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Kansas man who performed fraudulent autopsies pleads guilty to wire fraud

Forensic pathologist Shawn 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, Mo. The independent autopsy shows 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot at least six times, and Parcells, who assisted former New York City chief medical examiner Dr. Michael Baden during the autopsy, said a graze wound on Brown's right arm could have occurred in several ways. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Jeff Roberson/AP
Shawn Lynn Parcells speaking at a news conference to share preliminary results of a second autopsy done on Michael Brown on Monday, Aug. 18, 2014, in St. Louis County, Missouri.

Shawn Lynn Parcells, 42, faces up to 20 years in prison when he is sentenced on Aug. 25.

A Kansas man who held himself out as a pathologist even though he had no medical degree and duped hundreds of people into paying for autopsy services pleaded guilty on Thursday to wire fraud.

Shawn Lynn Parcells, 42, admitted that he falsely represented his credentials to a Maryland family that had contracted with him for autopsy services and sent them a fraudulent pathology report and cause of death.

Parcells faces up to 20 years in prison. Sentencing has been set for Aug. 25.

A federal grand jury indicted Parcells in November 2020 on 10 counts of wire fraud. Parcells’ admission of guilt was not part of a plea agreement with the government and the other nine counts in the indictment remain pending. But the government is expected to dismiss those counts once Parcells is sentenced.

Parcells’ company, National Autopsy Services, charged clients thousands of dollars up front for pathology reports. At least 375 clients paid him more than $1.1 million in fees between May 2016 and May 2019, according to the indictment.

National Autopsy Services’ website claimed it had locations throughout the United States and several abroad, “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 his plea hearing, Parcells’ attorney, David Magariel, related the facts underlying Parcells’ guilty plea. He said the Maryland family of James Welch, who had died in July 2016, found National Autopsy Services through an internet search. It then paid $5,000 to NAS for a pathology and toxicology report, believing that Parcells was a medical doctor and pathologist. Parcells signed the report with a listing of his qualifications, including initials falsely indicating he held a doctoral degree. No pathologists reviewed or signed off on the report.

Magariel said that while Parcells was not pleading guilty to the other counts in the indictment, “we do understand that others had a similar experience, although different as to some particularities.”

“We also agree that there were other cases in which a pathologist was listed on the report, but when interviewed, those pathologists denied involvement with cases on at least some of the reports,” Magariel said.

Last year, a Wabaunsee County jury convicted Parcells of three counts of felony theft and three misdemeanor counts of criminal desecration. He is awaiting sentencing there.

Between 1996 and 2003, Parcells worked in the Jackson County Medical Examiner’s Office. At his plea hearing on Thursday, Parcells told U.S. District Judge Daniel Crabtree that he holds an undergraduate degree in biology from Kansas State University and a master’s degree in human anatomy and physiology from New York Chiropractic College. He admitted that he does not have a medical degree or doctoral degree, as he claimed.

In 2014, he appeared frequently on cable news shows as a supposed expert in the investigation into the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

A separate civil lawsuit in Shawnee County against Parcells is pending. The lawsuit, brought by Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt, alleges that Parcells misled at least 82 Kansas consumers who contracted with him to perform autopsies that he failed to complete in accordance with Kansas law.

Dan Margolies has been a reporter for the Kansas City Business Journal, The Kansas City Star, and KCUR Public Radio. He retired as a reporter in December 2022 after a 37-year journalism career.
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