EvidenceProf Blog

Editor: Colin Miller
Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Will Livor Mortis Evidence Prove the Innocence of a Death Row Inmate?

I've been writing a good deal about livor motis/fixed lividity evidence as it relates to the prosecution of Adnan Syed for the murder of Hae Min Lee. It turns out that it's is also a big part of the current appeal by Norfolk "Fuzzy" Best. Best was convicted of the 1991 murders of Leslie and Gertrude Baldwin and is currently on death row. The State's theory of the case was that the Baldwins were killed on a Saturday night, 64 hours before their bodies were found. The lividity evidence, however, seems to suggest otherwise.

According to an article in the News & Observer,

Police photographs and video of the crime scene are gruesome. A medical pathologist and a retired FBI agent working for Best looked at them and found evidence that undercuts the prosecution theory that the Baldwins were killed late Saturday night, 64 hours before their bodies were found....

An[] indication of time of death is livor mortis: blood settling by gravity in the body after death. Livor mortis shows up as red or purple discoloration. During the six to 18 hours after death, livor mortis is unfixed, as the blood can shift if a body is moved. After that, the livor is "fixed" and the blood no longer moves if the body is moved.
Police found Gertrude Baldwin lying in her bed on her left side. During the investigation, an SBI agent rolled Mrs. Baldwin’s body on her back as he examined her wounds.
At the autopsy, medical examiner Dr. Deborah Radisch noted “purple-posterior” livor mortis, meaning the blood settled on the backside of the body. Experts for Best say this indicates that livor mortis had not fixed when the agent moved the body Tuesday night, evidence that Mrs. Baldwin had not been dead 18 hours.

[This and other] factors led the experts, retired FBI special agent Gregg McCrary and Dr. Christena Roberts, to conclude that the murders occurred sometime Monday or the early hours of Tuesday morning. That would be good news for Best; prosecutors said he was in motels from Sunday to Tuesday with women and drugs. 


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