How Autopsies Work

Examining Wounds

One of the greatest challenges of an autopsy is examining the wounds. The essence of the medical examiner's job is to use his or her skill and experience to determine the true nature and cause of a particular wound. Depending on the type of wound or weapon used, this can get difficult. Dr. Kiesel talks about those difficulties:

they weren't shot once, they were shot 13 times or 20 times ... you've got to sort out paths of all these bullets. You've got to figure out where each bullet went. The old way of doing it was, 'Well, he's got 10 holes on the front, there are eight holes on the back, and there's two bullets inside, we're done.' legal system won't accept that anymore.

Homicide cases have to be examined carefully and thoroughly. A part of a medical examiner's job includes testifying in court. Medical examiners are often called upon to explain their findings on the stand. Their findings can have a large impact on the lives of all those who are part of the case.

Dr. Kiesel explains how tracing bullets gets really difficult when the police are the shooters:

They really want to know, "Okay, what bullet went where," especially if you've got multiple shooters and especially if it's a case involving the police. You know, you've collected this bullet. Which officer's gun does that go to? So this person's went here, this person's bullet went here. You really have to chase it down a lot of steps sometimes.

Dr. Kiesel explains how wounds have patterns that help to determine their origins:

Bludgeoning, where you have someone who's been physically assaulted and beaten, you've got a lot of different injuries. Sometimes these injuries have patterns. Sometimes the injury patterns give you a clue as to what weapon may have been used. Sometimes there's more than one weapon. I had a case where a person was done in by one individual, but that individual used at least four different weapons. So we had four different types of patterned injuries on that person.

Through years of education and experience, the medical examiner learns to recognize these patterns and the types of trauma with which they are associated.

In the next section, we'll look at the tools used to perform an autopsy.