Thursday, September 06, 2007

Autopsy photos

by Michael Dymmoch

After the initial shock, the autopsy photos become meaningless. The victim was stabbed and strangled and crushed by blunt force trauma, and People’s exhibits 53 to 80 exhaustively document her injuries. One of the jurors looks up at the clock. I do, too. I’ve seen photos like these before. And I didn’t know the woman. All of this seems overkill to me, as over killed as was the victim, stabbed and smashed and strangled.

The medical examiner has testified already as to all this carnage. His explanation of the photos is reinforcement—in case anyone missed something on the first pass. We in the gallery will not see the images, but the jury will. When the M.E. is finished, the pictures will be “published”—passed from juror to juror—here in court, then passed around later—if they can stomach it—in the jury room.

Couldn’t we just stipulate that she was brutally murdered? That’s not in question, is it? Won’t all of this distract us from the real point of the trial—did the defendant do it?

This is the part they leave out of legal thrillers. This is real life, real death—nauseating as the smell of putrefaction, ugly as road kill.

22 comments:

Barbara said...

You raise an interesting point. If the carnage is less visibly gruesome, is it less important to find and convict the killer? Maybe in sentencing the nature of the act, as documented in the photos, should come into play, but unless what the photos show directly ties to evidence against the accused - you're right, what do they contribute to the "real point of the trial"?

The Home Office said...

I have long wondered about this. Unless something about a photograph uniquely identifies the killer (such as in the case of brutal serial killers with a signature manner of killing), or depicts a salient point in the crime scene investigation, anything beyond one or two photos to establish the fact of a victim in the jurors' minds is overkill, and may even be prejudicial.

I think the entire series may be better served as part of the penalty phase (where it applies), to aid jurors in determining what should be done with someone who would do such a thing.

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