Distant Wounds

In distant gunshot wounds, the muzzle of the weapon is sufficiently far from the body so that there is neither deposition of soot nor powder tattooing. For centerfire handguns, distant gunshot wounds begin beyond 24 in. (60 cm) from muzzle to target for cartridges loaded with flake powder and beyond 42 in. (105 cm) for cartridges loaded with ball powder. The exact range depends on the particular weapon and ammunition and can be determined exactly only by experimentation with the specific weapon and ammunition.

All these figures presuppose the lack of clothing. Clothing will absorb soot and powder, in some cases making close-range wounds appear to be distant by examination of the body alone. This points out the need for examination of the clothing in conjunction with the autopsy. The presence of isolated powder particles on either the clothing or the body does not necessarily signify that one is dealing with an intermediate range wound, as individual powder particles may travel considerable distances before deposition on the body.5

Whether powder perforates clothing to mark the skin depends on the nature of the material, the number of layers of cloth, and the physical form of the powder. With handguns, ball powder can readily perforate one and even two layers of cloth to produce tattooing of the underlying skin (Figure 5.19). Rarely, ball powder will perforate three layers. The author has never seen it perforate four layers and produce tattooing. While flake powder usually does not perforate even one layer of cloth, at very close range, it may do so.

Range determinations cannot be made for distant gunshot wounds. Bullets fired from 5, 50, or 500 ft will produce identical entrances. Gunshot wounds of entrance, whatever the range, are identified by the presence of a reddish zone of abraded skin (the abrasion ring) around the entrance hole. This zone becomes brown and then black as it dries. The abrasion ring is due to the bullet rubbing raw the edges of the hole as it indents and pierces the skin. Occasionally, entrance wounds will not have an abrasion ring (Figure 5.20). In handguns, this is most commonly associated with high velocity cartridges such as the .357 Magnum and 9-mm Parabellum, loaded with jacketed or semi-jacketed bullets. Rarely, the wounds will have small tears radiating outward from the margins ("micro-tears") (Figure 4.19A).

In some areas of the body, e.g., the palms, it is the rule not to have an abrasion ring. This is discussed in more detail in Chapter 4.

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