Shaw suicide not likely, says doctor

2008-11-18 00:00

Gunshot victim Susan Shaw bled to death from a “contact” bullet wound fired through three layers of clothing directly into the area just above her right armpit.

This evidence was given before Judge Vivienne Niles-Duner and an assessor by forensic pathologist Reggie Perumal at the Pietermaritzburg High Court yesterday.

Perumal gave evidence for the state at the trial of Hilton Shaw (57), who has pleaded not guilty to a charge that he murdered his wife at their country estate at Lake Lyndhurst on June 3 last year.

Perumal attended the autopsy on Susan’s body, and also inspected the scene of the shooting at the request of the police investigating officer.

He said he is satisfied she was shot while leaning or being pushed against the bathroom door leading to the main bedroom. The muzzle of the gun would have been touching her.

A trail of blood droplets through the passage led to the verandah where her body was found. The most likely scenario was that she made her own way there.

Perumal said at the time of the autopsy there was almost “no blood” in the body. He said the gunshot wound severed an artery and a vein, and estimated she would have bled to death within 10 to 15 minutes.

Within five minutes of that time, he believed she would have become unconscious.

Perumal said she was “heavily to very heavily intoxicated” when she died. Her blood alcohol content, which was calculated by taking fluid from the eye, was 0,3 grams per 100 ml of blood — the equivalent of 15 (100 ml) glasses of wine.

Asked by state advocate Dorian Paver if she could have survived with immediate medical intervention, Perumal said he doubted the outcome would have been any different. “It’s difficult … It’s not as if you could clamp that limb. The injury is difficult to access,” he said.

Asked by Paver whether someone “hell bent” on committing suicide was likely to shoot herself in the vicinity of the armpit, Perumal said he did not believe so as there are no vital organs in the upper limb.

Defence advocate Shane Matthews objected to the question on grounds that Perumal could not give expert testimony, but Perumal responded that he has presented a paper on suicides. He added that he has never read of a person shooting themselves in that area of the body.

Under cross examination by Matthews, Perumal also disputed the advocate’s suggestion that it was “very common” for females committing suicide to shoot themselves in areas that are “not vital”.

Led by the prosecution in reply, Perumal agreed with the statistics contained in a book by a leading American expert on gunshot injuries indicating that 72% of women shot themselves in the head, 22% in the chest and six percent in the abdomen.

Matthews said Hilton Shaw has instructed him that he had not seen his wife consume the amount of alcohol found in her blood.

The legal teams will visit the murder scene today for an inspection in loco.

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