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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?

Gelsium

 

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.

Douglas_Carner 400

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?

wpid-Memory-Tests

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.

CSR 240x400-1

 

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

wildfire

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.

Wildfire pattern

 

Crime and Science Radio: The Anatomy of Innocence: An Interview with Author, Legal Scholar, and Advocate Laura Caldwell 

Join Jan Burke and me as we welcome Laura Caldwell to Crime and Science Radio on Saturday 6-6-15 at 10 a.m. PDT

LC

BIO: Laura Caldwell is a lawyer-turned-author-turned-life-saver. She is a former civil trial lawyer, now Distinguished Scholar in Residence at Loyola University Chicago School of Law, director of Life After Innocence, published author of 14 novels and one nonfiction book (to date), speaker, daughter, sister, aunt and friend. Her latest novel, The Dog Park, was published in July 2014.

With novels published in over 22 countries and translated into more than 13 languages, Caldwell had left the law behind, or so she thought. Research on her sixth novel led her to the criminal case of a young man sitting in a Cook County holding cell for over five years without a trial. Compelled by his story, Caldwell joined a renowned criminal defense attorney to defend him, ultimately proving his innocence and inspiring her first nonfiction book, Long Way Home: A Young Man Lost in the System and the Two Women Who Found Him (Free Press, Simon&Schuster).

By working with her client and witnessing his intense struggle to assimilate into a now foreign and unfriendly world, Caldwell became keenly aware that while many programs are available for ex-offenders after their release, the innocent in most states receive no assistance. As a champion for the innocent, Caldwell was moved to create Life After Innocence, an innovative and first-of-its-kind program that aids exonerees – people who have been wrongfully convicted and later found completely innocent – to begin their lives again and reclaim their rights as citizens.

Caldwell’s fictional work began in the “chick-lit” genre, and she soon turned to writing mysteries and thrillers, focusing her attention on a returning character, Izzy McNeil. The series has received critical acclaim and nominations for prestigious industry awards. Laura Caldwell is also a freelance magazine writer and has been widely published both domestically and internationally.

LISTENhttp://www.blogtalkradio.com/suspensemagazine/2015/05/07/crime-and-science-radio-with-special-guest-laura-caldwell

LINKS:

Laura Caldwell’s Website http://www.lauracaldwell.com

Laura Caldwell on Twitter @LauraACaldwell

Laura Caldwell on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/lauracaldwellpage

Life After Innocence on Twitter: @afterinnocence

Loyola University of Chicago School of Law Life After Innocence: http://www.luc.edu/law/experiential/lifeafterinnocence/index.html

Life After Innocence blog https://lifeafterinnocence.wordpress.com

The Innocence Network http://innocencenetwork.org

The Innocence Project http://www.innocenceproject.org

The Innocence Project: Causes of Wrongful Conviction http://www.innocenceproject.org/causes-wrongful-conviction

“Police Induced Confessions: Risk Factors and Recommendations,” Kassin, et al in Law and Human Behaviorhttp://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1483878

“False confessions, new data and law enforcement interrogations: Research findings” http://journalistsresource.org/studies/government/criminal-justice/interrogation-lie-bluff-false-confession

“The Interview” by Douglas Starr, in The New Yorker http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2013/12/09/the-interview-7

“You Can Be Persuaded To Confess To An Invented Crime, Study Finds,” by Nathan Siegel, NPR, Jan 29 2015

http://www.npr.org/2015/01/29/382483367/you-can-be-convinced-to-confess-to-an-invented-crime-study-finds

“Planting false memories fairly easy, psychologists find,” by Sarah Barmak in the Toronto Star, Feb 08 2015 http://www.thestar.com/news/insight/2015/02/08/planting-false-memories-fairly-easy-psychologists-find.html

“When Innocent People Go To Prison, States Pay,” by Gabriel Emanuel, Planet Money, NPR Jun 16 2014

http://www.npr.org/blogs/money/2014/06/16/320356084/when-innocent-people-go-to-prison-states-pay

“Many prisoners on death row are wrongfully convicted,” Dina Fine Marion, Scientific American, Apr 28 2014 http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/many-prisoners-on-death-row-are-wrongfully-convicted/

Long Way Home 300

Dog Park Cover

 
 
 
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