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Statistics show that the number of shoplifting offenses has fluctuated in England throughout the years, but from 2013/14 onwards there has been a year-on-year increase, peaking in the most recent reporting year at over 382 thousand offenses. Though official figures show that while the number of offenses has increased over the last five years across England, the number of people being arrested and charged with shoplifting has decreased (1).
Probably why in this case of shoplifting-turned-murder scenario, the shoplifters would have believed they could have gotten away with a decent amount of cash; which was not the case. The disappointment of not getting the expected amount of money would have made Roger Mellie furious which was followed by shooting the shopkeeper.
Information given by the Witnesses and Culprits
According to Big Vern’s description of events, they got into the shop at around 7:45 pm and according to the account of events narrated by the gang of local youths; they left at 8:15 pm. So the whole incident has happened in the time frame of 30 minutes. This information does not coincide with the information given by the elderly lady who remembers hearing the noises at around 9 pm or 10 pm. This could possibly be because she could not recall the information correctly.
But, her explanation of the sounds she heard during the time fits the description of events as told by Big Vern. The first bang could have been the gunshot fired by Roger Mellie, succeeded by the thuds which could be Roger Mellie hitting the victim’s head with the back of his gun. The long pause denotes the time gap during which Roger Mellie convinces Big Vern that they’re both accountable for what had happened and forces Big Vern to shoot the victim. The second bang probably could be Big Vern shooting the already dead shopkeeper.
Information from the X-rays
X-rays of the skull show the position of the bullet and the shape of the bullet. The bullet (circled in the X-rays) was lodged in the back of the victim’s head on the left side of the occiput. It is also observed that there are fracture lines on the frontal bone running downwards to the orbit and upwards and backwards to the parietal bone. The fracture lines (yellow arrows in the X-rays) have a spider web/ mosaic pattern (radiating linear spines) which is a characteristic of skull fractures under high forces. So it can be said, that the entry of the bullet could have been through the frontal bone, traveled downwards obliquely to exit from the occipital bone.
The chest X-ray reveals radio-opacity in the shape of a bullet (circled in the X-ray) embedded in the lung region. The bullet looks smaller when compared to the bullet present in the head. This supports Big Vern’s description of events where he states that Roger Mellie shot the shopkeeper in the abdomen (as he had a 0.22” handgun which has a smaller bullet than a 9 mm handgun which has a comparatively bigger bullet owned by Big Vern)
Information from the Photographs
The photograph of the abdomen shows a gunshot wound on the right lower side of the victim. The post-mortem lividity (yellow arrow) reveals that the body was on its back for hours after death. This concurs with Big Vern’s statement that Roger Mellie had turned the victim over onto his back after bashing him with the handgun.
A closer view of the wound shows a crescent-shaped outline which indicates that the bullet was shot in an angulation (upwards). It could have traveled through the abdominal cavity in an oblique fashion upwards to lodge in the lower lung region as shown in the chest X-ray.
The wound looks distinct with dark edges probably seared by gases and darkened by soot and burnt propellant during shooting. There is a concentric seared blackened zone around the wound indicating a contact range shot or a near contact range shot (muzzle in contact with skin or a few cms away from the skin). The absence of powder tattooing by the unburnt/ partially burnt propellant grains around the wound also stipulates the same.
It is also to be considered that the victim was clothed. The clothes could have been thick enough for the propellant grains to burn through and reach the skin. This can only be confirmed after inspecting the clothes worn by the victim.
The wound on the forehead of the victim looks irregular compared to the one on the abdomen. The wound looks like an entry wound due to the presence of an abrasion collar (upper yellow arrow in the close-up picture) dipping inwards to the bone. There are pinpoint abrasions (lower yellow arrow in the close-up picture) outlined by a pinkish hue on the forehead, around the eyes and on the upper one-third of the nose (around 30-45 cm) which is called powder tattooing caused by unburned propellant grains exiting from the gun. This feature defines an intermediate range shot (muzzle to target distance being within an arm’s length which is about 3 feet).
The back of the head of the victim shows several vertical lacerations: two on the occipital region, two on the parieto-temporal region and one on the upper part of the left earlobe. These wounds could possibly be due to blunt force trauma as the edges look ragged. There are bruises and abrasions associated with the wound.
Lacerations have a tendency to harbor foreign material (trace evidence). It was found that one of the lacerations contained a small fragment of grey plastic. It was also observed that the 9 mm handgun retrieved from Big Vern’s flat had some damage on the plastic handle. Pinning both the observations together, it could be concluded that the lacerations could be caused by Roger Mellie when he attacked the victim by hitting him with the back of the handgun (as narrated by Big Vern) with sufficient force to break a fragment of the plastic handle that could have been wedged into the laceration.
But this can only be confirmed by comparing the piece of plastic with the damaged plastic handle of the gun.
Information from the Autopsy
The autopsy revealed a relatively less bruised wound track in the abdominal region which passed posterio-superiorly penetrating the liver and the diaphragm on the right side to reach the lower lobe of the right lung which confirms the previous assumption of the bullet traveling obliquely upwards from the photographs and the X-rays. Rupture of the diaphragm (being the respiratory muscle) can cause respiratory complications. When it is accompanied by lung injury, it can lead to life-threatening complications such as systemic arterial air embolism which can even lead to death (2).
Following the examination of the abdomen and chest region, the gunshot wound on the right upper forehead was examined. The underlying beveled defect in the frontal skull indicates the direction of the bullet’s path (yellow line in the picture). This was derived from the fact that the wound funnels out from entry to exit creating the bevel on the exit surface of the wound.
The autopsy also reveals the wound track of the bullet which again concurs with the previous assumption of the bullet traveling downwards, backward and slightly to the left along the head to exit in the occipital region fracturing the left side of the occiput. The bullet passes through the left cerebral hemisphere of the brain with marked bruising along the entire wound track which could have been the cause of death.
The bullets lodged in the body were recovered post-autopsy. The bullet recovered from the head was a 9mm bullet which was moderately distorted possibly because it had to penetrate the skull bone. The bullet recovered from the lung was a 0.22” bullet which was more intact possibly because it traveled through soft tissues and had no hard structures in its path.
This also coincides with the information given by Big Vern where he states that Roger Mellie shot the victim in his abdomen and Big Vern himself shot the victim in his head. The information is further confirmed when the police recovered a 9 mm handgun from Big Vern’s flat and a 0.22” handgun and ammunition from Roger Mellie’s car.
Further information could be derived from the bullets and the gun through comparison microscopy. The lands and grooves inside the gun barrel often leave marks on the bullet. It is believed that no two rifled barrels, even those manufactured in succession, have identical striation markings (4). Thus, the bullet recovered from the body could be compared with a bullet shot from the gun recovered from the culprits by comparison microscopy. Bullets fired through the same rifle barrel display comparable markings. Matching the striations on each bullet concludes that both the bullets traveled through the same barrel. Hence, the bullets were shot from the same gun.
Firing pin impressions and breechblock markings on shells could be compared for a match as well.
Information about Time of Death
Using the following measurements taken at 12 pm:
- Temperature of the rectum= 27.5ºC
- Ambient temperature= 13ºC
- Body weight (naked)= 67 kg
Time of death= 12 +/- 2.8 hours (between 9.2 and 14.8 hours)
The measurements were taken at 12 pm by the pathologist. Thus, calculating 9-14 hours before 12 pm, the time of death should be between 10 pm and 2 am (with a reliability of 95%).
But the fact that the victim was wearing 2-3 layers of clothes (T-shirt, a thin jumper, long cotton overall, trousers and pants) should be taken into consideration as they can insulate the body from the environment and slow down the process of cooling (3). This may interfere with the rectal temperature recorded at the scene, hence miscalculating the time of death.
The limitations of the nomogram do not apply in the case as the body was not moved, was not in water/fire, or near a heat/ cooling source, etc.
The time span does not coincide with the one as informed by Big Vern, it rather coincides with the information given by the elderly lady.
- Estrera, Pass, & Platt. (1990). Systemic arterial air embolism in penetrating lung injury. The Annals of Thoracic Surgery,50(2), 257-261.
- Henssge, C. (1988). Death time estimation in case work. I. The rectal temperature time of death nomogram. Forensic Science International, 38(3), 209-236
- Saferstein, R. (2006). Criminalistics : An introduction to forensic science (Ninth ed.).
- Gunshot Wounds Lecture Notes
- Head Injury Lecture Notes
- PM Changes Lecture Notes
- Simpson, K., & Knight, B. (1985). Forensic medicine. (9th ed. / Keith Simpson, with Bernard Knight. ed.). London: Edward Arnold.
- Saferstein, R. (2006). Criminalistics : An introduction to forensic science (Ninth ed.).
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