Monthly Archives: January 2011


The past two days have been busy but the opening of the CSI: The Experience exhibit here in Huntsville at the US Space and Rocket Center was great. Did the ribbon cutting on Friday night and then gave a couple of public talks yesterday. So far it looks like the biggest exhibit they’ve ever had. The interest in forensic science continues. If you are in the area don’t miss it. It’s definitely worthwhile.

The exhibit is excellent. Very interactive. Friday afternoon a group of high school seniors from Bob Jones High School were the first to see the exhibit. They went through the various crime scenes very quickly and mostly came to the correct solutions.

Then I visited with Chris Johnson and Scott Saint with GTAC–the Geospatial Training and Application Center. They use Google Earth, Sketch Up, and a government only Virtual Alabama system (high resolution images of the state made by low flying aircraft–much clearer than Google Earth’s space based images) to create 3D crime scenes, neighborhoods, buildings, etc. It us used by law enforcement, fire and rescue organizations, disaster planners, and Homeland Security. Amazing work they are doing. I hope to have them as guest bloggers soon to discuss their fascinating program.

At the Friday night VIP reception I had a chance to chat with solar physicist Dr. David Hathaway who along with Paul Meyer developed the VISAR (Video Image Stabilization and Registration) system that is used to enhance images and videos. You know, read that licenses plate caught by a fuzzy ATM camera. Or clear up a tattoo on the arm of a convenience store robber. Great stuff. A couple of years ago I had the opportunity to visit with him about his work in solar imaging and his development of VISAR. Dr. Hathaway appears as Dr. Wendell Volek in a couple of scenes in my book STRESS FRACTURE.

This has been an exhausting but unbelievable weekend. Here are some pics from the Huntsville Times of my talks and book signings.


Posted by on January 30, 2011 in General Forensics, Space Program


False Confessions: Dr. Michael Welner

Here is a press release from Joanna Fiorentini, case manager for my friend Dr. Michael Welner, Chairman of The Forensic Panel. Fascinating discussion of false confessions.

Forensic Panel Chair’s Testimony on False Confessions to NYS Justice Task Force Tackles Myths, Proposes New Solutions

Dr. Welner Invokes Importance of Retraction, Videotaping,Miranda Reform and Tort Reform in Reducing Wrongful Convictions, Aiding Courts

New York – In front of a New York State Justice Task Force subcommittee on false confessions, forensic psychiatrist Dr. Michael Welner testified to a stark lack of science informing the understanding of false confessions, but proposed a number of solutions to ensure the integrity of justice and protection of the vulnerable from confessing falsely. Speaking before a group of district attorneys, judges, policymakers, and representatives from The Innocence Project, Dr. Welner, Chairman of The Forensic Panel, drew from comprehensive study of the behavioral science literature, his experience in examining disputed confessions in over ten states and federal courts, and his research on exonerations to educate subcommittee members about the state of the science of disputed confessions. The New York State Justice Task Force is a permanent task force created by the Chief Judge of the State of New York to examine the causes of wrongful convictions and recommend reforms.

Dr. Welner demonstrated how poor scientific methodology and an anti-police agenda among declared scholars in this novel area of scientific interest result in inflated perceptions of the prevalence of false confessions. These include false representations by The Innocence Project that the proportion of false confessions in wrongful conviction cases is 25 percent when that percentage is in actuality close to 10 percent. Dr. Welner challenged assertions of published academics such as Gisli Gudjonsson, Saul Kassin, Richard Ofshe, Richard Leo, and Steven Drizin that confirmed false confessions are “frequent,” a “small but significant minority” of confessions, and “the tip of the iceberg.” From studies of observed police interrogation, studies of interrogations in jurisdictions such as Salt Lake City, surveys of police officers, and the lack of history of false confessions elicited by correctional psychiatrists and more, Dr. Welner demonstrated the rarity of false confessions, though their exact incidence is unknown. “Is it one in a million interrogations? One in ten million interrogations? One in one hundred thousand? We do not know. But false confessions are tragic enough,” he asserted. “Embellishment does not serve justice and takes away from the credibility of a legitimate concern.”

Peter Neufeld, a co-founder of The Innocence Project, who was in attendance, countered that since one does not yet know the exact frequency of false confessions, “it is wrong to speak to their rarity just as it is wrong to say they happen frequently.” But Neufeld did not deny Dr. Welner’s charge that The Innocence Project has falsely inflated its numbers of false confessions. Neufeld additionally revealed, in his response to Dr. Welner, that The Innocence Project also classifies cases as false confessions even when their own exonerated clients are adamant that they never confessed – because, as Neufeld asserted, “some of our clients are not reliable with what they tell us.”

“The Innocence Project finds their clients reliable enough to assert that they are innocent rather than freed by the good fortune of contradictory scientific evidence,” Dr. Welner observed. “To then say that their clients are not reliable when they say they never confessed – well, either you trust your clients or you don’t. Objectivity does not allow forensic science the liberty of changing a threshold of ‘reliable’ to suit the argument of the moment.”

The Welner testimony reviewed the available evidence on what makes an individual vulnerable to a false confession. Suggestibility and compliance, naivete about the criminal justice system, and memory distrust are risk factors for false confessions under circumstances in which police questioning exploits these weaknesses; mental retardation is also a risk factor because of its high incidence of greater suggestibility, compliance, naivete, and memory distrust, according to Dr. Welner.

The presence of a mental illness or personality disorder, age alone, and general cognitive difficulties do not have support from any systematic research to reflect a risk. Added Dr. Welner, “Experience in casework teaches me that a sixteen year old gang member or teenager seeped in a culture that distrusts police, or with exposure to those in the criminal justice system are less vulnerable than even adults who are trusting of police prestige and authority. Emphasizing age per se, without more, as a risk factor is disingenuous and unsupported by research.” Dr. Welner invoked his case experience assessing Guantanamo detainee Omar Khadr, and the account of a senior Canadian foreign ministry official who documented the admitted Al-Qaeda  fighter Khadr, at age 17, to employ “classic interrogation measures.”

At the same time, added Dr. Welner, he agrees with critics of police that Miranda warnings are often not understood by defendants, especially younger adolescents. He proposed adapting Miranda warnings to the developmental capabilities of adolescents, and training to officers to deliver and record Miranda waivers with full accounting of the suspect’s understanding.

In his testimony, Dr. Welner also reinforced that assessment of a disputed confession must account for the tremendous incentive on any defendant to retract a confession after arrest. That pressure may originate from recognizing the impact of one’s confession versus the rest of the evidence, or from pressure from other inmates, one’s family, or one’s attorney.  “If we appreciate the authority of the police officer – even as an adversary – to elicit a confession, we as participants in justice cannot responsibily ignore that the authority of one’s own attorney, especially because of the trusted relationship, can provoke a retraction of a perfectly legitimate confession.  The key points of understanding about a disputed confession are the influences to a suspect’s decision to change from denying a crime to admitting it, and then from admitting a crime to retracting that admission,” explained Dr. Welner.

He joined other police critics and defense advocates who called for interrogations to be videotaped entirely. Dr. Welner went even further, however, and called for videotapes to be installed in police cars, in police stations, and in holding cells to capture as much of the interaction between suspects and police, and suspects and other influences, as possible. Dr. Welner also underscored the importance of taping telephone conversations that the suspect has after arrest, in order to capture his account of his experiences at the time of his arrest and the influence of others who might compel him to retract.

Finally, Dr. Welner implored the court to compel defense attorneys who challenge confessions to produce for the court’s private review the notes of their discussions with the defendant about the circumstances of their decision to confess at the time that the court receives a defense motion to suppress the confession statements. “If we want to identify coerced confessions, or false confessions, as well as frivolous complaints of police abuse, courts should require all parties to put their cards on the table and afford full transparency to the judge and the case record,” challenged Dr. Welner. A judge who is charged with decisions on the admissibility of a confession can review this evidence without self-incriminating disclosure to the prosecution.

Citing his own research on documented cases of false confessions, Dr. Welner cautioned the judges and lawmakers in attendance of the need to scrutinize confessions elicited by false claims of a failed polygraph, and false claims of statements by third parties and other suspects, as well as threats of the death penalty. However, Dr. Welner said that he did not endorse a ban on the use of ploys of false evidence. “If we are videotaping interviews in their entirety, we will have a full accounting of what went on in the interrogation room,” he noted. Those interrogations in which vulnerabilities and police interrogation approaches yielded false confessions will be exposed. On the other hand, creative police interrogation that elicits true confessions because of the ethical persistence and cleverness of the interrogator will not be discouraged.

Dr. Welner compared consideration of false confessions by expert witnesses to insanity defenses. For the latter, when a defendant puts one’s mental state at issue, the court affords both defense and prosecution the opportunity to interview and examine the defendant. Likewise, when expert witnesses are consulted by defense to challenge the vulnerability of a suspect in confession, both sides should have the opportunity to examine the suspect on the salient topic of his mental state and diagnosis at the time of his decision to confess – and to retract – and to probe psychosocial background and risk factors that make the suspect more vulnerable and less vulnerable. And just as mental health promotes videotaping for police interrogation, courts should mandate videotaping interviews by expert witnesses as a precondition to experts testifying at a disputed confession proceeding.

Dr. Welner has consulted to both prosecution and defense on disputed confessions and has declined to testify on behalf of both sides as well. His testimony has been used, in previous proceedings, to exclude Dr. Gudjonsson, Dr. Kassin, and Dr. Ofshe. According to Dr. Welner, courts who give an unregulated open door to expert witness testimony on police-induced false confession enable broad generalizations about police practice that have no relevance to the case itself. He added that such experts invoke expertise in the ability to use “logical analysis,” “narrative analysis,” and other seeming techniques to “analyze” confessions when no such methodology exists. “It is a sham that has been nevertheless published  in peer reviewed journals,” notes Dr. Welner, comparing the coterie of colleagues suggesting commonplace false confessions to the recovered memory controversy and how enthusiastic psychologists once professed to be able to identify repressed experiences of abuse and published extensively on their own recommended methodologies. That trend in the 1990’s collapsed in humiliation for the behavioral sciences when innocent families were disintegrated by false allegations of sexual abuse elicited by false memory “experts” and their acolytes. At the same time, Dr. Welner praised Drs. Gudjonsson, Kassin, Leo, and Ofshe for calling attention to false confessions. “Rare though they are, false confessions must not be ignored, and sometimes are.”

The subcommittee specifically asked Dr. Welner how, in today’s budgets, the policy reforms proposed by Dr. Welner could be implemented. Dr. Welner had a straightforward response – tort reform. Dr. Welner cited his experience in examining the previously exonerated, who file claims for millions and even tens of millions of dollars. “How much does a person need once his freedom has been restored? When one exoneree tells me he needs four million dollars, I have to ask why we could not direct even half of those monies, two million, to pay for upgrades in recording? We have to decide what our priorities are as a nation. Is it to use a limited amount of money to bring wealth to the aggrieved? Or should it be that we make sure that people who were wronged have what they need, and we focus more of our resources on optimizing a system so it does not happen again?”

Dr. Welner added that when he attempted to study the false confession sample from exoneration cases, prosecutors’ offices were reluctant to share information with him because of exposure to civil litigation by those they had incarcerated. “Without that information, we cannot learn what we must to prevent miscarriages of justice. Until we take the fear that forces people to cover themselves, we won’t get the information we need. If South Africa could use amnesty to reintegrate its society, we can create a modified financial amnesty to encourage police to be fully forthcoming.”

Dr. Welner challenged the New York Justice Task Force and legislatures in other states to act boldly, with concessions from police, prosecutors, and defense attorneys, to advance the law in preventing miscarriage of justice. “Videotaping interrogations alone will not reduce miscarriages of justice,” he asserted, citing the experience of England, where interrogation reforms have been praised but have failed to lower the rate of disputed confessions. “The subcommittee can act with an appreciation for the bigger picture and enact the reforms I have proposed. Everyone wants justice; we may disagree how to get there, but we will only get there from accountability at each corner of the justice system.”

To access the Power Point presentation of Dr. Welner’s testimony, Wrongful Convictions – Confessions: Myths, Facts, and Solutions, please click here.

For Further Information:

Joanna Fiorentini

The Forensic Panel

Tel: 212.535.9286



Posted by on January 25, 2011 in Forensic Psychiatry, Guest Blogger


Guest Blogger: Fun with Rocket Fuels

My guest today is B L Lindley Anderson, who works at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, AL. She has worked with writers to help them understand the complex world of space travel, rockets, and all things “out there.” She is available to answer your questions on these topics through her E mail address below.

This article is her opinion and is in no way official NASA information or opinion.


Fun with Rocket Fuels

The launch of a space shuttle produces plenty of what we rocket scientists call smoke and fire.  As one of my former supervisors said, lay people are only interested in the front end of a launch vehicle or the rear end.  The front end has the crew and the rear end produces the fireworks.  So the middle section is generally ignored.  NASA personnel who train and interact with crew members are among the people more interested in the front end.  The engineers who design, build and analyze rocket engines are always much more interested in the smoke and fire.  We joke that the crew is “just payload”.

Less interesting to the casual observer are the attitude control engines.  These are the smaller engines that adjust the position of a space craft once it has reached orbit.  They produce much less smoke and fire, and in fact are mostly unseen by the public.  Those lucky enough to receive NASA TV do get to see the shuttle Orbital Maneuvering Engines (OMS) fire, because astronauts are geeky enough to turn the cameras on them when they have opportunity.  Yeah, we geeks on the ground get excited to see it also.

Solid rocket motors produce plenty of interesting by-products, but let’s leave that aside for the moment and focus on liquid engines.  (Solids are motors and liquids are engines, and one can tell a lay person or a new comer by the terminology used.)  The Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSME) use liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen.  The propellants are cryogenic, that is, super cooled, and so can produce interesting effects, such as freezing lungs if breathed in.  But they are just oxygen and hydrogen and produce water when reacted.

The attitude control engines use less known propellants such as hydrazine with nitric acid, or aniline and hydrogen peroxide (significantly higher concentration than the 5% in your first aid supplies) or unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine (UDMH) with inhibited red fuming nitric acid, or UDMH with nitrogen tetroxide.  These are not only toxic but corrosive.  Nitrogen tetroxide can be colorless at certain temperatures and inhalation of it can produce extremely serious but delayed effects, for example.  Sniffers must be used by crews on the pad for detection of certain vapors that they should not be breathing.

A true life story about attitude control propellants and the bad things they can do is instructive.  In July 1975 an Apollo spacecraft docked with a Russian Soyuz spacecraft, the first such international docking in the history of the space program.  After separation a few days later, the Apollo craft was executing what should have been a routine re-entry.  A failure in switchology (timing and sequence of throwing particular switches) caused the automatic landing sequencing to not be armed while the reaction control system was active.  Because of this the parachute didn’t deploy automatically on time and had to be deployed manually.  The command module pilot threw the switches to release the apex cover over the Apollo craft and deploy the drogue chutes.  This deployment caused the command module to sway under the chutes and the reaction control system thrusters fired copiously to counteract the movement.  The crew became aware of the situation and fired the automatic system 30 seconds late.  In that 30 second time interval, the space craft became filled with a mixture of unignited monomethylhydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide from the thrusters.  Before drogue deploy, the cabin relief valve opened automatically as customary.  Usually this would draw fresh air into the space craft, but this time it brought in the thruster propellants since the thrusters were located only about 0.6 meters from the relief valve.  By the time the spacecraft landed in the water, one astronaut had lost consciousness and the other two were near to that.  The commander managed to get an oxygen mask on the command module pilot, who came to consciousness shortly after.  The space craft, as usual for Apollo, landed upside down in the water and was righted by inflation of air bags on the top of the craft.  Once the Apollo righted, the vent valve for the cabin was opened and the fumes bled out.  The astronauts were hospitalized for two weeks for chemical-induced pneumonia and edema.  If all three crewmembers had lost consciousness and not been able to access oxygen masks, the outcome would have been tragic.

So these propellants are the sorts of causes that I have steered a couple of writers toward for some serious or fatal injuries.  And it doesn’t have to be a space related story or an injury or death on a launch pad, or in a space craft.  Accidents, unintentional or purposeful, could happen in transport, in processing or manufacturing.  Also some hypergols have uses other than rocket propellant.  A chemical plant accident was the method chosen by one author to make use of the nasty effects of nitrogen tetroxide.  So it doesn’t have to be rocket science to find a useful serious injury or death for your story.

B L Lindley Anderson


Posted by on January 23, 2011 in Guest Blogger, Space Program, Writing


Upcoming NASA/CSI Event

Next week I’m off to my hometown of Huntsville, AL for an event at the US Space and Rocket Center’s Museum. For a kid who grew up with the Space Program and building rockets in the backyard, this event is personally very special. I’m still amazed NASA invited me to open the Museum’s newest exhibit, CSI: The Experience. I can’t wait.


Here is the press release from Space Camp News:

Huntsville native, physician and noted author D.P. Lyle to open new exhibit at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center®

HUNTSVILLE, AL – Award winning author and consultant for many crime-related books and television programs, Dr. D.P. Lyle, will officially open the U.S. Space & Rocket Center’s newest exhibit, CSI: The Experience, on Saturday, January 29, 2011, at 9:00 A.M.

Dr. Lyle, a cardiologist in Orange County, California for the past 30 years, has authored four books on forensic science and served as a consultant on such television programs as Westside Medical, Law and Order, Monk, House, CSI: Miami, and others.

In addition to the opening ceremony, Dr. Lyle will also give a presentation about how the real world of crime scene investigators and forensic science is portrayed on television and in the movies. Do they get it right? Dr. Lyle will address that question in Forensic Science: Hollywood Versus the Real World. The discussions are scheduled for 11:00 A.M. and 1:00 P.M. in the Davidson Center’s 3-D Theater, and are open to the public with paid admission to the exhibit. He will also discuss his next installment in the Dub Walker novel series set in Huntsville, Hot Lights, Cold Steel. Dr. Lyle will also be available to autograph copies of his various books, several of which will be on-sale in the gift shop.

CSI: The Experience, a challenging and interactive exhibit created in collaboration the popular CBS Television series, will be open to the public from January 29th through May 1, 2011 at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center. Visitors will be exposed to the real world of the crime scene investigator, and will have the chance to solve one of three mysteries represented in the exhibit. You’ll visit the crime scene, collect evidence, and see if you can add up the clues to actually solve the case!

Be among the very first in Huntsville to go behind the yellow tape and experience the drama, the excitement and the science of crime scene investigations. For advanced ticket sales and additional information, visit:

About the exhibit:
CSI: The Experience was developed by the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History and Bob Weis Design Island Associates with support from CBS Consumer Products, the cast and crew of the television show, and the National Science Foundation. CSI: The Experience is an immersive, interactive forensic science exhibit created in collaboration with the hit TV series that invites people to use real science to solve hypothetical crimes in an exciting multi-media environment. The exhibit will be on display at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center Huntsville Alabama January 29- May 1, 2011. Local sponsors of the exhibit include the City of Huntsville, the Huntsville/Madison County Convention & Visitors Bureau, Boeing, and the Best Western Rocket City Inn & Suites, and Group rates are available. Educator and Family Guides to the exhibit are available at and, respectively. Each guide is full of engaging activities and information to enhance the visit to the CSI: The Experience exhibit.
©2000-2010 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. and Entertainment AB Funding, L.L.C. All Rights Reserved.

About The U.S. Space & Rocket Center®:

The U.S. Space & Rocket Center, located in Huntsville, Alabama, created by an Act of the Alabama State Legislature and operated by the Alabama Space Science Exhibit Commission, it’s members appointed by the Governor of Alabama, opened in March, 1970, to showcase Alabama’s and Huntsville’s leadership role in America’s manned space flight program, thus becoming the official Welcome Center for NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, also located in Huntsville. The USSRC operates SPACE CAMP® and AVIATION CHALLENGE®, providing world-renowned educational programs designed to foster interest in math, science and technology.

(NOTE: The contact for this release is Al Whitaker, Media Relations Manager, U.S. Space & Rocket Center, Huntsville, Alabama. 256-721-7160. Email: . Digital stills and video are available to news media upon request.)

My schedule including a TV show and a couple of radio interviews can be found HERE.

Try to stop by or tune in if you get a chance.


Posted by on January 20, 2011 in General Forensics, Writing


Thrillers: 100 Must Reads Nominated for an Edgar Award

Thrillers: 100 Must Reads has been nominated for an Edgar Award in the Best Critical/Biographical category.

Congratulations to Editors David Morrell and Hank Wagner for a superb job and kudos to my fellow authors who contributed essays. Mine was on The Mysterious Island by Jules Verne, a novel that is very special to me and one that I had not read since I was 14. Believe it or not that was a long time ago. Re-reading it to prepare the essay brought back many memories and took me back a ways. I still love Mr. Verne.

If you don’t have a copy, pick one up. A journey through the history of the thriller awaits inside.


1 Comment

Posted by on January 19, 2011 in Writing


Q and A: What Type of Injury Results From a Shotgun Loaded with Birdshot?

Q: How long would it take a healthy 50-year-old man in excellent shape to get back home and be up and around and taking care of himself after a 12-gauge birdshot wound to the side of his chest? How much and what kind of damage would he suffer? Would he likely suffer arm damage, too? Would that part require physical therapy? Is three months reasonable?

A: A shotgun is not like a rifle or pistol. It fires shells that contain several small, round projectiles, called shot. The exception is what is called a “deer slug.” This is a single, large, cylindrical hunk of lead. It moves slowly and has tremendous “knock-down” power.

Shotguns come in several gauges. The lower the gauge number, the larger and more powerful the shotgun is. At the low end of the spectrum would be 410 and 20 gauges. Middle would be a 16 gauge. Larger would be 12 and 10 gauge shotguns. Where does this number come from? The gauge is the shotgun equivalent of a rifle or handgun caliber, which is simply a measurement of the barrel’s internal diameter. A shotgun’s gauge is a measure of the number of lead balls the diameter of the barrel that would weigh one pound. So, 12 balls the size of a 12G would be one pound while it would take 20 balls the size of a 20G barrel to weight the same.

The shot comes in varying sizes, which are classified by numbers 00 through 9. Double OO buckshot is large and is used for deer hunting. No.2 shot, which is approximately 0.15 inches (3.81 mm) in diameter is also used often for deer and larger animals. No.8 shot is 0.09 inches (2.29 mm) in diameter and it, along with No.9 shot, is used for dove and other birds–thus it is called birdshot. In between would be sizes such as No.4 shot, used for duck and geese, and No.6 shot, used for rabbit and squirrel.

Most of these “shots” come with a choice of “load.” The load is the amount of gunpowder packed into the shell. The more powder, the more power (muzzle velocity) that is imparted to the shot. Loads are typically light, standard, or magnum, in increasing order of explosive power. Duck hunters might use No.4 magnums, since ducks are tough and have thicker feathers, while a dove hunter might use No.8 lights. Doves are easier to kill and a heavier load and/or a larger shot might damage the flesh and render it unusable.

In your scenario, the nature of the injury depends upon the location of the wounds, the distance between the muzzle and his chest, the size of the shot, and the type of load used. As mentioned above, bird shot is typically No. 8 or No. 9 lights.

If your attacker was five feet away, the shot could do a great deal of damage. It could penetrate the chest wall, collapse a lung, damage his heart, and could kill him. If he survived, he would need surgery, several days in the hospital, and several weeks of healing. Very variable, depending upon the exact nature of the injuries he suffered.

If he were 50 or more feet away, the shot would likely embed in his skin and muscles. If he were 100 or more feet away, the shot would likely only enter the skin. In these situations, the shot would be removed in the operating room or perhaps the emergency room. He might be admitted to the hospital overnight for observation or even for a couple of days. He would be treated with pain meds and antibiotics and after leaving the hospital would rest at home for a few days but likely be none the worse for wear.

If the shot were from close range and directed at his arm or shoulder, it could severely damage the arm or shoulder joint and possibly the blood vessels in the area. This might require surgery of an orthopedic or vascular nature and a prolonged recovery period. In this situation, he would likely need physical therapy for a few weeks or months after his wounds healed. Again, depending on the exact nature of his injuries. For a damaged shoulder, lung, or heart, three months or longer to fully recover would be reasonable.


Posted by on January 16, 2011 in Medical Issues, Q&A, Trauma


Royal Pains Is Back

Royal Pains returns to the USA Network one week from today (January 20). If you haven’t seen it, do. Hank, the MacGyver of medicine, Evan, the class clown, Divya, cool, calm, and gorgeous, Jill, hot and then some, Eddie, not “The Fonz” anymore, and Boris, rich and mysterious, are fun characters.

And of course look for the first Royal Pains tie-in novel, Royal Pains: First, Do No Harm, due out June, 2011.


Posted by on January 13, 2011 in Writing


Manner of Death Can Be a Matter of Timing

There are five matters of death: natural, accidental, suicidal, homicidal, and undetermined. Natural deaths are not usually within the domain of the medical examiner and accidental and suicidal deaths are rarely addressed by his office. But if a death is determined to be homicidal, the full force of the medical examiner and police investigators are brought into play.

This is why, along with cause of death and time of death, the manner of death is one of the most important things the medical examiner must determine. His official statement as to the manner of death will determine what happens next. Will the police be involved or not?

An interesting but sad case in Santa Ana, California underscores this point. In 2006, just before his 16th birthday, Robert Flores was shot numerous times in what is believed to be a gang related shooting. Robert survived the shooting but was left quadriplegic.

Quadriplegia is a difficult and complex medical condition and people who suffer from this are plagued with many complications including pneumonia, urinary tract infections, bed sores, muscle wasting, and a host of other problems. Many of these can progress and become deadly. This is what happened with Robert. Four years after his shooting Robert died.

So what was Robert’s manner of death? I don’t know whether he died from pneumonia or a urinary tract infection or one of the other complications of quadriplegia but he did die from some medical problem related to his paralysis. Since his death was due to a medical problem would his manner of death be listed as natural? The answer is no. His manner of death would be homicidal. He was shot five times and this act started the cascade of events that led to his death. In other words, had he not been shot he would not be quadriplegic and would not have been subjected to the medical complications of this condition. It was not an automobile accident or a fall or some other injury that might cause quadriplegia but rather the criminal act of his being shot that began his decline to death and that is what makes his death a homicide rather than some natural or accidental event.

As of right now there are no suspects in Robert’s shooting but if suspects are ever identified they will likely be charged with homicide.


For more on the Cause, Time, and Manner of death take a look at my books Howdunnit: Forensics or Forensics For Dummies.




Guest Blogger: Crime Writers Inspired by Body Farms?

What is a body farm? It is a research facility that provides scientists with opportunities to study human decomposition in an array of settings. Body farms allow researchers to develop new forensic technologies. Body farm research is especially important to forensic anthropology, forensic science, and the field of law enforcement.

University of Tennessee Body Farm

The author Patricia Cornwell named one of her novels The Body Farm after she overheard local police officers use the nickname for the Anthropology Research Facility at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. Authors Bill Bass and Jon Jefferson have published a number of fictional mystery novels based on the body farm at the University of Tennessee. Also, the UT Farm has been featured in several television shows such as CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.

The University of Tennessee Body Farm is utilized to train law enforcement officers in crime scene skills and techniques. Numerous hallmark scientific papers have been developed by research performed at the Body Farm. This information has been vital in powering forensic investigation into solving unsolved deaths.


At the University of Tennessee Body Farm, clothed and unclothed dead bodies are places in a variety of settings, such as in the shade, in sunny areas, in shallow graves, covered with brush, in water, and in houses, to provide insights into the decomposition of dead bodies in various conditions. Detailed observations along with records of the decomposition process are maintained, including the effects of insect activity. One objective is to reconstruct scenes where police find skeletal remains.


Body Farm Locations

Here is a list of some other body farms in the United States:

– Texas State University in San Marcos
– Western Carolina University in Cullowhee
– Sam Houston State University in Huntsville
– Southwestern Pennsylvania (used by researchers at California University of Pennsylvania’s Institute of Criminological and Forensic Science)

Crime Writers

Crime writers may be able to visit some of the body farms or review body farm research. They’ll learn how bodies decay in different climates and how dead bodies are effected by rain, humidity, and temperature. Crime writers can also learn from research by entomologists who observe the ways a variety of insects feed on or use dead bodies in various stages of their life cycles. Based on the maturity of species, entomologists can determine approximately how long a person has been dead.

A possible crime novel scenario: To deceive the forensics experts about the time of death, the novel’s cruel murderer digs up the victim and swaps young bugs for mature bugs.

Another scenario: A crime novel murder suspect claims the dead haberdasher died in West Texas during Winter, however body farm researcher Mr. Stiff provides forensic evidence to refute the claim. Based on decay patterns, he determines the victim could have only have died in Northeast Montana in September.

Another scenario: After thoroughly reviewing body farm research, the clever killer Mr. Grant realizes high soil moisture and acidic soil speed up the decomposition process. He buries his victim in this type of soil; after a given amount of time he carefully removes the body, thoroughly cleans it off, and buries it in dry non-acidic soil. He sends a text message to alert the police of the body’s location. The somewhat knowledgeable forensic expert is fooled and determines the murder took place prior to Mr. Grant arriving in town. Mr. Grant is no longer the prime suspect for the crime and demands an apology.

So you see, body farm research can add unique twists to crime novels!

Brian Jenkins writes about careers in the criminal justice field, including crime scene investigation, for


Next Dub Walker Book Set for June Release

Welcome to 2011. Hope this proves to be a stellar year for each of you.

I just got the ARCs for my next Dub Walker book, HOT LIGHTS, COLD STEEL, the follow up to STRESS FRACTURE. It will be out in hardback this June. Here is the cover and an excerpt:





“What kind of sick fuck would do that?” T-Tommy asked. “Hack up these girls, patch them up, and then kill them?”

“The world’s full of candidates,” Stone said.

“Maybe some surgeon decided to dump his bad cases,” one of the techs said.

Stone offered a grim laugh. “Probably an HMO.”

T-Tommy returned his attention to the bodies. Cause of death? No way he could tell. He’d leave that to the MEs.

He stood and circled the corpses. He noticed the edge of a tattoo peeking around the side of one of the bodies. It was low, near the base of the spine. He tugged on a pair of latex gloves, dropped to one knee, and rolled the body on one side. The stiffness told him that death had been at least twenty-four hours or so earlier and not more than forty-eight. Fit the level of decay and the lack of visible maggots. Sometime Wednesday most likely. He could now see that the tattoo, a yellow rose wrapped in thorns, extended across the victim’s lower back. “Shit.”

“That’s her,” Stone said. “In report this morning we got a BOLO on a missing girl. Blonde, nineteen, rose tattoo on her back. I’ve got it in my car. I’ll see who filed it.”

T-Tommy stood. “Dub Walker.”


“Dub Walker filed it. He’s looking for her.” T-Tommy sighed and looked up. The sun approached its noonday zenith in the cloudless sky, and the temperature had begun its daily rise. “Nothing like a double homicide to screw up a perfect spring day.”


Posted by on January 2, 2011 in Writing

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