All murder victims are autopsied to determine the cause of death. An autopsy is a thorough examination that includes a detailed examination of the body plus analysis of organs and fluids. In their book, Postmortem, Dr Steven A Koehler and Dr Cyril H Wecht describe the step by step process of conducting an autopsy.
Who Conducts an Autopsy on a Murder Victim
An autopsy is done in a morgue by three groups of people: autopsy technicians, autopsy photographers and forensic pathologists. The autopsy technicians prepare the autopsy area and bring the body to the stainless steel examination table. Photographs are taken and descriptions of clothing and forensic evidence are collected.
Once this has been done, the technicians will remove the clothing and place it on clean sheets of paper. A second set of photographs are taken and then the body is washed.
More photos are taken at this stage to record injuries, bruises, bullet holes, fractures, scars, birth marks, abnormalities and tattoos. These are all important in identifying the body and its cause of death.
What Happens During an Autopsy
The autopsy room is set up with various buckets, jars and test-tubes as well as scalpels, scissors, forceps, a ruler and a cranial saw. Formaldehyde is also on hand.
Once the body has been photographed and washed, the forensic pathologist directs the technician to cut open the body. Body fluids are collected and each organ is photographed before being removed and weighed. More photographs are taken of the organs once they are out of the body.
X-rays may be taken and sections will be procured from all the organs. Organs are then placed in a biohazard bag along with some formaldehyde and are sewn into the chest cavity. The body is washed and dried before it is returned to the cooler.
The Role of a Forensic Pathologist
The forensic pathologist is in charge of an autopsy and gives instructions to the technician and photographer. It is his responsibility to determine the cause of death and the manner of death. For example he may conclude the cause was blunt force trauma and the manner of death was homicidal.
Forensic pathologists are physicians with specialized training in pathology. This includes the diagnosis of disease and the microscopic study or urine, blood and other body fluids to determine the presence and level of chemicals, hormones and enzymes.
An autopsy is always performed on a murder victim as it can reveal important details about the cause and manner of death. Autopsy technicians and photographers work with forensic pathologists to examine the body and record details of its condition at time of death. This is a meticulous process that must be approached methodically.
Koehler, Dr Steven A and Dr Cyril H Wecht, Postmortem, Elwin St Limited, 2006.