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Kansas self-taught pathology assistant sentenced for illegal autopsy scheme

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

A self-taught pathology assistant from Kansas confessed to running an illegal autopsy scheme and was sentenced on Monday to nearly six years in prison for wire fraud.

Shawn Parcells, 42, pleaded guilty in May to one count of wire fraud, according to the U.S. attorney's office. Another nine fraud charges were dropped as part of the plea deal, reported the Topeka Capital-Journal.

The Topeka native was a self-taught pathology assistant with no formal training. According to court records, as the owner of National Autopsy Services, Parcells convinced a client to pay $5,000 for an autopsy performed by a professional pathologist. The emailed autopsy report showed that Parcells conducted the examination. It would be illegal for Parcells to perform an autopsy without the assistance of a trained pathologist.

U.S. District Judge Daniel Crabtree ordered Parcells to pay over $60,000 restitution. Following his prison time, Parcells will serve three years of supervised release.

"The court recommends defendant be designated to the facility at Leavenworth, Kansas, and that he participates in the Residential Drug Abuse Program (RDAP) on defendant's request," the court documents read.

U.S. Attorney for the District of Kansas Duston Slinkard said, "It's troubling whenever criminals deceptively present themselves as professionals to commit fraud on unwitting victims, but the fact that Parcells' schemes were predicated upon exploiting the grief and bereavement of others makes his act a particularly predatory crime."

Parcells gained notoriety in 2014 when he and a professional pathologist were hired to perform an autopsy of Michael Brown, the young man fatally shot by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri.

At the time, Parcells appeared on several media outlets claiming to be a forensic pathology expert. He received criticism from CNN after an investigation into Parcells' background exposed his lack of professional training.

The CNN article reported that Andrew County, Missouri, hired Parcells to perform an autopsy on Robert Forrester, 74, who doctors concluded died from a brain bleed. Parcells admitted to conducting the examination without a professional pathologist present.

The autopsy report, which was used as evidence against the suspected murderer of Forrester, had to be thrown out by the court since it was not performed by a professional. As a result, the suspect in the case was released.

According to the Associated Press, Parcells made over $1.1 million from 2016 to 2019 from approximately 350 clients for autopsies. However, court records showed that Parcells did not perform most of the autopsies.

Parcells was convicted of six counts, including three felonies, of criminal desecration in 2019.

In August 2022, Parcells was prohibited from conducting business in Kansas and sentenced to pay more than $500,000 in fines for illegally performing autopsies. He was ordered to pay another $250,000 restitution to 82 former clients.

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