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Kansas man who posed as pathologist and duped hundreds will plead guilty in federal court

Jeff Roberson/AP
Shawn Lynn Parcells speaks during a news conference to share preliminary results of a second autopsy done on Michael Brown Monday, Aug. 18, 2014, in St. Louis County, Missouri.

At least 375 clients paid Shawn Parcells more than $1.1 million in fees between May 2016 and May 2019, according to the federal indictment.

A Kansas resident who duped hundreds of people into paying him for autopsies that were never performed or completed is set to plead guilty to federal fraud charges.

Shawn Lynn Parcells, who held himself out as a pathologist although he has no medical degree, filed a “notice of intent to change plea” in federal court in Topeka on Tuesday. A hearing on the change of plea is scheduled for March 3.

Parcells could not be reached for comment. His lawyers did not return calls seeking comment.

A federal grand jury indicted Parcells in November 2020 on 10 counts of wire fraud. Through his business, National Autopsy Services in Topeka, Parcells charged clients $3,000 up front for pathology reports to determine the cause of death of clients’ next of kin, according to the indictment.

Parcells allegedly convinced prospective clients through his website that National Autopsy Services had office locations throughout the United States and some international locations, “giving the impression that NAS was a large business operation when in fact the defendant operated only one morgue facility and a ‘Corporate Office’ in Topeka,” the indictment stated.

At least 375 clients paid him more than $1.1 million in fees between May 2016 and May 2019, according to the indictment.

Parcells faces up to 20 years in prison and fines of $250,000 on each wire fraud count. The government is also seeking the forfeiture of the fees he was paid.

His guilty plea in federal court would follow his conviction three months ago by a Wabaunsee County jury on three counts of felony theft and three misdemeanor counts of criminal desecration. He’s scheduled to be sentenced in Wabaunsee County on Feb. 28.

Parcells, 42, worked as a pathologist’s assistant in the Jackson County Medical Examiner’s Office between 1996 and 2003. In 2014 he appeared numerous times on cable news shows as a supposed expert in the investigation into the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

In addition to the criminal cases against him, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt has filed a civil suit alleging Parcels had a contract in Wabaunsee County to conduct coroner-ordered autopsies but failed to complete them in accordance with Kansas law. Schmidt alleged that Parcells duped at least 82 consumers.

Parcells, who has lived in Leawood, Overland Park and Topeka, has been free on bond since his federal indictment.

In 2019, he was charged in Johnson County District Court with driving under the influence and leaving the scene of an accident. He pleaded no contest to the first count without admitting guilt, saying he was under the influence of medication he was taking for depression.

He was sentenced to 12 months’ probation, but his probation was revoked in February 2021 for failing to obtain a substance abuse evaluation and failing to pay various court-ordered costs.

Johnson County court records indicate that at the time he was cited, Parcells was driving a 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee with the license plate “AUTOPSY.”

As a reporter covering breaking news and legal affairs, I want to demystify often-complex legal issues in order to expose the visible and invisible ways they affect people’s lives. I cover issues of justice and equity, and seek to ensure that significant and often under-covered developments get the attention they deserve so that KCUR listeners and readers are equipped with the knowledge they need to act as better informed citizens. Email me at dan@kcur.org.
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