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Wound interpretation in the case of wrongful death is the job of the Forensic Pathologist, a physician who has had residency training in pathology and forensic pathology. Death involving wounds is unnatural, either accident, homicide or suicide. It is the task of the forensic pathologist to determine cause and circumstances of death.
Wounds are conveniently divided into those from penetrating trauma, such as gunshot wounds and stabbings, versus wounds caused by blunt force injuries, including contusions (bruises), abrasions (scrapes), lacerations and fractures.
In a homicidal shooting the pathologist will determine the range and direction of fire. Range of fire based on examination of gunshot wounds is classified as contact, near-contact, intermediate and distant. Direction is determined by the path of the bullet into or through the body, and gives some indication of the direction from which the fire came, and/or the posture and position of the victim relative to that of the shooter.
In stabbing cases one can determine from the shape of the stab wound the rough dimensions and characteristics of the knife (single edge, double edge, presence or absence or serrations, thickness of blade, and so on). There may be pinpoint prod injuries from the knife tip if the assailant has held the unarmed victim at bay before being fatally stabbed. If stabbing was forceful, the stab wound may have an adjacent skin bruise or abrasion from the hilt/handle of the knife. If extreme force is used there may be bruises around the stab wound from the assailant’s knuckles.
Contusions (bruises) are sometimes patterned, giving an indication of the shape of the blunt weapon used. As an example, if a subject were struck with the broad side of a 2 x 4 piece of lumber hard against his outer upper arm, there will be a broad pale area measuring roughly 4 inches from the impact, outlined on either side by bruising. The pallor (pale area) is from compression of the blood vessels beneath the area of impact. The bruised or hemorrhagic area is caused by shearing forces at the edges of the board, where blood vessels are broken. The blood vessels are compressed under the impact area. The blood then squirts out at the weapon’s edges through the ruptured vessels.
These are examples of the role and method of wound interpretation in evaluating the circumstances of trauma-related deaths.
The first reference below is a firearms tutorial which describes and illustrates contact, intermediate range and distant gunshot wounds. It includes excellent photos.
The second reference examines blunt force trauma and explains and illustrates bruises, abrasions and lacerations. It has a link back to a main page which provides overall career information on Forensic Pathology.
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