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Texas Rangers investigation into ME's office calls autopsy findings into question

Nueces County medical examiner's office.jpg
Posted at 5:41 PM, Mar 15, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-15 23:28:30-04

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — The Nueces County Medical Examiner offered to change the findings of an autopsy in order to avoid a homicide investigation, according to an investigation report obtained by KRIS 6 News.

That incident is part of the Nueces County District Attorney's Office investigation into the ME's Office, and part of its file known as a Michael Morton file – the official evidence records.

In the report submitted in January, a Corpus Christi Police Department lieutenant states that he questioned Dr. Adel Shaker’s assertion that a 55-year-old male patient died of a shotgun wound.

“Dr. Shaker stated he had removed a projectile from <redacted> during the autopsy and believed the death to be a result of a shotgun wound,” the report states. “However, Dr. Shaker advised that he was tired and would be willing to change the autopsy findings to natural causes to avoid a homicide investigation.”

The lieutenant states he told Shaker he was only questioning the type of weapon used, and not the assertion that the death was a homicide, telling Shaker “if Corpus Christi Police were going to investigate the 'suspicious death' it is very important we know what type of firearm was potentially used.”

This isn't the first time someone says Dr. Shaker is willing to change his findings.

READ MORE: Search warrant served at Nueces County Medical Examiner's Office
READ MORE: Nueces County medical examiner treating patients with drug addictions

'Joey'

Joseph ‘Joey’ Gonzales went missing on June 11, 2020.

His family and police searched for days, concerned because Joseph suffered from epilepsy and had gone for several days without his medication. On Day Five of the search, Joseph's body was found off La Costa Drive, face-down in a water-filled drainage ditch.

"That day was kind of a blur,” said Joseph’s mother, Tamara. “But, when I did get there, I remember asking someone. They said it doesn't look like a suspicious death."

Tamara said she was told it would take 60-90 days to get Joseph’s autopsy back from the deputy chief medical examiner at the time, Dr. Denika Adams.

"It's hard to have closure when you don't know what happened to your loved one,” she said.

She said, many phone calls and emails later, she found that Adams was fired, and chief medical examiner Adel Shaker would take over Joey’s autopsy.

Tamara said she received the findings two days before Christmas of that year – six months later.

“I went to look at the manner of death and it said ‘homicide,” Gonzales said. “I was in total shock."

Tamara Gonzales.jpg
Tamara Gonzales

The ruling led to questions.

“What did you see in this report that made you believe that my son was murdered?” she said she asked Shaker.

Gonzales said Shaker told her it was Adams who noted trauma on Joseph’s body and determined he died by homicide, but he would change his cause of death to ‘undetermined’.

“I just wanna know what happened to my son,” Gonzales said. “I owe it to my son to know what happened to him, you know, to know if someone did something to him."

Joey's death certificate shows three different causes of death: pending, homicide, and undetermined.

Gonzales said she questioned Shaker's quick decision to change his opinion.

"Why did you hand me an envelope that said homicide and then later on when I start questioning, you know asking questions, then all of a sudden it's undetermined?" she says she asked Shaker.

Looking for answers, Gonzales contacted Adams, who replied via email ‘You were being lied to by Doctor Shaker.”

MORE: Nueces County Chief Medical Examiner Adel Shaker submits letter of retirement
MORE: Nueces County deputy chief medical examiner accused of practicing without a license

'Examining the medical examiner'

The Texas Rangers began looking into Shaker in 2020.

In a recorded interview with the Rangers in 2021, an autopsy technician supervisor who worked at the Nueces County M.E.'s office at the time, said it was Shaker, not Adams, who ruled Joey's death a homicide.

"All that Shaker had to go off of was not being there in person, but the photos that we took that day,” Bernardo Lopez said during the interview. "He looked at those photos and then all of the paperwork that Dr. Adams had taken the notes on, but still determined homicide."

Lopez said he saw both Shaker’s and Adams’ notes, and that Adams’ never indicated trauma around Joseph’s shoulder area.

“She had nothing in her notes talking subscapular, the area he was talking about noted,” Lopez said. “He didn't have trauma, but (Shaker) stated there was trauma.”

Shaker’s attorney Chris Gale said Shaker read articles and research that Adams put in Joey’s file.

“There was a plethora of information regarding trauma regarding this victim,” Gale said." The title on this one should probably be undetermined, and I think Dr. Shaker, looking at it, wanted to do that not only for her, but to be more accurate."

Denica Adams.jpg
Dr. Denica Adams

KRIS 6 Investigates asked Adams to clarify Gale’s assertion, and she said off-camera that she didn’t put any articles in Joey's file. She also said there was no trauma associated with foul play, and she never determined his death a homicide.

Adams also has been interviewed by Texas Rangers as part of the 2020 investigation, and noted concerns with Shaker’s work.

"He cuts corners,” Adams said during the interview with the Rangers. “I've seen it multiple times where, you know, cases that should get at least a partial autopsy he does externals."

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