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A Ramsey County judge on Monday granted the Great North Innocence Project access to records related to an autopsy performed by embattled former Ramsey County Medical Examiner Michael McGee in a 2009 murder case.

The Innocence Project, a nonprofit law firm, is reviewing the case of Michael Sontoya, who was convicted of sexual assault and murder and sent to prison for life without possibility of parole in the death of Gabriela Romo of Inver Grove Heights. In asking for the records, the Innocence Project cited "rising concerns of unreliable, misleading, and/or false testimony" in cases relying on McGee's work.

The Ramsey County Attorney's Office, which prosecuted the case, did not oppose the Innocence Project's request. The County Attorney's Office is conducting its own review of McGee's work in Ramsey County going back four decades. At a hearing Monday, the Attorney's Office confirmed Sontoya's case is one of 71 in the current phase of its review. The Minnesota Attorney General's Office is also reviewing cases it prosecuted where McGee testified on the state's behalf.

Innocence Project attorney James Mayer has said cases that hinged on McGee's testimony deserve scrutiny. He told the courtroom Monday that the Innocence Project is not at a point of asking the court for relief in Sontoya's case, but said a complete review requires the complete file.

"Where there's smoke, there's fire. In this case, there is fire," he said at the hearing, referring to McGee's work. "The question is how far the fire has spread."

At least four people have been released from prison or had their sentences reduced as a result of inaccuracies or flaws in McGee's work, according to court records. An investigation by the Minnesota Attorney General's Office into McGee's work in the case of Thomas Rhodes, who was released after 25 years in prison due to a wrongful conviction in his wife's death, accused McGee of reasoning backward "from the nonmedical evidence to the medical findings."

McGee's attorneys could not be reached for comment and have not commented for other recent Star Tribune stories about his work.

In an order Monday, Ramsey County Judge Leonardo Castro ordered the Ramsey County Attorney's Office to give the Innocence Project access to a 113-page medical examiner file he said contained some documents not previously available to the defense. Castro wrote the Ramsey County Attorney's Office was not aware of the file until it got it as part of its review process a year ago. The document contained autopsy exam notes and other documents, he wrote.

Castro ordered access to the file, which he said is private under Minnesota law, be restricted to attorneys, support staff and Sontoya under supervision. He noted Sontoya's right to due process must be balanced with Romo's privacy and the considerations of her family, who have endured a long and difficult ordeal.