3 From the 1994 American Association for Forensic Science Dinner Speech by Don Harper a bizarre death story On 23 March 1994, the medical examiner viewed the body of Ronald Opus and concluded that he died from a shotgun wound to the head. The decedent had jumped from the top of a ten-story building intending to commit suicide (he left a note indicating his despondency). As he fell past the ninth floor, his life was interrupted by a shotgun blast through a window, which killed him instantly. Neither the shooter nor the decedent was aware that a safety net had been erected at the eighth floor level to protect some window washers and that Opus would not have been able to complete his suicide anyway because of this.
4 Ordinarily, Dr. Mills continued, a person who sets out to commit suicide ultimately succeeds, even though the mechanism might not be what he intended. That Opus was shot on the way to certain death nine stories below probably would not have changed his mode of death from suicide to homicide. But the fact that his suicidal intent would not have been successful caused the medical examiner to feel that he had a homicide on his hands. The room on the ninth floor whence the shotgun blast emanated was occupied by an elderly man and his wife. They were arguing and he was threatening her with the shotgun. He was so upset that, when he pulled the trigger, he completely missed his wife and pellets went through the window striking Opus.
5 When one intends to kill subject A but kills subject B in the attempt, one is guilty of the murder of subject B. When confronted with this charge, the old man and his wife were both adamant that neither knew that the shotgun was loaded. The old man said it was his long standing habit to threaten his wife with the unloaded shotgun. He had no intention to murder her -therefore, the killing of Opus appeared to be an accident. That is, the gun had been accidentally loaded. The continuing investigation turned up a witness who saw the old couple s son loading the shotgun approximately 6 weeks prior to the fatal incident. It transpired that the old lady had cut off her son s financial support and the son, knowing the propensity of his father to use the shotgun threateningly, loaded the gun with the expectation that his father would shoot his mother. The case now becomes one of murder on the part of the son for the death of Ronald Opus.
6 There was an exquisite twist. Further investigation revealed that the son, one RONALD OPUS, had become increasingly despondent over the failure of his attempt to engineer his mother s murder. This led him to jump off the ten story building on March 23, only to be killed by a shotgun blast through a ninth story window.
7 The medical examiner closed the case as a suicide.
8 Jurisdiction Death Scene Law enforcement agency Dead Person Medical Examiner Appointed medical doctor Coroner Elected needs no medical training
9 Reportable cases varies from state to state all violent deaths (includes physical or chemical) non violent deaths in young persons deaths occurring in custody deaths occurring in Less the than work 30 place years old all homicides deaths of unexplained, unusual, or suspicious circumstances One human killing another human Murder implies an intent to kill Jail Drug Over Dose Falling down an elevator shaft bungee jump
10 Functions of the ME / C or Representative Medical Examiner Secure the Scene Coroner Request help from law enforcement Remove unauthorized individuals Establish a perimeter in conjunction with law enforcement Determined by nature & circumstances of death If outside establish a generous perimeter helps to keep out crowds and media
11 Functions of the ME / C Continued Validate the Death document date, time, and location of death interview last person who saw the victim alive, person who discovered the victim, and the victim! Identification of Victim i Scientific dental comparison, finger prints, DNA analysis Visual by relative, friend, or associate Circumstantial identified by location where found (home, auto, work place etc.) Presumptive from portable personal property found on victim or near victim
12 Case Study Parents have the Wrong Girl Removed from Life Support Kansas City Times August 10, 1988 Parents ended life support for a teenager they thought was their daughter after authorities mistakenly identified their daughter as another teenage killed in the same car crash. The error was discovered Sunday by a friend during viewing hours at a funeral home. Both sets of parents had spent time with the bodies and not recognized the mistake. Wendy Libby, 18, was killed Friday night when a pickup truck struck the car in which she and Kristine Bailer, 17, were riding. Bailer suffered massive head injuries. Officials mistakenly identified Libby as Bailer, who later died when Libby's parents, thinking Bailer was their daughter, decided to have her removed from life-support systems. Ralph Bailer, Kristine s father, said, It s just a bad mix-up that started right from the first. (Officials) didn t get a positive ID on either girl.
13 Car Crash mix-up continued After Friday s accident, Libby's parents kept a vigil with Kristine Bailer for several hours. They decided Saturday to let her die and made arrangements to donate her organs, Ralph Bailer said Monday. Adams County Sheriff Kerry Uhrick said authorities had trouble identifying the bodies because of extensive injuries to both girls faces and a lack of documentation. Further, confusing authorities, was Libby's ring, engraved with the initials K.B., which were her mother s initials before marriage, Uhrick said. On Sunday a friend of both girls told funeral home employees that she did not think the body being viewed was Bailer s.
14 Physical Examination of the Body Determining Time of Death Algor Mortis Body Temperature Rigor Mortis Body Stiffness Livor Mortis Settling of Blood Decomposition Body Breaking Down Forensic Entomology Use of Insects
15 Algor Mortis Body Cooling After Death Liver temperature is most accurate Body cools faster just after death Forensic scientist use a drop of 1.4 F for the first 12 hours 0.7 F there after Factors that affect cooling rate: body mass, scene temperature, body temperature at time of death
16 Rigor Mortis Chemical Reaction as muscles use up ATP causing body to stiffen Occurs first in small muscles then larger muscles then reverses small muscles relaxing first Can be affected by exercise occurring just before death Time Line 2 6 hours rigor begins first with small muscles jaw 12 hours rigor complete hours slow loss of rigor first in head and neck rigor totally disappears
17 Livor Mortis Lividity the settling of blood resulting in skin discoloration Noticeable approximately 1 hour after death Fixed4 8 hours after death (skin will no longer blanch under pressure CO(carbon monoxide) poisoning causes a bright cherry red lividity
18 Decomposition Within 24 hrsturns green in abdominal area and spreads, hrs lysing of RBC s hrs: Subcutaneous marbling darker red to purple to green to black hrs: purging & bloating 4-7 days: skin slippage Several months: saponification (soap body) moist cold environment Mummification: hot dry environment Skeletonization
19 Forensic Entomology Common fly life cycle is well understood
20 Injuries or Marks Injection Site
21 Dicing Caused by small pieces of glass from auto s side window
22 Bite Mark
23 Head Trama Hematoma Bruise Raccoon Eyes
24 Neck Injuries Strangulation Petechial Hemorrhage Broken Hyoid Bone Hanging
25 Sharp Force Injury Stabbing
26 Sharp Force Injuries Cut Homicide: Defensive type wounds Suicide: Hesitation marks
27 Blunt Force Injuries Abrasion Contusion Laceration
28 Firearm Injuries Contact Close Intermediate Distant
29 Determination of Death Mechanism change in the body that brings about the cessation of life Cause of Death the reason someone dies Manner of Death natural, accidental, suicide, homicide, or undertermined
30 Example One can die of a massive hemorrhage (mechanism) due to a gunshot wound through the head (cause) as a result of being shot (suicide), dropping a gun and it discharging (accident), or not being able to tell which (undetermined).
31 Final Steps Collect and Preserve Evidence Bag hands Take swabs Arrange conveyance of body to the morgue Notify next of kin Follow up reports