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Opinion & Expert Testimony – “Death Scene” Analysis

State v. Craig A. Swope, 2008 WI App 175
For Swope: Dianne M. Erickson

Issue: Whether “death scene” analysis from an FBI agent was admissible to establish cause of simultaneous death of two elderly individuals found dead in their home.


¶25      The general field of crime scene analysis has been recognized as being a body of specialized knowledge. United State v. Meeks, 35 M.J. 64 (C.M.A. 1992). …¶¶26     Through education and experience, Safarik had the necessary knowledge to provide helpful answers the jury could use in answering the central question, whether the Recobs died simultaneously from natural causes or as the result of homicide. …

¶28      The jury was required to resolve a double homicide with no witnesses. The bodies were found in a decomposed and mummified state, raising questions as to the manner or cause of death. The jurors, faced with such a repellent job, would be assisted by a specialized analysis of the crime scene in light of other equivocal deaths and homicide cases. “A homicide and its crime scene, after all, are not matters likely to be within the knowledge of an average” juror. Meeks, 35 M.J. at 68-69. <> ¶29      One example of Safarik’s specialized analysis is his conclusion that there was “staging” at the death scene that was consistent with homicide. … It is beyond the everyday knowledge of an average juror to recognize evidence of “staging” or to understand the implication of such evidence. And, it is certainly beyond the ability of the average juror to correlate all nine factors Safarik considered in reaching his expert opinion. [6]


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