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Stephen J. Nelson, M.D. '79


Stephen J. Nelson, M.D. '79

Dr. Nelson earned his undergraduate degree in biology from Gannon University in 1979. He went on to complete both residency and fellowship training in anatomic pathology, neuropathology and forensic pathology.

Dr. Nelson is the Chief Medical Examiner for Florida’s 10th Judicial Circuit, a three-county area in Central Florida that includes Polk, Hardee and Highlands counties, half-way between Tampa and Orlando. He supervises a staff of nine, with three physician / pathologists, and ancillary personnel including toxicologists, anthropologists, and odontologists.

Dr. Nelson is “hands on” and has personally supervised thousands of medical-legal death investigations throughout Florida, including many high-profile gubernatorial assignments such as deaths in Florida’s electric chair and the resulting issues of possible “cruel and unusual punishment.”

In addition to Dr. Nelson’s busy day-to-day forensic pathology practice, he maintains a busy consulting neuropathology practice for medical examiner offices throughout Florida and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. He was the consulting neuropathologist in the 2005 death of Terry Schiavo that sparked a national debate on an individual’s right-to-die, and again for celebrity Anna Nicole Smith who died following an overdose of prescription drugs in 2007. He regularly appears in both State courts and Federal courts throughout Florida and the Southeast.

For 13 years, he served on Florida’s Medical Examiners Commission, 11 years as its Chairman, the oversight and regulatory board for how medical-legal death investigations are conducted in the Sunshine State. He currently serves as a gubernatorial appointee on Florida’s Violent Crime and Drug Control Council, and on Florida’s Organ and Tissue Procurement and Transplantation Advisory Board.

In 2005, he was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal from the Polk County Sheriff’s Office for his assistance in a complex investigation involving the death of a police officer that went unsolved for many years. In 1991, he was awarded the Research Award for the American Academy of Forensic Sciences for his work on sustained contact high-voltage electrocution.

Dr. Nelson was born in Bradford, Pennsylvania. He and his wife, Sue, live in Lakeland, Florida with their two children, Katie and Matt.

(Published 2012)