked at the Stoughton Police Department, Birchmore’s body was found in her apartment in Canton, and the lawsuit was filed in Dedham. If those second two cities sound familiar, they should: it’s where Karen Read‘s case has taken center stage. Now advocates are hoping they can capitalize on the attention Read’s case is getting to shine a light on Birchmore’s case. “There are a lot of common players in this story,” Susan Cleveland, one of the moderators on the Justice for Birchmore Facebook page, told Politan. “A lot of parallels and a lot of common players, and particularly the DA in Norfolk County is heavily involved in this case. … It’s sort of a blessing that we have all of this attention drawn right now because a lot of the investigative issues and a lot of the behavior is the same across the board.”

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