Monday, 7 August 2017

Dead to Rights

Forensic Evidence Can Give Certainty

Forensic science has made a huge difference to the administration of justice.  In cases of murder in particular it can be like the victim's blood crying out from the ground.  

In New Zealand we have had a particularly powerful example of forensics enabling a conviction beyond reasonable doubt.
Palmerston North pathologist Cynric Temple-Camp has detailed his involvement in what he described as the "bizarre and complicated" murder case, including patiently explaining to police what brain tissue looks like, in his soon to be released book The Cause of Death.  Lundy is serving a life sentence for the murder of his wife Christine and daughter Amber, 7, who were found bludgeoned to death in their Palmerston North home in August 2000.

Lundy was on a business trip at the time and has always maintained his innocence, but has twice been convicted of the murders - in 2002 and at a retrial in 2015. He has appealed his latest convictions, and the appeal will be heard in October.

While the Crown case against Lundy was largely circumstantial - and contentious after police initially said Lundy had made an incredibly fast and dangerous cross-country drive in the middle of the night to murder his family - a piece of tissue discovered on one of Lundy's shirts sealed his convictions. . . .

In two chapters devoted to the high profile Lundy case Temple-Camp said two months after the murders a detective presented him with a small slide containing a smear of biological matter measuring just half a millimetre.  It had been collected by a forensics team and the defence later disputed that it was brain, arguing there had been cross-contamination, and suggesting the tissue was leftover from a bacon sandwich. . . .

Three attending pathologists and two registrars agreed the smear was brain matter after observing the sample had blood vessels consistent with deep tissue - contrary to the "sceptical" detective's suggestion the matter could have been spit, or snot, Temple-Camp wrote.  The small tissue was sent for testing in the United States, and Texan pathologist Dr Rodney Miller confirmed it was brain matter and later gave evidence at trial.  Temple-Camp described the tissue as a "very lucky break" for prosecutors, noting it was small enough to have dried and perfectly preserved itself on the shirt, therefore escaping the attention of Lundy who could have removed it.  He theorised the tissue had been transferred from Lundy's right thumb to his clothes.

Temple-Camp said his opinion came under significant scrutiny from Lundy's defence team, who he labelled "frustratingly single minded," at the 2013 Privy Council appeal hearing.  However he was vindicated after two international experts agreed the tissue was brain.  "The defence was grasping at straws. Christine's brains were unequivocally on Mark's shirt and everybody knew it, especially the jury."
And that, as they say, is that!

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