One of the most important things the ME must determine in any death investigation is the time of death. This determination can support or destroy alibis and suspect and witness statements, and point the finger at certain individuals while directing it away from others.
The ME uses various techniques to make his “best guess” as to the victim’s time of death. Things like body temperature, rigor mortis, lividity, stomach contents, and a few other determinations. Unfortunately, most of these are only marginally accurate.
Here is an article I wrote on this subject: http://www.dplylemd.com/DPLyleMD/Art-Timely_death.html
Any tool that can help make this assessment more accurate would be welcome.
Researchers at Sam Houston State University’s Department of Biological Sciences are looking into just such a tool. Bacteria. Just as insects visit a corpse in a more or less predictable pattern, it seems that bacteria do also.
We’ll see how this pans out but it’s very interesting.