The 23-year-old man had been stabbed with a double-edged, foot-long hunting knife 11 times during a bar fight. The autopsy determined the fatal wound plunged through the rib case, passed through both lungs, and lanced the heart along the way.

A new piece of software took the CT scans, photographs, blade dimensions, and reconstructed the crime in 3-D – including the gases that filled the stab channel – together showing the victim had his arms raised in self-defense at the time he was killed.

The case analysis and conceptual software use is presented by a team of Europeans in a new paper in the journal Forensic Science International. The scientists present the software as a new way to investigate crimes – and present them to courtrooms – using raw digital data in three dimensions. 

“It is possible to present a case based on video clips from interactive scene visualization navigation or user defined fly-through paths, which can be shown in court trials. Technically it is also possible to interactively show reconstruction results in court,” write the scientists.

The software is presented by researchers from the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute of Clinical-Forensic Imaging, BioTechMed of Graz, Graz University of Technology, the Medical University of Graz, the Laboratoire national de santé in Luxembourg, the University of Basel, and Heidelberg University.

The program incorporates volumetric 3D autopsy images from either CT or MRI datasets, separate 3D surface models for objects, and 2-D images taken at a crime scene, they report.

They tested the program on four death investigations: the stabbing, a strangling, a gunshot wound to the head, and a blunt-force beating with a hammer.

The stabbing conveyed the force that drove the serrated edge of the knife through the third rib and then straight through the pulmonary arteries, lancing through one lung, the heart and the other lung – and resulting in the unnaturally entrapped air in the stab wound.

The strangulation showed bruising detected only through CT scans – and then helped depict the direction of the force creating those wounds, the authors report.

The gunshot injury confirmed a suicide under the chin in which the bullet ricocheted off the inside crown of the skull, and came to rest at the back of the right temporal brain lobe – something that would be hard to convey without a reconstruction, the authors recount.

The blunt force death recreates a 93-year-old woman’s brutal beating by hammer, showing the damage incurred by each of five strikes to the head. 

Together, the case studies show the value of depicting the “big picture” of the totality of a crime, and not just a single fragment or angle of the equivocal deaths.

“The presented software tool turned out to be very useful to aid forensic case analysis, documentation and illustration,” they conclude. “This is mainly due to its key concept, which allows (the user) to visually combine all available data sources and types for joint analysis, which is a unique characteristic among software used in this area.”

Some U.S. investigators have been increasingly interested in the use of high-resolution imaging such as CT for autopsies like their counterparts in Europe, as Forensic Magazine has previously noted.