Chapter 11

Estimating the Time of Death

IN THIS CHAPTER

Bullet Understanding the intricacies of timing death

Bullet Looking at physical changes after death

Bullet Using bugs and other telling evidence

A husband says that he left home for a business meeting at 2 p.m. and returned at 8 p.m. to find his wife dead. He says that he was at home all morning and that she was alive and well when he left. Maybe, maybe not, but establishing the wife’s time of death will refute or support his story. If the medical examiner (ME) determines the time of death was between 10 a.m. and noon, the husband has a great deal of explaining to do. On the other hand, if the estimation reveals that the death occurred between 4 and 6 p.m., and he has a reliable alibi for that time period, the investigation will move in a different direction.

In criminal cases, an accurate determination of the time of death eliminates some suspects and focuses attention on others. Determining the time of death, however, is an inexact art, and to make a best-guess estimate, the ME uses each and every means available, from witness statements to body temperature to (egad!) bugs on the body.

Defining Time of Death

Time of death seems like a simple ...

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