The Autopsy Continued...

Figure 5

Figure 5 - Evidence of the victim biting his lips, likely in decorticate/decerebrate rigidity before the shotgun blast; (a) Frontal view, 1: linear abrasions at the angles of the mouth resulted from the stretch of facial tissues at moment of intraoral shotgun discharge. 2: The linear bruising and abrasions coincide with the upper middle and lateral incisors. (b) A more inferior aspect image that better shows the swelling of the lower lip, and bruising/laceration of the upper lip by the lower front teeth.

Figure 6

Figure 6. Autopsy images of the tongue; (a) dorsal tongue; (b) ventral tongue; arrows point to bruising and lacerations made by the victim’s teeth.

Oral Mucous Membranes and Tongue: The autopsy photos document lacerations of both the upper and lower lips (Fig. 5) corresponding to teeth injuries, as well lacerations of the anterior [ventral] surface of the tongue and mid tongue area (Fig. 6). These lacerations correspond mostly to the upper and lower incisors and are frequently seen after convulsive epileptic seizures. The vertical tears at both sides of the mouth are caused by rapidly expanding gas within the mouth from the shotgun blast.

Severe brainstem injuries resulting in coma can cause muscular reflex spasms termed decerebrate and decorticate postures. The violent convulsive spasms typical of decerebrate and decorticate postures are usually accompanied by uncontrolled biting of the lips and tongue that cause lacerations like those seen in this case. Furthermore, they are frequently associated with profound hyperventilation, which leads to aspiration of blood. Death is soon to follow.

Blood Loss: Intraoral gunshot wounds are the most mutilating wounds that can be sustained. When there is no exit wound, mutilation is even more severe due to rapidly expanding gases within the confines of the skull. This results in evisceration and pulpification of the brain. Consequently, one would expect an extremely bloody death scene with the scenario of a self-inflicted intraoral shotgun wound. However, the naval medical officer who was called to the scene estimated the blood loss was approximately 50 cc, hardly more than the volume of a shot glass. Moreover, in the suicide scenario, the victim was alleged to have been seated in a patio chair while holding the shotgun barrel in his mouth with his left hand, and with the butt of the gun placed on the ground next to his right foot. This would place the victim’s mouth over his torso and thighs. Yet there were no bloodstains, except for several small drops, on the front of the victim.

Positioning of Victim at Crime Scene: When the victim was discovered in the backyard of his base housing, he was lying on his right side with his lower extremities symmetrically extended, one on top of the other and his arms symmetrically flexed in front of his mouth (Fig. 1). His bathrobe neatly covered his body. All in all, the appearance was rather tidy, as if the victim was asleep on his right side. If the decedent had shot himself while sitting in the patio chair, destroying his entire brainstem, the muscles of his body would instantly become flaccid and he would have collapsed or have been projected like a rag doll. He would have been found with a disheveled bathrobe with his extremities in disarray.