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Former Ramsey County Medical Examiner’s Cases Investigated After Federal Ruling

More than 70 autopsy reports created by former chief Ramsey County Medical Examiner Dr. Michael McGee will undergo a deeper review to determine their validity. This new development stems from a 2021 appellate judges opinion regarding McGee’s testimony surrounding the 2003 murder of University of North Dakota student Dru Sjodin. On page 8 of the 232 page report, federal judge Ralph Erickson writes that McGee presented “unsupported, misleading, and inaccurate testimony” regarding the cause of Sjodin’s death. A jury found Alfonso Rodriguez Jr. guilty of kidnapping and killing Sjodin. He was sentenced to death.

“When the government failed to produce a single witness to support McGee’s trial opinions during the course of these post- conviction proceedings, and not even McGee himself attempted to support his trial opinions, there can be only one reasonable conclusion—the jury did not hear the truth.” - Judge Ralph Erickson, U.S. Court of Appeals

Based on that, Judge Erickson threw out Rodriguez’s death sentence. Rodriguez remains in prison. The opinion also prompted Ramsey County Attorney John Choi to ask the Prosecutors’ Center for Excellence (PCE), an independent non-profit, to recommend a course of action and help with evaluating Ramsey County Attorney Office cases involving McGee.

The PCE did an initial review of 216 cases and has advanced 71 of them for a deeper review of transcripts and reports to determine which cases require an in-depth review of the entire case, an analysis by an expert — or both.

Which cases are being reviewed?

I contacted the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office Friday afternoon to get a list of those 71 cases. Specifically, I wanted to know if Ralph Bell’s case is part of the review since we have actively been covering this story in our "What Happened to Ralph Bell?" Audio Series.

On December 20, 2018 Ralph Bell left his apartment in Stillwater. An hour later, his car was found idling in a cul-de-sac in Roseville — driver's side door left open. Despite the odd circumstances and pleas from Ralph’s family, police waited six days before looking into his disappearance. Three months later, Ralph’s body was found in a field, a mile and a half from where his car was found abandoned back in December. He had stab wounds to his abdomen, chest and both wrists. His coat was found inside out and the knife they say he used to kill himself was found folded up inside his pocket.

The Ramsey County Medical Examiner’s Office determined his cause of death was suicide. I spent the past year combing through case files, talking with Ralph's family and attempting to interview investigators to find answers to the biggest question of all: What happened to Ralph Bell?

The Ramsey County Attorney’s Office would not tell me if Ralph’s case is part of the review, but said County Attorney John Choi would sit down for an interview with me sometime next week. However, on the RCAO website they say that you can email Michelle Monterio if you think there is a case that was handled by Dr. McGee that they should review.

McGee was Ramsey County’s chief medical examiner from 1985 to 2019 and continued working as a forensic pathologist for the county through 2021. He also carried out autopsies for a number of counties in Minnesota.

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