Forensics Don’t Lie

by Diane Dimond on July 27, 2009

Brains Reveals Secrets

Brains Reveal Secrets

Imagine the hushed, sterile atmosphere of an autopsy room. A body arrives and a team of forensic experts quietly gets to work to try to determine cause of death. Scientific evidence is gathered to determine whether a crime was committed to cause the death, whether it occurred from natural, unavoidable causes or if it was death by suicide.

In many cases, such as that of retired NFL quarterback Steve McNair, the cause of death is pretty obvious. McNair, was found sprawled on his condo’s couch, shot twice in the head and twice in the chest. Nearby was the dead body of his 20 year old mistress, a gun underneath her. It was quickly ruled a murder/suicide.

But other deaths are not so clear cut. Take the case of 50 year old infomercial scream-seller Billy Mays …

Autopsy Showed Heart Disease

Autopsy Showed Heart Disease

After he was found dead in his bed by his wife we heard that he’d violently bumped his head in an airplane just hours earlier. It was thought the hit on the head had something to do with his sudden death. But forensic science proved it wasn’t so. Once the medical professionals opened Mays’ chest they immediately discovered a diseased heart was to blame, an affliction Mays apparently was unaware he had.

And then there are the full blown forensic death investigations like the one surrounding entertainer Michael Jackson, suspected of dying at home from an overdose of a hospital strength anesthesia called Diprivan and, perhaps, a cocktail of other drugs. Cases like Jackson’s demand a full toxicology and histology workup. In layman’s terms: a full examination of blood, tissue, hair and organ samples to determine if someone should be charged with a crime.

All this scientific sleuthing takes time to accomplish and in the meantime families of the dead anxiously await the final verdict.

Autopsy blood workups are routine. The sample is usually taken from deep inside the body’s heart chamber and tests determine what compounds are present in the bloodstream. Some drugs like cocaine break down in the body quickly

Forensic Tools

Forensic Tools

and are hard to detect. But most drugs stop metabolizing when the person dies and so the traces found in the bloodstream are indicative of what was present at the time of death. The forensic investigators also examine urine, bile and tissue samples from the liver, heart, spleen and kidneys. The information gathered fits together like pieces in a cause-of-death puzzle.

Hair is especially revealing, holding on to what the body has ingested like rings on a tree. Since scalp hair usually grows about half an inch a month the longer the body’s hair the more information can be found. A six inch hair will reveal a full year’s worth of clues. Traces of each drug used will be stored in the hair shaft and the coroner’s office will be able to list every one, be they prescription or illegal drugs, and when they were used. In the case of a bald person shorter hair from armpits or the groin area can be used, they’ll just yield less historical information.

But there is nothing as telling as what the scientists can deduce from studying the brain. Unlike other organs from which samples can be taken immediately, the brain requires special handling. The entire brain mass must be submerged and hardened in formaldehyde for about three weeks before samples can be taken. Once gathered a neuro-forensic pathologist usually needs four to six weeks to unravel all the telltale evidence about what happened to the body during life.

If the decedent was beaten as a child contusions on the brain will be seen as dead tissue, called necrosis spots. If in life the person suffered a drug overdose (or multiple drug overdoses) the scientist will be able to see evidence of that and can determine when the overdose(s) occurred. If the decedent suffered strokes there will be visible scar tissue.

112 Pounds at Death?

112 Pounds at Death?

When a family receives a negative cause of death determination from the coroner they are often in denial. They don’t want to believe their family member could have committed suicide or died of a self-inflicted drug overdose.

Media leaks about the state of Jackson’s body at death have been excruciating. The almost six foot tall performer was reported to have weighed just 112 pounds. The skin on his arms, neck and legs were said to have been pockmarked with both old and new needle punctures. All indications are he died from a fatal overdose of several different drugs.

If that is the final judgment on what killed Michael Jackson something tells me the Jackson family will never accept it. It will be more comforting to believe some outside force killed their loved one. It’s much harder to accept the fact that someone you cherished slowly and deliberately shortened his own life.HOME

Jeff Liddell July 27, 2009 at 4:57 am

I am certainly no expert on the topic of forensics, the only remark that I can make is related to varying statements of forensic experts in a trial situation. How confusing it must be when experts in the same field can arrive at different causes of death based on an autopsy.

janet4716 July 27, 2009 at 7:29 pm

It is so much easier to blame someone else than it is to look at oneself. I would much rather hear the truth, as painful as it may be, to why my loved one died ….to prevent it from happening to another…than to keep drawing it out until you find someone that will tell you what you want to hear. Someone prescribed those medicines or at least some of them. Now, who actually administered them is the question. So,honestly asking, how can a forensic specialist tell that?

lexingtonave July 28, 2009 at 4:56 am

It's fantastic the brain reveals so much. The minute I had an MRI the neurologist knew I had previous migraines. The lesions evident proved it. The brain is wonderful and mysterious but can go a long way to proving critically needed information. I am hoping it it can be determined whether or not Propophol was the cause of Michael Jackson's death. There are enormous implications in that, i.e. criminal charges against the last doctor with Michael Jackson.

DianeDimond July 28, 2009 at 5:53 am

DD web site reader Ray C. writes;:

"What actually killed MJ was his childhood. He was a physically and emotionally abused child who turned into a tormented and lonely adult.
Whether he was sexually abused physically is not known. But he was sexually abused emotionally. While his mother, a Jehovah's Witness, taught him the very conservative sexual values at home, his father and brothers were bringing women back to their hotel rooms while out on tour. For what must have been a very sensitive child (most artists are), this was sexually confusing and abusive; especially the disloyalty of his father to his mother. It's no wonder his sexual development was stunted and he could not have intimate relationships with adults. As an adult the dysfunction
continued: he was surrounded by those who cared less for him than for the money he generated. It's no surprise, as MJ said, that he was only happy while on stage (where he could escape the reality of his life). All the fame and fortune in the world could not cure the emotional turmoil. MJ may have died from an overdose, but it was his childhood that killed him."

Anita Busch July 28, 2009 at 4:52 pm

Man, do I agree with that, Diane! Yes, his childhood was upside down and backwards. Children live what they learn … he ended up a 45 year man who saw nothing wrong with little boys sleeping in his bed. Enuf said.

Jeff Liddell July 28, 2009 at 8:28 pm

We keep hearing that forensics don't lie, which I am sure is true. My problem is the confusion juries must feel when forensic experts for both sides can come up with differing opinions on the cause of death from the same or an independent autopsy. Forensics may not lie but obviously the forensic experts are not above masking their interpretations for the correct amount of remuneration.

Sandra July 28, 2009 at 8:58 pm

It's a shame his father can't be charged somehow for the treatment he heaped upon MJ. He's the real culprit in all of this and the REAL one responsible for his death. Were it not for the abuse MJ suffered as a child, he wouldn't have ended up dead @ 50 from a drug overdose. Who wouldn't want to kill themself?

DianeDimond July 28, 2009 at 9:04 pm

Facebook Friend Sarah S. writes:

"Diane: Good stuff. Really answered some questions. Thanks!"

DianeDimond July 28, 2009 at 9:05 pm

FaceBook Friend Mark F. writes:

"Excellent column. The truth is what matters."

DianeDimond July 29, 2009 at 1:51 pm

FaceBook Friend Renee writes:

""One out of 50,000 don't wake up from anesthesia. If Michael was taking this to sleep for years his odds ran out!"

sharigreer July 29, 2009 at 6:05 pm

What troubles me about all of this is that this man has been gone a month and the medical examiners office has not stated for certain what killed him.
The one thing we do know, is doctors wanted to do for him what he wanted and they wanted money. $150K a month for the doc that ultimatley killed him. WHAT?
Like Elvis, he did not do this alone. Those paid to keep him safe and healthy killed him.
This man was on uppers and downers for decades and no one is responsible? That's put BS to me. Someone gave him the drugs, and someone failed to keep him in good health. That person is liable, responsible, and should pay for his crime. When he died, how he died, and at what point the ambulance was called, is all open records and the investigation is just as obcene as the life this man lived. Talented, and cursed at the same time. Such a shame.

DianeDimond July 29, 2009 at 10:54 pm

FaceBook Friend Kristi V. writes:

"You know it bothers me that people are crying and in so much despair after the death of a well-known child molester. Before his death everyone made fun of him in movies, stand-up, etc. Now that he's dead everyone is crying, and upset about.

Yes, he made great music. The children he preyed turned him into a tabloid god.

Another thing that is bothering me is all the hell being raised as to what really killed him. The public expects everything to be fast: their food, medical care, and their crime scene investigators. They think because it was a celebrity the test should be done now and the result in 5 minutes. Thanks for listening to me fume."

Loraine August 2, 2009 at 12:42 am

Diane, I read the first few paragraphs, and thought Hey she actually came up with a good article for once. Until I read the last paragraphs. You call yourself a journalist, but yet you take evidence which you don't know is true or false. You take the "reports" of his puncture wounds, and him being underweight, and you put them in your article. Go find some new news that people haven't heard before. Oh, and Diane, "SOMETHING" tells you that his family isn't going to accept the autopsy reports? Diane, you don't know his family let alone what his family does or doesn't believe. Don't believe tabloids and media Diane, I thought even you would know that. Guess not.

Suzan (Facebook) August 7, 2009 at 1:44 pm

If we think MJ's childhood was a mess…watch what happens to the three children. Especially the little one called 'blanket'. Experiencing all this at his age (in his brains formative years).
It is ironic that MJ sang about the 'children', seems he was prophetically singing about his 'own' in most of his songs.

Sad…

UnoU1it January 10, 2010 at 2:08 am

Well,now we have the coroner's report and find that Michael weighed 136 pounds, was not bald, and was not "riddled" with needle marks. We also know it was homicide…the doctor did not do the job he was hired to do — keep Michael alive! He was inept, possibly didn't really care that much about a paycheck, or he had something to hide. Why else would there be no monitoring equipment in the house? Why else would he have waited so long to call 911? How could he NOT have known the proper CPR technique? So many unanswered questions. I think the pharmacy needs to be held accountable as well for selling to Dr. Conrad instead of only directly to hospitals as is the law. The AMA should be doing an investigation as well due to his writing prescriptions and practicing medicine in cities where he was not authorized to do so. Again, so many unanswered questions…I surely hope this case ends up in court.

DianeDimond January 10, 2010 at 9:07 pm

Actually, the coroner's report did indicate that Michael Jackson had, for the most part, lost the hair on his head. It also indicated there were many multiple old and fresh needle marks on his body. ~ DD

Annette February 16, 2010 at 10:47 pm

I know this might sound strange…i read the coronors report..it stated that there was a sealed bottle of urine on the back of a char or something? what is that about?
also, why do you think he did not demand…to take a lie detector test in the jordie chandler mess….and if he was innocent…of these charges..why did he not continue to live with his mother or return to his mother? I have read several book about MJ your included…very good by the way…very engrossing…the truth is there scattered about….i really believe that…you see it also in clips from utube or tv…youll see something…and remeber reading about it..he was a disturbed human being….i think he thought he could get a pass in life just because of who he was….and all of his humanitarian works etc…

Diane February 17, 2010 at 10:07 am

To answer your questions: About the urine – the only thing I can think of is that Michael Jackson had been in an induced state of sleep overnight and was likely catheterized to collect his urine so he didn’t wet his bed. If you remember there was a large pad found on the mattress where he is said to have laid all night.

Your questions about the Jordan Chandler case – why no lie detector test? I don’t know. If someone accused me of a heinous crime that’s the first thing I’d offer to do – to take a lie detector test. Why didn’t Jordie continue to live with his mother? Family sources told me that’s because Dad swept him away to the East Coast to “keep him safe” and that Jordie came to loathe and mistrust his mother for putting him at risk. In just the last year or so Jordie and his mother June have reconciled and are now trying to build a relationship again

Sarah Richards February 20, 2010 at 4:58 am

Anthony Pelicano (MJ’s Private investigator in 1993) said that he could easily teach MJ to pass a lie detector test. Why would he need to be coached to pass the thing if he was innocent? I think the evidence speaks for itself MJ was very clever at hiding his true personality behind all the spin and PR people he hired to protect his innocent Peter Pan like image, but underneath there was something more sinister. Why would you hire thugs and heavies to terrorize the staff at Neverland if you were not concerned that they might tell a Grand Jury the truth. There are only a handful of people that saw the true man, Jordan Chandler being one of those!

Sarah Richards February 19, 2010 at 7:32 pm

What is interesting to note about the recently released detailed coroners report, is that MJ apparently weighted 132lbs and was 5ft 9 inches tall. According to the rap sheet at the time of his arrestin 2003 he weighted 120lbs and was 5ft 11 tall. For all this talk about how emaciated he looked before his death he still weighed more than he did in Nov 2003! Dr Arnold Klein has recently told TMZ that MJ liked to urinate in public (such an endearing quality) and that he liked to pee in cups, even in front of others including his children. By the way Klein’s urination explanation was offered up as a reason for Jordan Chandler’s positive id of MJ’s gentials. Yeah right, those who have read all available information about the 1993 case will know that Jordan drew a road map of blemishes including those only visible whilst in a certain state. By the way Diane what do you think about the employee of Dr Klein’s that told an Australian women’s mag that he was MJ’s lover. It is interesting how Klein has not disassociated himself or denied the story and the employee still continues to work at Klein’s practice. There are several pictures on the net of Christmas 2008 when Klein and Carrie Fisher spent Christmas Eve with the Jackson’s. Also in the photo’s are Klein’s partner and the particular person! The plot thickens!

Diane February 20, 2010 at 2:05 pm

I specifically asked about the mug shot information back in 1993 and was told by law enforcement sources that the defendant provides all information on height and weight. In other words, when MJ was booked no one measured him or put him on a scale. The officer simply asked him for his height and weight. I believe Jackson, always interested in his public appearance, said he was taller and thinner than he really was.
As for the claim that one of Dr. Klein’s employees was Jackson’s lover? I have never gotten any definitive information that convinces me Michael Jackson was sexually interested in ADULT males.

Sarah Richards February 20, 2010 at 6:09 pm

You know what, I think you are right, although at trial he was proven to possess several graphic homoerotic books. Which I believe the Mez tried to say were sent to him by fans and photograpers. I don’t know about you, but if someone sent me a book containing homosexual acts I wouldn’t leave it laying around my house for my kids to find!

Diane February 23, 2010 at 9:02 am

Actually they were not homoerotic books, Sarah, in the true sense of the term.

I bought copies of the two books in question for a Court TV segment (they were expensive!) and they were coffee table sized books full of pictures of nude young boys. Some depicted full frontal nudity, some weresome were close ups on boy’s mouths (sometimes eating hotdogs or Popsicles, etc) but there was no adult homosexuality pictured.

Sarah Richards February 26, 2010 at 6:10 am

I know the books that you are referring Diane, the ones seized in 1993. However, I was refering to another book called A Sexual study of Man which featured graphic homosexual acts. Ron Zonen referred to it in his closing argument, saying that it was so graphic that he couldn’t show it to the jury! There were also others on the evidence list that featured pictures of naked men in suggestive poses. (Bidgood and Drew and Jimmy). He sure was a strange fruit with this reading material!

Diane February 27, 2010 at 12:30 pm

My mistake! Yes, I remember Zonen referring to that book, “A Sexual Study of Man” but I’ve never seen a copy. DD

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