Saturday, November 9, 2013
Although I have been away all day attending to various matters, my mind has never strayed far from Kendrick Johnson and the coming battle of experts regarding whether his death was accidental, which is the medical examiner’s opinion, or a homicide, which is the opinion held by the forensic pathologist Kendrick’s parents retained to determine Kendrick’s cause of death after his body was exhumed. The outcome of this battle will determine if the inquiry into his death will turn into a criminal investigation in search of a suspect or suspects to be charged and prosecuted or be closed on the ground that it was a tragic accident and not a homicide.
If the medical examiner loses the battle of the experts, I doubt the United States Attorney will prosecute the case because he lacks jurisdiction to prosecute a murder case unless it was a hate crime, which is the same barrier that the Department of Justice is facing in deciding whether to prosecute George Zimmerman. I think an independent special prosecutor will have to be appointed to replace the current prosecutor because his objectivity will have been been compromised by the position he took backing the medical examiner. I believe the same is true for the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation that employed the medical examiner and endorsed his conclusions. To say that a lot is riding on the outcome of the battle of the experts is a vast understatement.
Without discovery, I cannot predict the outcome. Nevertheless, I know a lot about autopsies and how they are conducted, so I can provide you with an accurate idea of what to expect and a preview of the coming battle.
Right now the dispute appears to concern whether Kendrick sustained a blunt force traumatic injury to the right side of his neck. The forensic pathologist retained by Kendrick’s family concluded that he did and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s medical examiner apparently did not find such an injury. He and the GBI have reviewed the report of the second autopsy and they have issued statements saying they stand by his original report.
The dispute likely will be about the detection of subcutaneous bruising in an African American male. Bruising is easier to see on a white person because the skin is a lighter color. The darker the skin, the more difficult it is to spot bruising. In any case where blunt force trauma is suspected, it’s a good idea to cut into the skin with a scalpel and visually examine the tissue beneath the skin for evidence of broken blood vessels. If you find it, the next thing to do is to photograph what you found and attempt to determine the boundaries and shape of the bruised area. Then section the tissue and prepare slides for viewing with a microscope.
Although the medical examiner’s office did the right thing to section organ tissue on slides for preservation and viewing, he may have screwed up by not doing the same thing with Kendrick Johnson’s neck tissue. This will likely be the hotly disputed issue with the medical examiner claiming that the so-called evidence of blunt trauma was really due to a post mortem impact or an advanced state of decomposition, or both.
The loss of Kendrick’s internal organs is inexcusable. If the medical examiner was responsible, that will severely hurt his credibility
The manner in which he conducted the autopsy will be fair game. You will want to check and see if he followed standard operating procedure. For example, the body must first be placed on butcher paper to prevent the loss of trace evidence and then x-rayed to spot bullets, assorted shrapnel and the like, objects in pockets and broken bones.
Then the body must be visually examined and photographed from head to foot, face up and face down, before the clothes are removed and visually examined for evidence of an injury, such as a bullet hole, puncture or cutting and bleeding. Underwear should be examined for ejaculate and discharge. Clothing should be dried if wet and packaged in brown paper bags sealed with the exhibit number, date and initials of the person who packaged the article written across the seal. This is done to document chain of custody and to discourage tampering.
The photographic process is repeated after the clothes have been removed with special attention given to any injuries, including bruising.
It’s vitally important to follow this procedure during every autopsy to avoid missing something important. Nothing should be assumed and every possibility must be considered before it is ruled out.
The failure to spot a significant injury, even if it did not actually cause death, is inexcusable and is the sort of mistake that could result in an erroneous conclusion such as accidental death due to positional asphyxiation instead of a homicide committed by blunt force trauma to the neck disabling the victim followed by rolling the victim up in a mat and stowing it in an upright position with the victim upside down inducing death by positional asphyxiation.
Right now we have a battle between two forensic pathologists. No doubt each side will attempt to sign-up at least one and possibly several experts who will support the conclusion reached by its expert. Does this mean we are likely to hear from Dr. Vincent DiMaio again?
I sincerely hope not, but only time will tell.
This is our 752nd post. We have put a lot of heart and soul into this website and we get thousands of views each day. We are closing in on 2 million views and 200,000 comments. Yet, scarcely anyone donates any money and it is increasingly difficult to justify the time and effort when only about a dozen people donate a few hundred dollars each month. We do not expect to get rich doing this, but it would be nice to pay our bills.
Please make a donation today, if you have not already done so.
If everyone contributed $5, we would not be reduced to begging.
We seriously need your help to maintain this website.