Showing posts with label murder. Show all posts
Showing posts with label murder. Show all posts

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Talk About a Plot Twist! Jury information with Judge Hopkins

Today our guest is the Honorable Judge Hopkins.
Judge, would you introduce yourself to everyone?

Judge Hopkins-
My name is Bill Hopkins and I have been in the legal profession since 1971. I have been a civil attorney, criminal defense attorney, prosecutor, administrative law judge, and trial court judge, all in the state of Missouri.

Fiona - 
This article is "Jury Nullification in Criminal Trials" which is not something I've ever heard of before. But you're going to walk us through this new way of twisting our plots. I'm just going to let you have free rein.

Judge Hopkins -
Doug Linder wrote an article about jury nullification, which I recommend to you. It’s found HERE

“Jury nullification” is a fancy legal term for what happens when a jury doesn’t buy the prosecutor’s reason for the state’s case even though the defendant is truly guilty of a crime. In other words, the jury cancels the effect of a law that they don’t like. The law may be in their minds immoral or unfair or wrongly applied to the defendant (the one on trial).

Now, as a writer, you could develop a thousand or more plots just on the information set out above. For example: 
Is there a defendant who admits to killing his ailing wife who was suffering from terminal cancer and was in pain so extreme that no drug could alleviate it? A jury may have a great deal of sympathy for the surviving husband. The jury lets him go although he is definitely guilty of murder. But, wait! A month after the trial, a juror finds out that the “grieving husband” had his wife take out a million dollar life insurance policy when she was healthy. The insurance carrier has paid off. Now the defendant is going to Belize with his sweetie who he’d been seeing long before his wife got sick. The informed juror convinces all the other jurors to help him kill the grieving husband. The Case of the Informed Juror. Sounds like an Agatha Christie plot. Or maybe Perry Mason.

Linder, in the article cited above, asks if juries have the right to nullify. Juries clearly have the power to nullify. But that doesn’t mean they have the right to nullify. If the jury in a criminal case finds a defendant not guilty (which, by the way is not the same as “innocent”) then the state can never prosecute the defendant again. The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution states (in part) that no person shall “ subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb....” The state is allowed to try a defendant only once.

Today, courts not only don’t want to tell juries that they can nullify (or cancel) a criminal law they don’t like, they are often actively discouraged to nullify. In Missouri, for example, jury nullification is not allowed. Things could be different in whatever jurisdiction you’re writing about. Checking with the state bar in the capitol would be the best way to find information about legal questions where you live.

Judges in Missouri instruct jurors that it is their duty to apply the law as it is given to them, whether they agree with the law or not. And, I suspect, it would be reversible error for a defense lawyer in my state to use jury nullification in a closing argument for a client.

The Case of the Unwelcome Snitch. Another plot might be that a jury really wants to free a person who is clearly guilty. One of the jurors who wants to send the defendant to prison, sneaks a note to the judge, explaining that the jury’s deliberations are wandering into forbidden territory. There’s a hung jury and later the snitch is found dead behind the courthouse, beaten to death with the judge’s gavel. That’s kind of flimsy, but you get my drift.

Linder reports that many legal scholars “have suggested that it is unfair to have a defendant's fate depend upon whether he is lucky enough to have a jury that knows it has the power to nullify.”

I won’t comment whether I think jury nullification is fair or unfair. However, I know that judges worry that courtrooms will become hotbeds of anarchy if jurors are told they have the power (but not necessarily the right or duty) to nullify a law. Judges also worry that jurors do not have the legal training to decide what the law is or isn’t. Jurors should decide facts only and apply the law that the jury instructions give them, whether they agree with the law or not. That’s what most judges (I suspect) believe today.

As I said, this is an article about criminal trials. Today, in America, there is very little control over prosecutors, who, in some ways, have more power than judges do. I was a prosecutor once. I could’ve announced in the newspapers that I was investigating Suzy Saintly Citizen for smuggling dope from Canada. There would be a flurry of news. Then I could say, “Sorry. There’s not enough evidence to charge Suzy Saintly Citizen for this serious crime.” If I were a deceitful prosecutor and knew she had never so much as stepped on a crack in an attempt to break her mother’s back when she was in kindergarten, I have now ruined her reputation. Nothing could be done to me as a prosecutor. Note that everything I said to the newspaper was true: (1) I’m investigating a leading citizen of the town, and (2) I’ve decided that there’s not enough evidence to charge her. 

Another plot: The Case of the Slimy Prosecutor.

Linder’s article concludes: “[J]ury nullification provides an important mechanism for feedback. Jurors sometimes use nullification to send messages to prosecutors about...what they see as harassing or abusive prosecutions. Jury nullification prevents our criminal justice system from becoming too rigid—it provides some play in the joints for justice, if jurors use their power wisely.”

I could go along with that. A good book on criminal law that every crime writer should have is by Leslie Budewitz:

Full disclosure: I am in the book!

Fiona - 
So fun!

Thank you so much for this information. Would you please take a minute and tell us about your latest book?

Judge Hopkins -
My latest book DISHONEST CORPSE was out last year: 

The ebook versions of my first two books (COURTING MURDER and RIVER MOURN) are FREE from Amazon. Courting Murder.

Free books? Woohoo!!!

Thanks for joining us. Happy reading and writing!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Murder She Wrote: Homicide Information for Writers

“We believe he attacked six women using the same M.O. He stalked them with love poems, which he’d rewritten in a threatening tone, broke into their homes, sliced their torso with a razor and poured either vinegar or salt on them. He killed them with blunt force to the head, then he disappeared. He has never left any usable clues. No one was able to describe him before.”
            “I’m his first mistake.” 

WEAKEST LYNX - Fiona Quinn

Why do you call the police investigator at your murder scene a "homicide detective"?

A HOMICIDE - takes place when one person kills another person. Not all homicides are murders. These words are not synonymous. There are justifiable/non-criminal homicides. These include:
  • Self-defense
  • The defense of others (Mom saves her kids etc.)
  • Officers use of deadly force in defense of self or others

MURDER - is the term used for unjustified homicide. It is a felony. A felony - is a serious crime that would imprison someone for over a year and could potentially lead to the death penalty.

Murder can then be broken down into smaller categories. These categories are based on the circumstance of the murder. Laws about required prison sentencing/punishments are ascribed to the different levels.

Capital Murder

  • Killing a police officer doing his duty
  • A prisoner killing a corrections officer (prison or jail)
  • Are premeditated, willful and deliberate. Someone thought then acted on that thought. Time of premeditation is not necessarily an issue be it a month planning session or a 3 second decision. "I saw the man who was making me a cuckold and decided I wasn't going to play that game anymore, so I pulled my gun."

  • Someone planned to kill someone
  • Killing a child under twelve during an abduction/attempted abduction.
  • Someone died during a rape/attempted rape/sodemy, 
  • Someone died in an armed robbery/attempted armed robbery
  • Someone hired someone else to commit to kill the person.
  • Killing people in a crime/crime spree
  • Killing someone during an illegal drug transaction for the purpose of continuing the transaction.
First-Degree - occur when a murder takes place during:
  • Abductions
  • Lying in wait
  • Holding someone against their will
  • Foreign object sexual penetration/forcible sodomy
  • Starving
  • Poisoning
  • Burglaries
Second- Degree Murder
  • Definition varies by state.
  • All murders are classified as 2nd degree until the prosecutors can prove an aggravating factor such as those listed above.
  • The result of "reckless indifference for human life."


There are two types of manslaughter:
  1. Voluntary Manslaughter - is when things get out of hand like in a fight when your character throws a wild punch and collapses the guy's windpipe.
  2. Involuntary Manslaughter - is when someone dies because of the character's reckless behavior like in a car accident when your character ran the red light during a road race.
The characteristics of manslaughter include:
  • Criminal homicide
  • There was no premeditation, malice, or deliberation
  • Happens because of someone's reckless behavior (ex. shooting celebratory gun shots) or careless behavior (ex. not putting up no smoking signs by the oxygen tanks.
I hope you found this helpful.

Thank you so much for stopping by. And thank you for your support. Cheers,When you buy my books, you make it possible for me to continue to bring you helpful articles and keep ThrillWriting free and accessible to all.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Homicide Scenes: Information for Writers with Sgt. Derek Pacifico

Fiona - Good morning - have you had your coffee?

Sgt. Pacifico - Yes, I have it right here as a matter of fact. Just got
      my drum workout in and feeling relaxed now.

Fiona - Drum workout? LOL It seems a little early in the morning...
     hopefully everyone at your house was already up. What do you

Sgt. Pacifico - It's a great stress reliever. I love to play to
     Genesis and other 60's, 70's rock groups. Pink Floyd, Rush those

Fiona - So I've found you relaxed and about to be caffeinated - then
      I should take advantage. Let's start with who you are and why
      I'm so thrilled to have you and your expertise here today.

Sgt. Pacifico - My background is patrol
     and my specialty in homicide 
    - and later as a trainer as well. 
     My forte is being an interrogator. 
     That's where I'm most 
     and it is a favorite topic. I just loved
     working that detail. The most
     important work I ever did.

Fiona - How is the process at a homicide different than arriving at
      the scene of any other violent crime. What's the mood? What's
      the mind set...

Sgt. Pacifico - The major difference is that when it is a homicide,
      everything slows down. There isn't any rush. The violence
      is over, now it's time to be very detail oriented in getting all the
      evidence we can. In every crime where the victim lives, they
      can at least tell us something about what happened prior to the
      violence. In a murder, we often don't know who our dead guy
      is, why he is there, why this happened, and who is involved.
      Depending on the nature of the scene or the body, sometimes
      we don't even know why they are dead until the autopsy.

      The mindset is always that we know we are playing for all the
      marbles. A doper is going to buy/sell/produce more dope if he
      gets off on some blunder we made in the case. The suspect is
      only going to kill his neighbor once. We have to get it right. 
      Sometimes that means staying at scenes for days.

Police car emergency lighting fixtures switche...
Police car emergency lighting fixtures switched on. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Fiona - How much does
      money have to do with
      finding the right
      bad-guy sending him to
      to jail? Do more
      affluent departments
      have a better chance?

Sgt. Pacifico - The better
      the budget, the more
      resources there are to
      spend on personnel, physical resources, crime lab and
      equipment, outside testing etc. But the funny part about
      money that most people get wrong is that the rich don't get
      better service or more of our time and the poor victim gets
      nothing, within the same agency jurisdiction. What I mean is
      this, usually a more affluent person who winds up dead is going
      to have people willing to be involved to help us - be that family,
      friends, or co-workers. The suspect is usually easily figured out
      from their lifestyle and usually they're not career criminals or
      have that mindset. Whereas a poor gang banger's murder is far
      harder to investigate. The amount of hours spent working a gang
      murder is probably (unscientific numbers here) 10 to 1 versus a
      middle or upper class murder. In the case of a gang murder, no
      one wants to talk to us. The witnesses who do finally talk are
      most often other criminals whose credibility is suspect in court.
      Before trial, witnesses often get killed in unrelated murders -
      not specially in retaliation for testifying in the 
      pre-preliminary hearing, and so on and so forth. The work on a
      bangers murder case can take years to get to trial. The middle
      class guy who kills his co-worker in a love triangle for example,
      that one may be solved in a week or two and prosecuted within
      a year's time.

Fiona - You mentioned the behind scene politics and emotions -
      basically the humanity of the investigator - can you explain
      this? I'm particularly interested in coping mechanisms at the
      moment of confronting the scene - but also later when alone
      with one's thoughts.

Sgt. Pacifico - I will say that after my first autopsy, I wasn't able to
      eat chicken on the bone for about six months. After a while
      though, I had to just get over the sights and references and
      realize that it probably bothers everyone a little at first, but you
      just have to accept seeing damaged bodies as part of the job. 

     I have a friend from high school who became a doctor and
     worked trauma for a couple years. He told me he coped with
     what he saw by remembering it was his job; people were relying
     on him. Because it was not his family or friend, it was easy to
     put aside the emotions and get the job done. He was right, and it
     helped. He said he isn't necessarily as calm about injuries when
     it's his direct family and he is in daddy-mode instead of doctor-

     I think that our intense academy training style helps too. You
     learn very early on - or you don't make it - that you have to push
     through stressful situations and do the job properly or people
     who depend on you could die. Now in homicides, the
     investigation isn't of that same nature, but you realize that
     although there are stresses, you can handle it, including the
     emotions and seeing the bad stuff. 

     Now here is a little secret - television and movies on average 
     are more gross than real life. For instance, a man shot a couple 
     times in the chest with a pistol round with one bullet piercing
     the heart will not bleed very much for two reasons. One, the
     pump that causes bleeding is broken, and isn't causing
     circulation. Then, due to lack of circulation, they fall down and
     die. There is no more bleeding. There could be some seepage,
     but a man wearing a shirt and especially a hoodie or jacket who
     is shot in the chest may hardly bleed (externally) at all. He just
     falls down dead. In the movies, they have huge exit wounds and
     gross wounds that most times, on average, victim's don't
     experience in real life. 

     Now knife wounds are a different story. There is so much
     damage done during a knife fight before the victim actually
     dies that there is a tremendous amount of blood loss. Those
     scenes can be quite icky.

Fiona - I adore that you used the word "Icky." You read it here
     folks - gun scenes are clean if you need gore go for the knife.

     One of my readers once asked me what happens at a crime
     scene in terms of housekeeping. Say there's a homicide and
     someone broke in - does the police secure the house - board up
     the window or door? What about the pets? How do you go about
     finding the other residents to let them know what's going on - or
     next of kin?

Sgt. Pacifico - We the police don't get involved in any clean up. It's
     actually a bio-hazard scene and needs to be done properly. 
     There are a few different companies that do crime scene clean
     up. We provide that information to whomever is now
     responsible for the property and advise them to use a service.
     Whether they do or not is entirely up to them. 

      By the time we are done with a scene, we will have identified
      some next of kin or landlord to whom we turn over the 
      property when we are done. That's another thing TV gets wrong.
      We own the scene while we are there. Regardless, we will have
      written a search warrant to conduct
      the investigation. That way
English: A photo of a cup of coffee. Esperanto...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
      we don't rely on people's
      permission to stay as long
      as we want
      and need. But once we
      are done, the tape comes
      down, and we
      leave. It doesn't remain a
      crime scene after we are
      gone. If we are going to
      be there multiple days and
      therefore need to get
      away and sleep, we maintain
      security of the place by having a
      uniformed police officer stand guard while we grab some zzz's
      in our detective unit. Usually two hour naps, coupled with 
      gallons of coffee can get us back on track until sun up. 

Admrboltz cat Floyd 2
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
      Pets are
      immediately removed
      from the scene. If
      neighbors will take them
      for us, great. If there are
      no neighbors, or the
      animals are dangerous,
      we have animal control
      pick them up and hold
      them for next of kin. 

     In today's electronic age, it doesn't
     take long for next of kin to
     find out what we are doing. Often they show up earlier than we'd
     like. Sometimes they are problematic. They want to go in the
     house and touch the body, and we don't want any contamination
     and only get one shot at doing a pristine scene. It's a difficult
     balancing act for the family who wants to know what happened
     and us telling them what we can without compromising the case

Fiona - Let's talk about a project your are working on that will
      benefit writers - the Writers Homicide School. How did that
      come about?

      I retired in June, 2012 after 22 years on the San Bernardino
      County Sheriff's Department in Southern California. Years ago
      when I was in homicide, I came to Knoxville, Tennessee to pick
      up a suspect and bring him back to California. I fell immediately
      in love with the geography and culture of East Tennessee. 
      I made my wife come back with me on a vacation, and she was
      instantly hooked. I retired early in order to leave California and
      finish raising my kids out here in East Tennessee where I live

     In my work as an officer, at
     an early age, my supervisors
     apparently saw something in
     me regarding my ability to
     train and teach. I was brought
     into the ranks of the Field
     Training Officers and also
     tasked with creating and
     developing course material
     and teaching it at our academy for
     both basic recruit academy and also the advanced officer

     I never had any thoughts or intentions about having a training 
     company or doing consulting, but it just sort of happened while
     I was still a detective. I was invited by outside agencies to come
     out on their budget and teach my courses that had garnered so
     much popularity in my department. One day, I realized I could
     make a business of this. 

      When I was in homicide, because of my training development
      background, I was asked to develop an advanced homicide
      school. I created a two-week interactive school and set it in
      motion with several other instructors. It gained huge popularity
      and quickly became a favorite class for many professionals
      because of our very fun and interactive method of delivering
      the information. Part of being in homicide, or on the
      department, is being asked to speak or guest lecture to
      organizations. We had a 45 minute homicide for public
      groups PowerPoint that we often delivered to Kiwanis, Rotary
      and those types of groups. 

      One day I was invited to speak to the Sisters in Crime in
      Pasadena. I gave them the public lecture, and they loved it.
      From that I was invited to several other conferences to speak
      and eventually wound up at CBS studios speaking to a screen
      writers group. Some writers had seen me in several of these
      talks and had cornered me, refusing to let me go until I
      promised to put on a full seminar of no less than two days worth
      of material geared to writers. From that, CRIME WRITERS
      CONSULTATIONS was born.

      This continued with me developing what is now the WRITERS
      HOMICIDE SCHOOL, a two-day seminar that brings writers
      from the hiring process through being a detective in homicide
      and learning a little about all of the aspects of how to do the job,
      but even more so what goes on behind the scenes. Politics,
      frustrations, laughter, sadness and all the stuff no one ever sees.
      Writers get to ask all the questions they can fit in during the 
      seminar, and its great for character and scene development.

Fiona - I always ask this same question in all of my interviews - 
     please tell me the story behind your favorite scar. Interestingly,
     I have found all of my interviews with people who live a "do-or-
     die" lifestyle, they rarely have a scar story. At cocktail parties, 
     I have brought this up as a topic and my favorite theory is that
     should you be one of the people who would get scars, then
     you're not going to last very long on the job - sort of a survival
     of the fittest theory if you will. So if you have no scar then
     maybe just a harrowing close call...

English: Anthroplogy - human skull of a boy. T...
. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sgt. Pacifico - I've broken
      the bones in my right
      hand twice. Don't punch
      people in the skull.
      Typically the skull is
      tougher than

     The first time, I was on
     patrol working graveyard, 
     11p.m. - 7a.m. Around 1 a.m. on this
     warm summer night, I was patrolling the business area abutting
     up to a residential area. I was on the main thoroughfare driving
     pretty slowly when I heard a man shouting unintelligibly. 
     I finally figured out it was coming from the corner convenience
     store where there was some guy standing at the payphone
     shouting at it. He was out of his mind on drugs. He had the
     phone cradle in his right hand and was beating the keypad, 
     each time yelling a random number. Bam! "Six!" Bam!
     "Threeee!" When I approached him and tried to speak gently
     to him, he turned on me and the fight was on. Another deputy
     had already arrived for the approach, and we tackled him. He
     grabbed my inside thigh and started twisting my skin and
     muscles. It hurt like hell, so I punched him a couple times in the
     head. It got him to let go, and we were able to cuff him. After
     the adrenaline wore off, my hand was throbbing, and I went to
     the local ER where X-rays showed a fracture. Bummer was that
     I had to work the front desk for six weeks!

Thank you so much for stopping by. And thank you for your support. When you buy my books, you make it possible for me to continue to bring you helpful articles and keep ThrillWriting free and accessible to all.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Forensic Entomology: Something's Bugging Me About the Murder Scene


Description: Calliphora vicina. Blow-flies (al...
. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
WARNING: The photos and videos contained in this blog may be considered graphic in nature. Please 
consider your tolerance before viewing.

Your character arrives at the crime scene ready to put her full professionalism into play and solve the crime.
Uh oh! They've found a body. Your heroine calls in the coroner  because it's required by law. But very quickly, your heroine realizes from the state of the remains that the body has been decomposing for over 72 hours. So she makes two more calls:
Blow-flies (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
* the forensic anthropologist to process the remains.
* A forensic entomologist to process the bugs.

- Blog Link to Crime Scene 101
Blog Link Coroner/Death
Blog Link Algor, Livor, and
   Rigor Mortis
Blog Link Forensic

* In the first 72 hours there are more precise ways to
   determine time of death than by using insect evidence.
* After 72 hours insect evidence is the most accurate
   and possibly the only way to determine time of death.

A forensic entomologist - deals with any bugs that would show up in the court of law. 

Video Quick Study (2:42) a forensic entomologist talks about his job.

Sometimes, because of access, distance, or budgets, getting a forensic entomologist to the crime scene is not possible. A CSI can gather the evidence.

A Typical Crime Scene Kit
A Typical Crime Scene Kit (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Video Quick Study (1:36)  Review of a field forensic entomology kit.
* Different species should be kept separate
* Insects collected from different body parts should be kept
* Maggot clusters should be documented, photographed, and
   temperatures obtained.
* The specimens should be labelled with:
   - date and time
   - name of the collector
   - stage of insect development at time of the collection
* When the bugs are collected your character will want to have 2

- Sample One - contains alcohol (the bugs die) this shows:
   1. what stage of development the bugs were in when they were
   2. helps the emtomologist to define the approximate time of death
   3. can be used  in court as evidence.

- Sample Two - keeps the specimens alive. Add a dampened paper
   towel and cover with dry paper towel held on with a rubber band.
   This allows the entomologist to incubate the insects in their lab 
   and determine a  more specific time line.

Other data that will help a forensic entomologist make sound scientific inferences in the laboratory include:

* Habitat: ex desert, vegetative, meadow, woods
Ruler in use at a mock crime scene
Ruler in use at a mock crime scene (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
* Soil samples
* Weather at the time of collection 
    including: shady? sunny? 
    raining? temperature?
* Vegetation in the area
* Death site including elevation
   and map coordinates
* The state of the remains
* Were the remains buried? How
* What clothes or wrapping
    surround the remains?
* Anything else that the CSI thinks
   might help inform the process.

Photography is VERY helpful

Video LONG Study (15:11) Prt 1, Canadian entomologist discussing crime.
Video LONG Study (6:42) Prt 2

Okay, let's get to the bugs themselves

English: Describing the relationships between ...
English: Describing the relationships between carrion insect trophic specializations and decomposing remains, adapted and simplified from K.G.V. Smith, A Manual of Forensic Entomology, 1986 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Some terms: 
* Nacrophagous Species - feed on dead things.
* Omniverous Species - will eat most anything
* Predators - come to eat the necrophagous and omnivorous
   species of insects
* Parasites - are brought in by the other insects
* Adventive species - can be particularly informative. If the
   entomologist finds sub-types of species whose habitats are in a 
   different geographical location, they can determine that the body
   had been moved.
    Video Quick Study (1:49) Entomologist looks at the air filter on       a car to determine if the suspect drove  across the United States 
    to commit a murder.

The first on the scene is the blow fly.

English: Sarcophaga (Liopygia) ruficornis fles...
English: Sarcophaga (Liopygia) ruficornis flesh-fly mating.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

* Blow flies can smell death and
   can be there in mere moments.
* They lay their eggs immediately
   in openings. This can
   mean: mouth, eyes, nose, ears, 
   anus and vagina, and
   importantly, wounds. 

Now why is that important? If the remains have decayed past the point of recognition, finding the maggot mounds can help identify where that person might have been injured.

Why might this be bad? - When the eggs hatch and the larvae
starts to eat they are:
* destroying the facial features of the deceased, making
   identification more difficult
* can damage the wound margins making forensic wound study

Quick review of your Biology 101 class - here are the stages of blow fly life:
1. egg is laid - NOTE: flies
    are only active during
    daylight. If the person dies
   at night, the first eggs
   won't be laid until

Video Quick Study (2:11) fly laying eggs on deceased bird.

2. maggots come out and start to consume the corpse
3. larvae grows and eats
4. The larvae are full and stop eating. They migrate away from the
    body to pupate (hard cocoon-like stage while their DNA
    rearranges them into a fly). They like to do this in cool
    conditions. They will crawl under rugs, into the clothing
    especially seams, pockets, and cuffs, or if this isn't available -
5. Pupae - because they change color can be aged to a matter of
6. Emerging as a fly

* This whole cycle takes about 2 weeks depending on:
- Species 
- Weather (warmer temperatures creates more activity)
- Quality of the food
- Oxygen levels
- Day length/season

Video Quick Study (6:52) Close up video of blow fly life cycle.

Video Quick Study - Murder case in Hawaii where the body was wrapped in blankets.

* If a body is discovered in the first month postmortem interval, PMI, entomologists can be accurate to
   within a day.
* After first generation of blowflies has developed, the
   entomologist looks at the succession of insects. This is
   used when the corpse is dead for a month or more. The wave of
   insects overlaps.

Insect Arrival Comes in Waves

English: Blow flies (chrysomya megacephala) on...
English: Blow flies  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1. Flies - attracted by the
   decomposition odor arrive
    immediately. They like fresh
    bodies because of water

Oiceoptoma thoracicum (Silphidae)
Oiceoptoma thoracicum (Silphidae) (Photo credit: gbohne)
2. Carrion Beetles - Arrive in a few days
    during putrefaction stage
    body liquids are starting to expel from
    the corpse, lot's of odor
    more and more insect activity. (flies
    and wasps will also be

Closer view of a carpet beetle
Closer view of a carpet beetle
(Photo credit: Dendroica cerulea)
3. Carpet Beetles - come during the dry stage - skin is hardening
    an becoming leathery, some bone is starting to protrude out of
    decomposition. The carpet beetles come to eat the hair, skin
    and bone. Coffin flies, cockroaches and flies are there as well.

Video Quick Study (8:53) a forensic teacher takes you through the insect stages.
Video Quick Study (7:31) video of an animals decomposition, focusing on insect activity

Interestingly, bugs:
* can carry corpses dna
* can ingest drugs
Video Quick Study (2:45) Student's on site
Video Quick Study (6:38) Student forensic entomologists.

* Bugs can only tell the entomologist how long the body has been
   available to the bugs. So for example, if the body was in a deep
   freezer and then removed  and put in the woods, the timing would
   be based on when the body was available to the bugs.
* In much of Canada and northern United States, cold winter
   months mean entomologists cannot use insects to determine time
   of death.
* In the summer, a body can decompose down to bones in as little
   as two weeks.
* Decomposition in water - standard insects don't apply but other
   organisms do.

CRIME SCENE DO NOT CROSS / @CSI?cafe (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Collecting insects at a mock crime scene
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
1. Video Quick Study (3:58) Prt 1
   Video Quick Study (3:32) Prt 2

2. Video Quick Study (1:42) Entomologist testifying
     in Casey Anthony Trial

3. Video Quick Study (1:49) Entomologist looks at
    the air filter on a car to determine if the suspect
    drove across the United States to commit a

See how this article influenced my plot lines in my novella MINE and my novel CHAOS IS COME AGAIN.

Thank you so much for stopping by. And thank you for your support. When you buy my books, you make it possible for me to continue to bring you helpful articles and keep ThrillWriting free and accessible to all.

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Death Investigator - A New Character Arrives On the Scene: Information for Writers


Manuel looked at the dark holes in the men’s foreheads. Felt the silence. Dead. Yes, must be dead. They were dead. Manuel’s mind tried to grasp this simple fact. 
 ~  Missing Lynx

 So you're writing right along, thrilled that your fingers are tripping over the keys when shock of all shockers your heroine stumbles on a body. She toes it, hoping maybe it's just a drunk, but the smell tells her she's not so lucky. Shoot! Not only did you give your heroine a very bad day and the seeds of her future nightmares, but now your romance has turned into something else. Who should she call?

Well, 911 to begin with. But they will send out a group of people who are not all playing on the same team. One of the players MUST be the coroner (if it's a small town or rural area) or the coroner's investigator/death investigator.

Well who is that? They've never shown up in any of the books you've read.

Death Investigators or Coroner's Investigators - 

* are specialists who become involved in all deaths that
   were not expected. 
* They help determine if the death should 
    be further considered for criminal review or if the cause was
   natural or accidental in nature. 
* These are the people who show up to represent the coroner and communicate with the coroners office. 
* If necessary they take photos and start to gather information for a forensic death investigation.
* Focuses on the pathology. They assume foul play until it is proven otherwise.
* Develop cases for criminal acts of murder or manslaughter
* Develop cases for civil suits such as product safety failures
* Coroner's Investigators are called to testify in court.
    Video Quick Study (4:53) Testifying as to her job
    Video Quick Study (1:38) death investigator talks about how many deaths he handles and talking with

PLOT TWIST POTENTIAL - the death investigator tries to document EVERYTHING because a body can change in transit. For example, the hearse could be in an accident when the murderer pursues them and forces the car off a cliff! The body could be jetted out the back. Now the body looks very different and perhaps the tell tale markings were abraded away...  

There are no federal laws that govern death investigation. The Model Postmortem Examination Act 1954 LINK to Act gives states guidelines for their laws. So you'll need to figure out the laws for the state your body is found.

Deaths must always be reported (though not necessarily investigated) when there is a:
* homicide (or possible homicide)
* sudden or unexpected death
* suicide
* in any institution other than the hospital
* work related
* public

1. Once a death investigator arrives they start documenting the basic questions:
* Who found the body BUT NOT who killed the person
* What was the condition of the body (clothing etc.) this includes stains, tears, and markings
* Where was it found - this includes the temperature and humidity levels as well as objects in the vicinity.
* How was it placed

Notice that there is no WHY? the "why" belongs to someone else. Though they might gather information that would help with an autopsy such as evidence that the person was depressed/suicidal.

2. They will then make decisions about preserving and transporting the body
3. Try to identify time of death
4. Up close and personal - a death investigator will
* Interview family and friends for clues into the death.
* Search the dead person's home to include reading materials, computers, read their journals etc. trying to get
   an understanding of what might have happened. They might, for example, collect the medical bottles to see
   if there was an interaction that killed the person. Or there was a possible overdose.
   LINK to blog article on Forensic Toxicology

Need a plot twist???

What is a coroner? Video Quick Study (1:49)
Coroners are sometimes elected and may have no idea what they are doing.
In many places, the person tasked with making the official ruling on how people die isn’t a doctor at all. In nearly 1,600 counties across the country, elected or appointed coroners who may have no qualifications beyond a high-school degree have the final say on whether fatalities are homicides, suicides, accidents or the result of natural or undetermined causes.LINK  
Video Quick Study (3:49) Untrained coroner and Michael Jordan's father's murder case.
Video Quick Study (3:24) Recommended standards that would make the death investigation accredited and peopled by doctors run by medical examiner not a coroner.
This is long but very interesting and informative. Video LONG study (1:09:37)

See how this article influenced my plot lines in my novella MINE and my novel CHAOS IS COME AGAIN.

Thank you so much for stopping by. And thank you for your support. When you buy my books, you make it possible for me to continue to bring you helpful articles and keep ThrillWriting free and accessible to all.