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Utility of Postmortem X-ray Computed Tomography (CT) in Supplanting or Supplementing Medicolegal Autopsies

NCJ Number
Kurt B. Nolte; Sarah L. Lathrop
Date Published
August 2015
98 pages

This study tested hypotheses regarding the use of postmortem X-ray computed tomography (CT) scans for the following types of cases: blunt force injuries, childhood traumatic fatalities, firearm injuries, and potential drug poisoning deaths.


For blunt force injuries, the study is examining whether a postmortem CT scan can supplant autopsy in recognizing fatal blunt force injuries and identifying the cause of death. If not, does postmortem CT recognize sufficient injuries not recognized by autopsy to justify its use as a supplementary procedure. Case enrollment (n= 167) for this study segment has been completed. For childhood traumatic fatalities, the study is determining whether the combination of autopsy and CT scan will expand the injuries identified by autopsy alone. The case enrollment (n=58) for this type of fatality is complete. For firearm injuries, the study will determine whether a postmortem CT scan can supplant autopsy in recognizing fatal gunshot wound tracks and trajectory; and if not, whether postmortem CT can recognize sufficient gunshot injuries not recognized by autopsy, so as to justify supplementary CT scans. The case enrollment (n=205) has been completed for this project component. The fourth segment of the project will determine whether in potential cases of drug poisoning, the combination of external body examination, postmortem CT scan, and toxicological evaluation will identify underlying natural disease and traumatic injuries not recognized from autopsy and toxicological evaluation without CT scan. Case enrollment (n=460) has been completed for this segment of the study. Currently, all cases in all four cohorts have received CT scans and autopsies. No products are ready for this final semi-annual progress report.