EvidenceProf Blog

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

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Autoptēs: More About Dual Lividity & The Impossibility of Hae Being in the Trunk for 4-5 Hours

Yesterday, we posted the fifth episode of the Undisclosed Podcast: Autoptēs. For those of you wondering, Autoptēs is the Greek work that provides the origin for the English word autopsy. Autoptēs means eyewitness/to witness with ones own eyes.

I again want to thank Dr. Leigh Hlavaty for the time she put into reviewing the medical evidence in the case and rendering her expert opinion. Obviously, her biggest finding was that Hae could not have been buried on her right side in Leakin Park in the 7:00 hour given the lividity evidence. That said, I think her conclusion that Hae couldn't have been "pretzeled up" in the trunk of her Nissan Sentra for 4-5 hours after death is of near equal importance.

While lividity becomes fully fixed approximately 8-12 hours after death, it partially fixes within hours after death. Assume that Hae was on her side (or anything other than fully prone) in the Sentra for 4-5 hours, then put face down for another 4-5 hours, and then buried on her right side in Leakin Park. In that case, there would be what is known as "mixed lividity," "dual lividity," or "second lividity." In other words, there would be some lividity on the side and some on the front. This is described a bit in the Report of Lee Ann Grossberg, M.D. in Kiniun v. Minnesota Life Insurance Company, 2011 WL 7266761 (N.D.Fla. 2011):

6. At 10:07 am, approximately 3 1/2 hours after Ms. Strickland was found deceased, the livor mortis was noted to remain fixed when manual pressure was applied.

a. Lividity generally takes 30 minutes to 2 hours to become visible and about 8 - 12 hours to become fully fixed (although this range is highly variable). After the lividity become fixed, it remains so. 

b. The finding of lividity that does not blanch with pressure can indicate that the livor mortis is partially or fully fixed.

i. If the livor mortis is only partially fixed, moving the body to a different position will yield a second lividity pattern.

ii. Ms. Strickland was found dead lying on her front right side and the lividity pattern at the scene was consistent with this body position (the lividity was on her front right side).

iii. However, if Ms. Strickland were turned over onto her back to be placed into the body bag and her lividity were not fully fixed, she would develop a secondary livor mortis pattern on her back. The autopsy report describes the lividity fixed and as anterior, but I have not had access to the autopsy photos to see if an additional lividity pattern is also present on the back. Secondary lividity patterns can be lighter than primary ones and darkly pigmented skin makes visual inspection of lividity more difficult to discern than in lighter pigmented individuals, however.



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So, if we're assuming that Hae was not buried for up to 8 to 12 hours until after her death, is it safe to assume she was not killed until later on the 13th, or maybe even the next day? And if there is evidence that she was rendered unconscious and then killed by strangulation, is it possible she was stored somewhere while unconscious, then killed later, and then buried 8 to 12 hours after that? And if Jay was involved, if Jay knew about her murder (which he must have if we are still assuming he brought the cops to the car), then shouldn't the cellphone pings tell us all the possible locations where her body had been kept prior to her burial? It had to have been some abandoned or private location where no one would have discovered her. Can we then examine the pings for buildings in the general vicinity that would fit this description? Because, if we still believe that Jay willingly came forward to protect Jenn and confess his knowledge and involvement in Hae's burial, and we still believe Jay has Adnan's cellphone the entirety of the 13th, then either Jay helped Adnan kill/dispose of Hae, or Jay helped someone else kill Hae, or Jay killed Hae himself.

Posted by: Jessica | Jun 9, 2015 10:21:37 AM

I thought the most significant finding was that she was face down for a length of time that would require another location. Not the car. Not the park.

Posted by: C Noir | Jun 9, 2015 11:17:54 AM

Why don't you actually propose a theory about what DID happen?

Posted by: OITP | Jun 9, 2015 11:33:08 AM

Jessica: i think she was killed on 1/13. The next 2 days were the snow/ice storm, and Hae's body didn't show signs of being restrained.

C Noir: that's another big one.

OITP: My general outline is that someone paged Hae between the end of the lunch and the start of A.P. Psychology class. This was the "something else" that Hae had to do, and it somehow resulted in her death. It's tough to speculate beyond that because we don't have Hae's pager records or any statements from people in her computer class.

Posted by: Colin Miller | Jun 9, 2015 1:03:02 PM

I have kind of a gross question, but I thought of it when it was being discussed about Hae being killed in her car. I thought that when a person is killed or dies, the muscles in the body relax and defecation occurs if there is something in the stomach, I have also read about purge fluid. Wouldn't some sort of bodily fluid be in here seat or in the trunk if that is where she was killed?

Also, what was the purpose of pointing out all the inconsistencies with Jay's recollection of the car and what was in it? Is that just to prove that he was lying? That the police and prosecution was just believing his lies? I wanted you guys to kind of conclude something from that, I was just left questioning more and more. What is your theory? Do you think Jay really wasn't involved at all? Was he just lying to cover up more things? I'm just really confused.

Posted by: Taylor | Jun 9, 2015 2:20:10 PM

Thanks for another great post!
Doesn't lividity take a little bit to start? Isn't it possible her body was placed in the trunk for a short period of time before being laid flat on its stomach? This would give whoever killed her a little time to find a place to keep the body before lividity started. Is that a possibility?

Posted by: Jess | Jun 9, 2015 3:01:31 PM

I was very interested to hear Dr. Hlavaty's interview yesterday. Thank you for that. I am not a medical professional nor do I have any experience with autopsies and tend to believe someone with such credentials as Dr. Hlavaty if they feel confident enough to offer an opinion, but others have given me room to pause.

As you noted in the podcast, Dr. Hlavaty had black and white photos, the autopsy report, and the ME's testimony from trial 1 I believe? Are black and white photos plus an autopsy report enough for someone to make conclusions about the lividity? It seems some believe that Dr. Hlavaty would need high resolution, colored photos plus more detailed information than just the autopsy report to responsibly give her opinion.

Did she feel confident that she could give a solid, trustworthy analysis with the documents she had available to her?


Posted by: PJ | Jun 9, 2015 4:22:05 PM

Could it be possible that Hae's time of death was anywhere between 2:30-4pm on the 13th because of the 8-12hr window for lividity and she was buried anytime after 12am?

Posted by: Jim M. | Jun 9, 2015 5:11:20 PM

Taylor: Yes, the lack of purge fluid, etc. in the car is solid circumstantial evidence that she wasn’t stored in the car after death. I think our lack of a clear conclusion about Jay is due to our ambivalence about him. Was he not involved at all? Was he involved but lying about many things? It’s tough to say.

Jess: Yes, she could have been in the trunk for a couple of hours without lividity partially fixing. But she couldn’t have been in the trunk for 4-5 hours.

Jim M.: Yes, that make sense.
PJ: As Dr. Hlavaty said herself on the podcast, she couldn’t draw any conclusions herself about lividity based upon the low resolution black and white photos. She was relying upon the autopsy report and the testimony by the Medical Examiner regarding lividity.

Posted by: Colin Miller | Jun 9, 2015 5:27:13 PM

Why does full frontal lividity exclude the body from being stored in the trunk? Couldn't the body be placed facedown in the trunk with the legs bent backwards as necessary to fit?

Posted by: Scott G | Jun 9, 2015 6:57:19 PM

Do you know anything about how Hae's autopsy compares to Jada Lambert's? I'm increasingly troubled by the idea that Adnan's been in jail for 15 years because the Baltimore City homicide unit didn't want anymore cold cases or speculation about a serial murderer (which would give Serial's name a tragically unintended double-meaning).

Posted by: Leia | Jun 10, 2015 2:57:03 AM

Scott G: Assuming that position were possible, you would expect some lividity on the backs of her legs if she were in the trunk for 4-5 hours.

Leia: We don't have the Lambert autopsy. It would be interesting to compare the two.

Posted by: Colin Miller | Jun 10, 2015 3:18:55 AM

I was looking at the list of items in Hae's car and the first item made me wonder... A withdrawal of 10,000 dollars made a few days before she was killed. Any idea what that is about. ?

Posted by: Dot Barad | Jun 10, 2015 6:02:09 AM

And the car photo. Sheesh. How can the car be so clean and the wheel wells and tires be covered in grass. Green grass. And the grass under the car, in winter. A real puzzle.

Posted by: C Noir | Jun 10, 2015 6:37:43 AM

Wait, where is this list of items in her car? Can you provide the link?

Posted by: Taylor | Jun 10, 2015 7:37:59 AM

I have questions regarding the podcast.
1. Is that the only photo of the car?
2. I felt that jacket thing was overblow. First of all, it is not clear that the jacket that Jay described is the one found in the car. They have different colors. Secondly, it is very much possible that Jay was mistaken the first time around that the jacket they found was Hae's jacket.

Posted by: RC | Jun 10, 2015 8:11:54 AM

When was the autopsy disclosed to the defense?

Posted by: Seamus Duncan | Jun 10, 2015 8:27:27 AM

Dot Barad: Where do you see that?

C Noir: Yes, it is very strange.

Taylor: http://undisclosed-podcast.com/docs/5/Evidence%20Review%20-%20Contents%20of%20Hae's%20Car.pdf

RC: That’s the only photo we have. I think the jacket issue is something that different people view differently. I can understand some people thinking it is a big deal and other people thinking it’s not a big deal.

Seamus: I don’t have a specific date, but I think between July 1st and July 7th.

Posted by: Colin Miller | Jun 10, 2015 8:40:05 AM

Susan said that all of the evidence has been destroyed in this case, I refuse to believe this. Does the defense have any access to or right to request items from the car for testing? I'm most interested in Hae's school planner as I believe that the wrestling match and interview will be noted there. Even if the actual planner is gone the police noted to copy it, so is there a copy of it on file somewhere that the defense can get?

Posted by: Christina | Jun 10, 2015 8:59:11 AM


Posted by: Seamus Duncan | Jun 10, 2015 8:59:56 AM

Just to play devil'so advocate for a moment, could the body have been buried face down initially and then later ended up on the right side due to animal activity. I thought I read somewhere that there were obvious signs of animal activity and it has also been noted that the grave was shallow to begin with.

Posted by: Christina | Jun 10, 2015 9:01:06 AM

Do you know what was released in those July 1 and July 7 disclosures? I'm wondering how much that early information influenced Gutierrez's overall trial strategy.

Posted by: Seamus Duncan | Jun 10, 2015 9:28:59 AM

I think it’s safe to say that the lividity findings, assuming they are being interpreted correctly, are the most damning evidence anyone has yet uncovered about the state’s case. It appears that this “new” evidence will likely play a role in the post-conviction proceeding. In episode 5 of the Undisclosed podcast, Collin makes the claim that this revelation will likely bolster Andan’s ineffective assistance of council claim. I would agree that this certainly makes sense. If there is evidence that so thoroughly and convincingly impeaches the state’s case and it is not mentioned to the jury, this sure seems like the definition of “ineffective” assistance to me. However, as also stated in Undisclosed ep 5, the record supports the idea that Adnan’s legal team was not given access to this evidence in a way that would have reasonably allowed them to construct a strong defense. This ridiculous episode where the defense attorney was only allowed to “view” the evidence in the prosecutor’s office for an hour or so certainly comes to mind as one of more mind boggling WTF moments in this case. Is this not a textbook case of the prosecution withholding exculpatory evidence? It would seem to me like this would be the stronger claim to bring in an appeal. I’m definitely not an attorney, these are just my thoughts as a layman.

Posted by: Brian | Jun 10, 2015 10:06:58 AM

Professor, do you know whether medical examiner Dr. Korell was present at the excavation of Hae's body? If not, how does she know that the body was found "on her right side"? Are there any police reports in which the position of the body is documented? Thanks

Posted by: Lucas | Jun 10, 2015 10:22:06 AM

Has Adnan, Don, or a member of Hae's family identified the source of these:

Heart charm, price tag of $119.95

Rose and baby's breath wrapped

The charm appears to be a gift of some value for a HS student; and would tend to rule out theft as a motive.

Posted by: C Noir | Jun 10, 2015 11:13:39 AM

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