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Cook County prosecutors want a 2nd opinion on fired pathologist’s murder finding

Dr. John E. Cavanaugh. | Sun-Times files

Donol Clark has been locked up in the Cook County Jail for nearly six years, charged with killing his girlfriend, Gena Chiodo, whose decomposed body was found in a wooded area in Indiana.

Before Clark can stand trial, though, the Cook County state’s attorney’s office has hired a pathologist to review the findings of an autopsy on Chiodo performed by Dr. John E. Cavanaugh.

Cavanaugh was fired last fall by Dr. Ponni Arunkumar, the chief Cook County medical examiner, from his job as an assistant medical examiner after an internal review concluded he’d botched death investigations — in one case failing “to recognize a homicide.”

Cavanaugh was working for the coroner’s office in Lake County, Indiana, when he did the autopsy on Chiodo, whose remains were found by a hunter in December 2012, weeks after Clark was charged with killing her at their apartment in Calumet City.

Cavanaugh concluded that Chiodo was murdered. But before he can testify at Clark’s trial, his work will be reviewed by two pathologists, according to court records — one hired by Clark’s lawyer and the other by the state’s attorney.

The prosecutor’s office won’t say why it hired Dr. Mitra Kalelkar, who formerly worked for the medical examiner’s office, to review Cavanaugh’s findings in Chiodo’s death or discuss Clark’s case — including how much Kalelkar’s review will cost and who will pay the bill.

Cavanaugh’s former employer, Lake County Coroner Merrilee Frey, says she was unaware Cook County prosecutors are seeking a second opinion in Chiodo’s death.

Clark’s attorney, Michael O’Meara, hired Dr. Shaku Teas, a pathologist who also formerly worked for the Cook County medical examiner, to review the death. O’Meara won’t discuss Teas’ findings.

After Chiodo, 42, missed three days of work in October 2012, coworkers called the police, who went to the apartment, forced their way in and found Clark there. They also found blood on the walls, a desk and a treadmill, as well as on a comforter, a pillow and a towel in the master bedroom. The police said Clark told them he and Chiodo had a fight on Oct. 14, 2012, he went to sleep and woke to find she was gone.

Chiodo’s remains were found Dec. 2, 2012, in a wooded area near Lowell, Indiana.

Clark was charged with murder and concealment of a homicide.

Cavanaugh, 61, has worked as a forensic pathologist in Cook County and for the coroner’s offices in Crown Point, Indiana, and Indianapolis. Arunkumar hired him to be her chief deputy starting in February 2017, then demoted him last summer and has said she fired him Nov. 30 after a peer-review process turned up irregularities in his cases.

Dr. Ponni Arunkumar’s staff so far has reviewed 37 of Dr. John E. Cavanaugh’s cases and changed the findings on cause of death or manner of death in eight of them. | Ashlee Rezin / Sun-Times
Dr. Ponni Arunkumar’s staff so far has reviewed 37 of Dr. John E. Cavanaugh’s cases and changed the findings on cause of death or manner of death in eight of them. | Ashlee Rezin / Sun-Times

Arunkumar has filed a complaint against Cavanaugh with the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, the state agency that licenses and disciplines doctors, and ordered a review of the 218 cases he handled in the 10 months he worked for her.


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Arunkumar’s staff so far has reviewed 37 cases and changed the findings on cause of death or manner of death in eight of them — including the death of a man whose body was found in a burning building. Cavanaugh listed the cause and manner of death as undetermined. Arunkumar’s staff’s review determined that the man had multiple injuries from an assault and ruled the death was a homicide.

Since being fired in Cook County, Cavanaugh has continued working part-time as a pathologist for the Marion County coroner’s office in Indianapolis, which has retained an Ohio pathologist to review 15 pending criminal cases involving autopsies performed by Cavanaugh.

Frey, the coroner in Crown Point, has said she saw no reason to review Cavanaugh’s work.


• Unprecedented review after medical examiner fires doctor who missed a murder, May 27, 2018

• Doctor fired by Cook County medical examiner now under the microscope in Indiana, July 16, 2018