Death Investigations Research Paper Samples
There are numerous ways people die, such as having heart attacks or being shot, and while sometimes the cause of death may be clear, it may be more problematic to categorize deaths. These categories include natural death, accidental death, suicide, and homicide. Natural deaths include people dying from natural causes, including cancer and strokes. Accidental deaths are cases in which unplanned and unexpected events occur and there is no evidence of intent to cause harm. Examples of accidental deaths are motor vehicle accidents, falls, and drowning. Suicide is an unnatural death in which a person intentionally ends their own life. Drug overdoses, self-inflected gunshot wounds, and self-hangings are common suicide methods. The last category, homicide, is unnatural and is the result of one person killing another. This includes enforcement officers killing criminals and those who have killed people in self-defense. There are cases such as car accidents which have resulted in deaths but did not fit in the homicide category because the deaths were caused by criminal negligence.
Completing an efficient crime scene investigation is often the only method available to make detecting the person(s) who committed a crime possible. These investigations need to be done as soon as possible. If an arrest isn’t made within 72 hours of when the crime is committed, there is a much less chance that the person(s) will ever be caught. This is often referred to as the 72-hour rule (Joyce, 2012). In violent crime investigations, such as death cases, it is important to observe people, vehicles, and time. For crimes such as property crimes, it is not necessary to take note of odors and weather conditions, as it is with violent crimes. In death crimes the victim must be identified but in other types of crimes, law enforcement has the opportunity to interview victims for information.
Victims are interviewed to gather data on the incident, such as everything the criminal did to them and where that person might be, if the victim has any enemies, the people who were around at the time of the crime, and if anything was stolen from the victim.
It is important that coroners collect as much correct information as possible when conducting autopsies. There can be various problems, such as environmental, that can interfere with their work. For example, algor mortis is the process by which the body cools as heat production stops and the heat is lost to the environment (Presnell & Cina, 2013). A person’s temperature is a valuable asset when determining their time of death, and losing its accuracy can be frustrating to detectives. A body’s location, such as in the shade or on a cold tile floor, and clothing, also influence algor mortis; obese and heavily clothed individuals stay warmer longer (Presnell & Cina, 2013).
Bodies under water decompose slower than those exposed to air. The slowest to decompose are those underground, where it is not warm. Additional influences that have an effect on decomposition include insects and animals, as they eat away at the flesh. If there is strain or pressure on the body during composition, a substance called purge fluid may be released. This malodourous, red-brown liquid comes out of the oral and nasal cavities, and is from gases that are the result internal decomposition of the body (Presnell & Cina, 2013).
Lennon Lacy is a 17 year old from North Carolina whose death was ruled as a suicide. His body, covered with fire ants, was found hanging from a swing set. There was an argument between his mother and the police because she did not believe he committed suicide, and that he was killed by someone else. The FBI began an investigation to look into the case in more detail. Also, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) hired a forensic pathologist.
When the pathologist began working on the case, one of the first things analyzed was basic physics from the crime scene. It was noted that Lennon Lacy was 5-foot-9 tall, and the crossbar of the swing set was 7-foot-6; with no swings at the scene, people are unsure how he got to the top (Blackwell, 2014). It was stated in the police report that a 52-year-old woman removed Lacy, who is 207 pounds, all while speaking with a 911 emergency dispatcher (Blackwell, 2014). This would have been extremely difficult, if not impossible, but perhaps if Lacy’s body was searched better for evidence, such as pieces of hair from other people, it would have been easier to determine whether or not this did happen.
Other evidence that should have been collected is Lacy’s shoes. His brother stated that Lacy left home wearing size 12 shoes and when his body was discovered the shoes he was wearing were size 10 (Blackwell, 2014). If this really happened, it’s possible that it could have been somewhat noticeable that the teenager’s feet were crammed in the shoes and if so, they could have fingerprinted them for possible evidence.
North Carolina’s Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Deborah Radisch stated that the manner of death in this case is suicide, and this was based on information provided to her by law enforcement and the local medical examiner (Blackwell, 2014). However, the NAACP believes that Radisch would have called the manner “pending” while waiting on toxicology, but the manner of death was already signed by the local medical examiner (Blackwell, 2014). Failing to collect evidence properly or not collecting any at all when it appears that a person committed suicide can cause serious problems in the future. If just a few more steps were taken in Lacy’s case, it could have been much clearer whether or not if this was a suicide or homicide.
The goal of a preliminary death investigation is to establish the cause and manner of death. The main procedure of these investigations is to assess the scene and secure it, making sure to locate and identify victims and witnesses. The area needs to be searched and if the suspect is found they can be placed under arrest. If not, secondary investigation can begin. A description of the suspect should be taken from interviews with the witnesses and victims to help with this process. If an arrest is made there can be a prosecution; if not, the care remains unsolved and there is no prosecution.
In New York, there was a death investigation of a man who killed his 3-year-old stepdaughter, and he pretended to be a neighbor when calling 911 before he fled his apartment. When police arrived at the scene, they found the dying child along with her 5-year-old brother, who had also been beaten. They made sure the area was safe, and interviewed his mother, who had turned him in. Neighbors reported that there were frequently loud arguments in the apartment. Kelsey Smith was charged with felony assault, and could be charged with murder (Quinn, 2014).
Blackwell, V. (2014, December 15). N.C. teen’s hanging death ruled a suicide; mother says it
was a lynching. CNN.com. Retrieved February 18, 2015, from
Joyce, T. (2012, February). Closing the case: Solving violent crimes quickly and efficiently
with public records. Police Chief, 50-56. Retrieved from
Presnell, S., & Cina, S. (2013). Postmortem changes. Retrieved from Medscape website:
Quinn, R. (2014). Cops: NYC man killed girl, 3, for potty accident. Retrieved from Newser