Volume 49, Issue 3 (May 2004)

    “Homicide by Heart Attack” Revisited

    (Received 18 October 2003; accepted 17 January 2004)

    Published Online: March

    CODEN: JFSOAD

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    Abstract

    The sudden death of a person caused by an arrhythmia that is induced by physical and/or emotional stress provoked by the criminal activity of another person is sometimes referred to as “homicide by heart attack.” Published criteria for such an event relate to situations where no physical contact occurs between the perpetrator and the victim. Situations involving physical contact, but with absence of lethal injuries, are frequently treated in a similar fashion by forensic pathologists. Herein, we propose a set of modified criteria, which include cases where physical contact has occurred. Five examples of so-called “homicide by heart attack” are presented, including a 40-year-old man who was struck in the head with a wooden statue, a 74-year-old man who was punched in the jaw by a robber, a 66-year-old woman who was startled awake by a home-intruder, a 67-year-old woman who struggled with a would-be purse-snatcher in a parking lot, and a 52-year-old man who was in a physical altercation with a younger man. In each instance, autopsy revealed the presence of severe, underlying heart disease, as well as absence of lethal injuries. In each case, investigative information was such that the emotional and/or physical stress associated with the criminal activity of another individual was deemed contributory to the death. The presumed mechanism of death in each case was a cardiac dysrhythmia related to underlying heart disease, but initiated by the emotional and/or physical stress.


    Author Information:

    Prahlow, JA
    South Bend Medical Foundation and Indiana University School of Medicine, South Bend Center for Medical Education at the University of Notre Dame, South Bend, Indiana

    Barnard, JJ
    Southwestern Institute of Forensic Sciences and the University of Texas-Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, Texas

    Turner, SA
    Southwestern Institute of Forensic Sciences and the University of Texas-Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, Texas

    Spotswood, SD
    Southwestern Institute of Forensic Sciences and the University of Texas-Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, Texas


    Stock #: JFS2003343

    ISSN: 0022-1198

    DOI: 10.1520/JFS2003343

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    Author
    Title “Homicide by Heart Attack” Revisited
    Symposium , 0000-00-00
    Committee E30