(Received 4 March 1989; accepted 17 October 1989)
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Bite injuries upon homicide victims are most often initially identified by the forensic pathologist during the course of the autopsy examination. Following such recognition, the injury or photographs of the traumatized site are then referred to a forensic odontologist for his or her examination, further characterization, and subsequent comparison with any suspect's dentition. However, if the pathologist misidentifies an injury caused by another mechanism as a human bite, this mistake can potentially be perpetuated by the dental consultant, since relatively few dentists regularly examine traumatic injuries other than those arising from bites. To illustrate such an event, a case is presented involving an incised wound of the breast, which was originally identified as an avulsive bite wound. Detailed examination by two odontologic consultants confirmed the wound as having been caused by human teeth, and further, they related the “bite injury” to a specific individual. The bite injury interpretation represented the only scientific evidence implicating the suspect at a subsequent trial for capital murder. Later examination of the tissues and photographs by a forensic pathologist and another dental consultant revealed that the injury was not due to human dentition, but rather resulted from a sharp-edged instrument. These consultants conducted a unique experiment to reduplicate the injury and prove its causation. This information was presented to the jury during the suspect's trial and resulted in his acquittal on all charges.
Clinical associate professor of pathology, Office of the Medical Investigator for the State of New Mexico, University of New Mexico School of Medicine, Albuquerque, NM
Associate medical examiner, Fulton County Medical Examiner's Office, Atlanta, GA
Stock #: JFS12949J