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Whitewater: The Foster Report
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V. FORENSIC ANALYSES

The forensic analyses, in conjunction with the evidence from the scene, confirm that Mr. Foster committed suicide in Fort Marcy Park.

A. Autopsy

The autopsy occurred on July 21, 1993, in the presence of six persons. Dr. James Beyer, Deputy Chief Medical Examiner of the Virginia Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, conducted the autopsy, aided by an assistant. Park Police Sergeant Robert Rule and Officer James Morrissette observed the autopsy. Park Police Identification Technicians Hill and Johnson took photographs at the autopsy and collected evidence such as clothing, blood samples, and hair samples. Dr. Beyer prepared an autopsy report. He has supplemented the report with testimony on several occasions. Dr. Beyer has performed over 20,000 autopsies. His responsibility is to determine cause of death and, in the case of a gunshot wound, to determine with the police the manner of death – suicide, homicide, accident, or undetermined.

Dr. Beyer said Dr. Haut contacted him early on July 21, 1993, to advise him of Mr. Foster's death.   Dr. Beyer recalled that Dr. Haut indicated that there was a perforating gunshot wound (that is, a gunshot wound with an entrance and exit) and that the Park Police was the investigating agency.

Dr. Beyer recalled that when he opened the body bag, there was blood on the right side of the face and on the right shoulder area of the shirt.   Dr. Beyer found a large amount of blood in the body bag.

The autopsy report states that Mr. Foster's height was 6 feet and 4 1/2 inches and his weight was 197 pounds. The report indicates no problems or abnormalities with the cardiovascular system, respiratory system, liver, gall bladder, spleen, pancreas, adrenal and thyroid glands, gastrointestinal tract, genitourinary tract, kidneys, urinary bladder, or genitalia. The report states that the "[s]tomach contains a considerable amount of digested food material whose components cannot be identified."

As to the head, the report indicates:

Perforating gunshot wound mouth-head; entrance wound is in the posterior oropharynx at a point approximately 7 1/2" from the top of the head; there is also a defect in the tissues of the soft palate and some of these fragments contain probable powder debris. The wound track in the head continues backward and upward with an entrance wound just left of the foremen magnum with tissue damage to the brain stem and left cerebral hemisphere with an irregular exit scalp and skull defect near the midline in the occipital region. No metallic fragments recovered. The report contains a diagram of the head and brain area that depicts the entrance wound and the fracture line. A separate diagram depicts the fracture lines, exit, and skull damage. A third page of diagrams of the head area states "perforating gunshot wound" and describes the entrance wound as follows: "Entrance – mouth – posterior oropharynx – large defect -- soft palate defect / powder debris identified." It describes the exit wound as a wound of 1 1/4" x 1". The report indicates "backward" and "upward" as the direction of the bullet through the head.

With respect to the wound, Dr. Beyer stated: "The entrance wound was in the back of the mouth, what we call the posterior oropharynx, where a large defect was present. There was also a soft palate tissue defect, and powder debris could be identified in the area of the soft palate and the back of the mouth. The exit wound is depicted [in the autopsy report] as being present three inches from the top of the head, approximately in the midline, and there is an irregular wound measuring one and one quarter inch by one inch. " There was "good alignment" between the entrance and exit wounds, and there was "no reason to think that this was not an entrance and exit defect configuration." As the report indicates, Dr. Beyer did not recover any bullets or bullet fragments from the body.

The report states that "[s]ections of soft palate" were "positive for powder debris," and Dr. Beyer said that the gunpowder debris in the mouth was "grossly present,'" meaning that it could be seen with the naked eye, and was present in a "large amount." Thus, Dr. Beyer stated that "the obvious finding was that the muzzle of the weapon had to be in his mouth, close to the back of his throat, back of his mouth."

Dr. Beyer said that he performed "an external examination of the body, with photography of the body. We then examine the body for any identifying marks, such as scars, tatoos or wounds." Dr. Beyer stated that he recalls observing powder debris on the right hand. He recalled gunpowder debris on the left hand to a much lesser degree. (The diagrams in the autopsy report indicate "black material" on both the right hand and the left hand.) Dr. Beyer also recalled a "tannish brown indentation" across the back of the right thumb (the thumb which had been in the trigger guard).

Dr. Beyer said that observation of Mr. Foster's body revealed no wounds on the neck, hands, buttocks, shoulder, back, or any portion of the body other than the head; he said, moreover, that any such wounds would have been registered on the anatomic diagram. Dr. Beyer stated that "[t]here was no evidence of any trauma to the individual other than the gunshot wound."

Dr. Beyer concluded that this was a self-inflicted wound based upon the fact that there was no evidence of any trauma other than the gunshot wound, and "no evidence of any central nervous system depression or diseased state that would have permitted, in my estimation, somebody to walk up and put a gun in his mouth and pull the trigger."

Dr. Beyer's conclusions were reviewed by two sets of experts, one set retained by the OIC and the other by Mr. Fiske's Office. Their analyses of Dr. Beyer's findings and of the relevant laboratory analyses are outlined below. They confirm the conclusions reached at the autopsy.

B. Laboratory Analyses

A number of photographs were taken at Fort Marcy Park and at the autopsy. In addition, at both the scene and the autopsy, the Park Police obtained physical evidence. Evidence receipts show that, at the Fort Marcy scene, the Park Police obtained physical evidence and clothing, including the following:
 

* Colt Army Special .38 caliber revolver, 4", 6-shot (obtained from "right hand victim")

* round .38 caliber RP 38 SPL HV (from "revolver")

* casing .38 caliber RP 38 SPL HV  (from "revolver")

* eyeglasses (from berm)

* Seiko quartz wrist watch (from "Deceased left wrist")

* pager (from "Deceased right side waist area")

* silver colored ring (from "Deceased right ring finger")

* gold colored band type ring (from "Deceased left ring finger'')

* black suit jacket (from "front passenger seat of gray Honda")

* blue silk tie with swans (on "top of coat on front passenger seat")

* White House Identification (from "under coat on front passenger seat")

* brown leather wallet (from "inside suit jacket pocket of suit jacket from front passenger seat")

At the autopsy, the Park Police obtained physical evidence and clothing, including the following: * one vial of blood

* lock seal envelope containing pulled head hairs

* white colored long sleeve button down shirt with blood stain

* white colored short sleeve t-shirt with blood stain

* pair white colored boxer shorts

* pair blue gray colored pants with black colored belt

* pair black colored socks

* pair black colored dress shoes, size 11M

The Park Police and Medical Examiner's Office caused several laboratory tests of the evidence to be performed during the initial 1993 investigation. In addition, Mr. Fiske's Office and the OIC submitted physical evidence collected during the investigation of Mr. Foster's death to the FBI Laboratory, which has produced reports analyzing physical evidence. The OIC also submitted physical evidence to Dr. Lee, and he, too, produced a report based on his laboratory analyses. The following summarizes the relevant laboratory analyses.

1. Gun

a. Operation

The .38 caliber revolver recovered from Mr. Foster's hand at Fort Marcy Park had a four-inch barrel and a capacity of six shots. It had one live round and one spent casing. Had the trigger been pulled again, the next shot would have fired the remaining round.

In August 1993, at the request of the Park Police, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) Laboratory examined the revolver and found that it functioned. The ATF Laboratory determined that the cartridge case found in the cylinder under the hammer was fired in that gun. The FBI Laboratory also test-fired the gun and determined that it "functioned normally" and that the trigger pulls were normal. The .38 caliber cartridge case "was identified as having been fired in the . . . revolver. " Like the expended cartridge, the unexpended cartridge was .38 caliber manufactured by Remington. They bore similar headstamps. Dr. Lee also test-fired the revolver and found that it was operable.

b. Serial Numbers

An ATF report on the gun's two serial numbers revealed a purchase at the Seattle Hardware Company in Seattle, Washington, on September 14, 1913, and at the Gus Habich Company in Indianapolis, Indiana, on December 29, 1913. The gun could not be further traced. Laboratory examination of the gun

found no indication of any alteration of the serial number of the weapon. . . . The additional serial number on the crane of the firearm most likely occurred at some time when the eighty year-old weapon was repaired. There is no realistic way to determine when such a repair occurred. The exchange of the two numbers between the frame and the crane is a condition noted on many similar firearms in the Laboratory's Reference Firearms Collection and is not considered significant. c. Ammunition

Dr. Lee noted that the ammunition found in this weapon was type "RP .38 SPL HV," manufactured by Remington Peters. Dr. Lee stated that information from the manufacturer indicated that this ammunition was discontinued in 1975, and that the cartridge therefore would have been manufactured prior to that time.

d. DNA

DNA consistent with Mr. Foster's DNA was detected on the muzzle portion of the barrel of the revolver. In particular, DNA type DQ alpha 2, 4 was detected on the gun and in Mr. Foster's blood.

e. Blood

The gun was recovered at the scene by Park Police Technician Simonello and subsequently packaged in brown paper for storage in an evidence locker. While the Park Police's subsequent examinations for fingerprints and other evidence could have removed some trace evidence that might have existed on the gun, Dr. Lee examined the gun and reported that "[s]mall specks of brownish-colored deposits were noted." Dr. Lee found that "[s]ome of these deposits gave positive results with a chemical test for blood" although the "quantity of sample present was insufficient for further analysis."

Dr. Lee also reported that "[m]acroscopic and microscopic examination of [the] piece of paper" originally wrapped around the barrel of the revolver for evidence storage "revealed the presence of reddish-colored particles. These stains also gave positive results with a chemical test for blood." Dr. Lee stated that "[t]his fact suggests that the barrel of the weapon was in contact or at close range to a source of liquid blood."

Dr. Lee further stated that "[b]lood spatters and tissuelike materials were noted on the fingerprint lift tape from the weapon." Dr. Lee concluded that "[t]he presence of blood and tissue-like materials on the lifts is another strong indication that this weapon was fired while in contact with or close to a blood source."

f. Fingerprints

Identification Technician E.J. Smith of the Park Police examined the gun for latent fingerprints on July 23, 1993. The results were negative. The FBI Laboratory later examined the gun and similarly detected no latent prints on the exterior surface of the weapon.

In his report to the OIC, Dr. Lee explained that "[t]he handle grip area of [the .38 Colt revolver] is textured and is not typical of the type of surface which commonly results in the development of identifiable latent fingerprints."   He also noted that the fingerprint powder method was used when the Park Police initially tested the gun; "[a]lthough the fingerprint powder method is one of the most common techniques used in the latent print field, there are also newer technologies, such as cyanoacrylate fuming, laser, and forensic lighting techniques which could have been used in this case. It is unknown at this time whether these techniques would have provided additional information" had they initially been employed.

The FBI Laboratory also noted that a lack of fingerprints is not extraordinary and that "[g]enerally, the determining factors in leaving latent prints are having a transferable substance, i.e., sweat, sebaceous oil or other substance on the fingers, and having a surface that is receptive to receiving the substance that forms the latent prints. A clean, smooth, flat surface is most receptive for transfer of any substance from the fingers," and the surface of the grip handle at issue here was textured, not smooth.

g. Marks on Body from Gunshot and Gun

(1) Gunshot Residue on Hands

The photographs of Mr. Foster's right hand taken at Fort Marcy Park and during the autopsy depict black gunshot residuelike material on the right forefinger and the area between the thumb and forefinger. The autopsy report also noted material on the forefinger area of the left hand.

During the Park Police investigation, the ATF Laboratory found that gunshot residue patterns reproduced in the laboratory were consistent with those seen in the photographs taken by the Park Police at the scene. The FBI Laboratory similarly stated that gunshot residue on the right forefinger area of the right hand is "consistent with the disposition of smoke from muzzle blast or cylinder blast when the . . . revolver is fired using ammunition like that represented by" the cartridge and casing recovered from the gun "when this area of the right hand is positioned near the front of the cylinder or to the side of and near the muzzle."

Dr. Lee conducted test firings using a laboratory standard weapon and the same kind of ammunition that was found in the revolver recovered from Mr. Foster's hand. With the standard weapon, little or no observable gunpowder particles were released from the cylinder area or onto the shooter's hand. However, Dr. Lee reported that each test-fired shot of the revolver found in Mr. Foster's hand at Fort Marcy Park produced a significant amount of unburned and partially burned gunpowder. Relatedly, Dr. Lee reported that the gun had an "extraordinary front cylinder gap" (the space between the cylinder and the barrel) of .01 inch through which gunpowder residue is expelled when the gun is fired. Dr. Lee stated that the gap was one "possible cause[] of the deposit of a large amount of gunshot residue particles on Mr. Foster's body and clothing."

(2) Indentation on Thumb

The revolver was recovered from Mr. Foster's right hand at the scene at Fort Marcy Park by Park Police Technician Simonello. Technician Simonello reported that Mr. Foster's thumb was trapped in the trigger guard of the gun. Consistent with Technician Simonello's observation, the autopsy photographs depict an indentation mark on the inside of the right thumb.

The mark on the inside of the right thumb which is visible in the [autopsy] photograph is consistent with a mark produced by the trigger of the . . . revolver when this portion of the right thumb is wedged between the front of the trigger and the inside of the front of the trigger guard of the . . . revolver when the trigger rebounds (moves forward). The trigger of the . . . revolver automatically rebounds when released after firing (single or double action) or whenever the trigger is released after it is moved to the rear. This mark is consistent with the position of the right thumb of the victim in the trigger guard of the revolver in [three Polaroid] photographs.

Part V Continues

Foster Report Table of Contents

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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