Charles William Mercer, M. D. was charged with open murder in the death of his wife, Sally Wiseheart Mercer, on June 5, 2006.

A pathologist's insistence in 1968 that Sally Sue Mercer died from polio stalled the criminal investigation into the 31-year-old Okemos woman's death, according to court testimony Tuesday.

Dr. Charles Black - who years earlier had been fired as chief pathologist at Sparrow Hospital - made his ruling despite several bruises and scratches on Sally Mercer's body.

That testimony came from a now-retired Ingham County sheriff's detective on the second day of the preliminary hearing for Dr. Charles William Mercer, charged with open murder in the death of his wife, Sally Mercer.

The 72-year-old Okemos surgeon, who has been practicing at Ingham Regional Medical Center, is free on a $1 million bond.He was arrested June 5, 2006.

When Detective Evan Bennehoff arrived for Sally Mercer's autopsy in 1968, the body already had been embalmed, he said, even though there were injuries he said Black admitted were caused by significant force.

"He told me he allowed the embalming because he didn't realize there was so much trauma to the body," Bennehoff said Tuesday.

Donald Reisig, who was the Ingham County prosecutor at the time of Sally Mercer's death, testified he could not issue charges in the case because Black insisted polio was the cause of death.

Reisig said he confronted Black about his conclusions.

"My gut reaction was that a person does not walk across the room and drop down dead from bulbar polio," he said.

But Black stuck to his ruling, Reisig said, supporting his claim by saying he was aware of other polio deaths in Michigan.

Under questioning from Mercer's attorney, Chris Bergstrom, Bennehoff said he never took the case to another prosecutor.

He said he discussed re-opening the case in the 1980s, but other cases got in the way.

"You were disappointed," Bergstrom said.

"Yes," Bennehoff answered.

"You believe a miscarriage of justice occurred."


Recommended firing

Reisig on Tuesday also testified that Black was a friend of Charles Mercer's father as well as Dorwin Hoffmeyer - the elected coroner for Ingham County, who also directed the funeral home where Sally Mercer's autopsy took place.

But Reisig admitted he never charged Black with any crimes, despite being concerned about the relationship between the doctors, as well as Black's work in several cases.

"Incompetence isn't a crime," Reisig said.

Forrest Karl Neumann, former president and chief executive at Sparrow Hospital, testified he recommended firing Black in 1958.

He said there were questions about Black's handling of tissue samples, and there also were questions about the chief pathologist doing his laboratory work outside of the hospital.

Black was let go.

Also Tuesday, more details were revealed about the letter written by Sally Mercer that authorities received soon after her death.

On the day she died, Sally Mercer mailed a letter saying her husband might kill her, Bennehoff said.

"She thought she was going to be killed that day," Bennehoff testified. He said Sally Mercer sent an envelope to a friend with instructions to forward a note and several photographs to police if she was found dead.

Photographs included in the envelope showed Charles Mercer's car parked next to a vehicle registered to the woman who court records show admitted to having an affair with Mercer.

Bennehoff recalled that the letter said Sally Mercer intended to discuss a divorce with her husband that day.

Bennehoff also testified most records in the case, including Sally Mercer's letter, no longer exist. He said he saved other records at his home, which burned down in the early 1970s.

Darrelyn DeFay, who became friends with Sally Mercer at a court-reporting class they both were taking in Lansing, said Sally Mercer asked if DeFay knew if her husband was having an affair.

DeFay worked at Lansing General Hospital with Charles Mercer and Michelle Kelly, a nurse who police say later admitted to an affair with the doctor.

DeFay also said Sally Mercer was afraid of her husband and that her husband was abusive.

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