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Muscle Proteins and the Time of Death

crime-scene

In any homicide, one the most important things, along with the cause and manner of death, that the ME must determine is the approximate time of death. This will help eliminate some suspects—-if they are far away from the scene and with many witnesses, for example—-and point the finger at others—-who might have been in the area at the time the murder occurred.

The problem is that most methods used to determine the time of death are inaccurate at best. They tend to be best guesses. And they are mostly useful only during the first 48 to 72 hours.

Check out my article “Timely Death” for a brief overview of how the time of death is estimated.

Or grab a copy of Forensics For Dummies or Howdunnit: Forensics for an in-depth discussion of this topic.

Researchers at the University of Salzburg are working in a new method that might allow the time of death determination to be accurately made up to 10 days after death. Their research suggests that measuring the rate of muscle protein degradation yields a clue to the time that has lapsed since death. If this technique proves to be accurate and reproducible in humans, it would be a giant step forward in criminal investigations.

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Plants, Poisons, and Political Murder

Russian millionaire businessman Alexander Perepilichnyy and Chinese billionaire Long Liyuan might have something in common. A pretty but deadly plant. The plant in question is Gelsemium. Long used as a homeopathic treatment, it is in fact a deadly poison.

Alexander Perepilichnyy

In 2012, Perepilichnyy collapsed and died at his home, his death was sudden and unexpected. These things do happen, but when they happen to someone who was scheduled to testify in a fraud case against a Russian tax official and who had apparently been receiving death threats after his whistle-blowing, it gives one pause.

Traces of the toxins found in the Gelsemium plant, also called woodbine, were revealed in Mr. Perepilichnyy’s stomach contents and even though the death was officially attributed to natural causes—-and indeed it might have been—the possibility of this being a murder by way of plant poison exists.

I mean, it’s not like the Russian’s haven’t done this before. Remember Alexander Litvinenko? Polonium did him in.

Litvinenko

And then there is Mr. Long Liyuan. Seems he was involved in a case where a local Guangdong province official, Huang Guang, was accused of embezzling from Mr. Long. On the day of his death, Long dined on a local delicacy—-cat meat stew. He then became dizzy, nauseated, collapsed, and died. His dinner companion apparently ate only a little of the stew because it tasted “more bitter” than usual and he survived. Gelsemium is the suspect poison in this case.

Long Liyuan

Gelsemium is a flowering plant in the family Gelsemiaceae and its major toxin is the alkaloid Gelsemine. It’s effects are primarily neurological and cardiovascular with headache, blurred vision, swallowing difficulty, dizziness, shortness of breath, slow heart rate, seizures, and ultimately death. Pleasant, huh?

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Q and A: What Happens When a Person Is Exposed to the Vacuum of Space?

Astronaut

Q: What sort of damage does the human body suffer in the vacuum of space?  How long can one survive and what will happen to the person who does survive?  My scenario involves an astronaut whose faceplate blows out, but not before he depressurizes his suit sufficiently to prevent immediate death.

A: First of all the victim would not explode as was the case in the movies such as Total Recall. But some very bad things do happen internally and they happen very quickly. Whether he depressurizes somewhat beforehand or not, his survival once he reached zero pressure (vacuum) would likely be measured in seconds.

Space decompression sickness is similar to that of a scuba diver that rises too rapidly after a prolonged exposure to the pressures of the deep. In this case the diver is going from excess pressure to normal pressure. In space the victim goes from normal pressure to zero pressure. Same thing physiologically.

In diving, the problem is that the excess pressure causes excess nitrogen (N) to dissolve in the blood. This N will come back out of the blood as the pressure is reduced. This should happen slowly to prevent decompression sickness or the bends. But, if the diver rises rapidly, the pressure drops rapidly, and the N comes out of the blood quickly, forming N bubbles in the blood stream. This is similar to popping the top on a soft drink. Here the release of the pressure allows the carbon dioxide (CO2), which was placed into the liquid under pressure, to come out of the liquid and form bubbles. We call this carbonization. A good thing for your soft drink, but not so good for your brain and heart and muscles.

In space decompression basically the same thing happens. Apparently the culprit is water and not N in this situation, however. With the sudden release of pressure, the water in the blood “boils,” becoming a gas, and bubbles form in the system. I should point out that in chemical and physical terms boiling simply means the changing of a liquid to a gas. This can be accomplished by adding heat (boiling water on a stove) or by lowering the ambient pressure (popping open a soft drink). In the case of space decompression it isn’t that the blood gets hot, but rather that the pressure that keeps the water in its liquid state is removed and the water changes to its gaseous state, or boils. Doesn’t sound very pleasant does it?

Though studies on the effects of exposure to a vacuum have been done on chimpanzees, there are no real data on what happens to humans exposed to zero pressure except for a couple of incidents where an astronaut or a pilot was accidentally exposed. Of course, rapid decompression has caused deaths in both high-altitude flights and in June, 1971 when the Russian spacecraft Soyuz 11 suddenly lost pressure, killing the 3 cosmonauts on board, but survivors are few and far between.

On August 16, 1960, parachutist Joe Kittinger ascended to an altitude of 102,800 feet (19.5 miles) in an open gondola in order to set a world record for high-altitude parachute jumping. He lost pressurization in his right glove but proceeded with his ascent and jump. He experienced pain and loss of function in his hand at high altitude but all returned to normal once he descended via chute to lower altitudes.

In 1965 at NASA’s Manned Spacecraft Center near Houston, TX, a trainee suffered a sudden leak in his spacesuit while in a vacuum chamber. He lost consciousness in 14 seconds, but revived after a few seconds as the chamber was immediately re-pressurized. He suffered no ill effects—due to his very brief exposure—but stated that he could feel water boiling on his tongue. This was actually the above mentioned boiling scenario in which water (in this case saliva) becomes a gas on exposure to zero pressure.

A case of partial, prolonged exposure occurred during an EVA (space walk) in April 1991 on the US space shuttle mission STS-37. One astronaut suffered a 1/8 inch puncture in one glove between the thumb and forefinger. He was unaware of it until later when he noticed a painful red mark on his skin in the exposed area. It appeared that the area bled some but that his blood had clotted and sealed the injury.

So, what happens to a human exposed to zero pressure? Since there is no oxygen in such an environment, loss of consciousness occurs in a matter of seconds. Also, if the victim held his breath (don’t do this during scuba diving when coming up from depths either), the air in his lungs would rapidly expand and his lungs could be damaged, bleed, or rupture. Better to open his mouth and exhale the rapidly expanding gas from his lungs.

Water in his blood stream would immediately begin to “boil,” filling the blood stream with water vapor (the gas form of water) and stopping his heart. Bubbles might appear in the blood stream and cause damage to the body’s organs, particularly the brain. As a result, the brain and nerves cease to function. As more and more gas formed within the body, the entire body would swell but it would not explode.

Exposure to heat or cold or radiation might also occur but it will do little harm since the victim would already be dead.

But what if the exposure were brief and the person rescued? Treatment would be to immediately return him to a pressurized environment and give him 100% oxygen. He may survive unharmed or may have brain and nerve damage which could be permanent.

For your scenario, whether he partially decompressed or not, he would be in trouble very quickly. When your victim’s faceplate ruptured he would hopefully begin to exhale air to prevent the expanding gases in his lungs from rupturing them. As air, and thus oxygen, flowed from his lungs and into space, the oxygen content of his blood would rapidly drop and he would lose consciousness in 10 to 20 seconds. He would then die in short order. If he were quickly rescued, he would be returned to the spacecraft, which would be pressurized, and would be given 100% oxygen via a face mask. He could survive intact or with brain damage. It’s your call. Either way works.

 

Crime and Science Radio: My Lying Eyes: Audio-Video-Image Enhancement Expert Douglas Carner Discusses Tampered Evidence and Industry Secrets

The case depends upon a digital recording, but does it tell the whole truth?  Can you know if an image, video or audio recording in discovery is a forgery? Join Jan Burke and me Saturday, June 20th at 10 a.m. PDT as we welcome audio, video, and image enhancement expert Doug Carner to the show where he will explain how to detect and prove file tampering, how to prevent it, and the easy steps to enhance the details that can prove a case.

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BIO: Douglas Carner is an audio, video and image enhancement and authentication expert.  He graduated Phi Beta Kappa, holds several industry certifications, is a diplomat for the American Board of Recorded Evidence, and has processed evidence in thousands of cases worldwide.  Mr. Carner’s forensic career has spanned nearly every jurisdiction and case type, including the George Zimmerman video, military deaths, train crashes, arson, murder, rape, 911 calls, excessive use of force, industrial accidents, slip-n-fall, theft, custody cases, and airline disasters.  Mr. Carner has been featured in legal and trade publications, and upon radio and television.  His work is widely praised by both defense and prosecution for aiding in a quick settlement, and his expert opinions have helped to exonerate the innocent and discredit junk science.  As a respected industry educator and innovator, he lectures for the International Association for Identification and American College of Forensic Examiners Institute, and was a keynote speaker at the International Conference on Forensic Research and Technology.  Mr. Carner is an active creator and contributor to advanced forensic software used by thousands of analysts and agencies internationally.  In his spare time, Mr. Carner donates to innocence projects, the restoration of historical recordings, and heading a 6,000 member audio-video forensic collaboration forum.

LISTENhttp://www.blogtalkradio.com/suspensemagazine/2015/05/06/crime-and-science-radio-with-special-guest-doug-carner

LINKS:

Tampered File Lecture:   http://www.forensicprotection.com/Lecture_outline.pdf

Detect Tampered Image:  http://fotoforensics.com/

Metadata Software:  https://mediaarea.net/en/MediaInfo

Hash Value Software:  http://www.nirsoft.net/utils/hash_my_files.html

Video Enhancement Software:  http://videocleaner.com/

 

Could You “Remember” a Crime You Didn’t Commit?

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Could You “Remember” a Crime You Didn’t Commit?

Yes, you could. It’s a strange phenomenon in humans that they will erroneously “remember” events, or create memories from whole cloth, and, at times, even confess to things they did not do.

Here is an excellent article in The New Yorker written by investigative journalist Douglas Starr.

Doug was our guest on Crime and Science Radio and his interview was fascinating and insightful.

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Writer’s Digest Thriller Online Writing Conference coming June 19 & 20

WD Thriller Conf

The Writer’s Digest Thriller Online Writing Conference is coming Friday & Saturday, June 19 & 20, 2015

My Class: VOICE: Whose Story Is It? is Saturday, June 20, 2 p.m. PDT

Info and Registration: http://bit.ly/1FyI2H3

 
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Posted by on June 11, 2015 in Writing

 

Wildfires and Forensic Science

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Here in Southern California, we are not strangers to wild fires. Other parts of the world are similarly afflicted. Some are natural, from lightning for example, but all too often they are the result of arson.

Forensic wildfire investigators face a difficult problem when analyzing a potential arson scene since often most, if not all, of the evidence is consumed by the fire. But not always. They search for the point, or points, or origin and then apply their knowledge and skill to determine how the fire progressed. This can often lead to crucial evidence in uncovering who started the fire. And why.

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