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Determining the Distance of Gunshot Wounds to the Head by Appearance and Physical Evidence

NCJ Number
Journal of Forensic Identification Volume: 48 Issue: 2 Dated: March/April 1998 Pages: 133-146
M D Brant
Date Published
14 pages
Determining the distance between the shot fired and the gunshot wound is critical in shooting investigations; in many cases, this fact is the only evidence available that can distinguish between suicide, a self-defense killing, manslaughter, or homicide.
An experiment was conducted to determine the distance of gunshot wounds to the head by appearance and physical evidence, based on a case history of a female who had been shot in the right posterior of the head with a 4-inch barrel revolver. Of 52 pieces of evidence collected at the crime scene, only 4 were relevant to the experiment: gunshot residue on the victim's hand, cartridges removed from the gun by the boyfriend and placed on the kitchen sink, the victim's long-sleeved blue shirt, and the revolver. A decision was made by the assistant district attorney that an attempt should be made to determine the distance of the revolver from the victim when fired. The resulting experiment was conducted using a dark blond wig similar to the victim's hair that was placed over pigskin on a styrofoam head. The head was shot using semi-jacketed hollow point ammunition. Testing was repeated from eight different distances on eight different prepared heads, and results were noted and photographed. Test results showed stippling and unburnt grains of powder at a distance of less than 2 feet. The contact shot produced scorching of the skin, a ragged entrance wound, and dark smudge rings. The close shot produced stippling or tattooing and out to a distance of 2 inches, and the pigskin showed scorching. Distance shots showed smudge rings, stippling, or tattooing up to 16 inches. The shot from 30 inches showed a dark smudge ring with hair imbedded in the bullet hole. Based on test results, it was determined the shot that killed the female victim was fired at a distance of greater than 32 inches, and the boyfriend was convicted of voluntary manslaughter. 1 table and 12 figures