Forensic criminalistic and ethical significance of time of death

Knowledge of the postmortem interval (PMI) is absolutely essential in criminal investigations for further measures of tracing, collection of evidence and inclusion or exclusion of suspects. However, the current methods for estimating PMIs - particularly longer ones - are far from accurate and straightforward. Therefore, the boards of prosecution deem a new method that may solve these problems extremely important. Additionally, the procedures and results of forensic examinations have a strong impact on relatives and friends of a victim, influencing the process of mourning and the management of sentiments of real and imagined guiltiness. Questions such as 'would an earlier visit have saved my beloved person?' are often as fundamental as the cause of death itself. The value of a reliable evaluation of the PMI for relatives has been shown in a study (Plattner et al., 2002) where 43% of the interviewed persons wanted to know the circumstances of the unexpected death, including the exact time. It is obvious that a determination of PMI using non-invasive techniques would further reduce the trauma for relatives and friends, resulting in an increased willingness to agree with the forensic investigation. We will report here the estimation of PMIs using magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS), a non-invasive method that acquires metabolic data from tissue in situ. Since magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is increasingly used to examine bodies in forensic investigations (Thali et al., 2003; Yen et al., 2004), MRS can be combined with these imaging methods during the same examination.

Molecular Forensics. Edited by Ralph Rapley and David Whitehouse Copyright 2007 by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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