Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Kevin Neal, Convicted of Murder by Forensic Entomology

Manner of Death

Although there are an infinite number of ways to die, the medico-legal community recognizes just four manners of death: accident, natural causes, suicide and homicide. The task of the team of medical examiners, coroners, technicians and scientists who took possession of the children's remains was to determine which of these manners appropriately accounted for the deaths of India and Cody. While they play an essential part of the criminal investigation process, coroners do not have the legal jurisdiction to determine whether or not a death is the result of a crime. After all, "homicide" simply means death at the hands of another person and does not imply criminal activity. For example, the manner of death for an executed criminal is listed as "homicide." The responsibility to determine whether or not a crime has occurred and requires the involvement of the criminal justice system lies with the county prosecutor or district attorney.

Because Champaign County is a smaller rural county, autopsies are performed by forensic pathologists on call with the Miami Valley Crime Laboratory, where in the case of India and Cody Smith, Montgomery County Deputy Coroner Lee Lehman, a veteran of more than 2,000 autopsies, was put in charge of the examination.

Based on the circumstantial evidence surrounding the discovery of their bodies, their youth and medical histories, the pathologist quickly ruled out suicide, accident and natural causes as being responsible for ending the lives of the two children. As he stated in court, Dr. Lehman considered it highly unlikely — based on the history he compiled, the examination and the circumstances — "that they walked in (the cemetery) naked and died a natural death together."

"They died of undetermined — which means, I don't know — homicidal violence," he would later testify. "In other words, they were killed."

 

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