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eJournal: How many did you come to believe were acts of self defense?

Bunke: About a third. In the cases I have worked in the past, the knife has been used as a defensive tool against either other knives or force of numbers. A basic scenario would see a guy at a party who meets up with four or five guys and it goes south and the four or five guys are coming at him and he is scared. He has one tool available. Of course, that’s a pocketknife and that is what he uses. The disparity of force defense makes sense in these cases with knives, and that is what I see a lot of.

In a lot of the assault cases, it has been knife against knife, in that two guys get drunk or two guys get angry at each other and they pull out knives and they participate in mutual combat with knives. The “winner” of that fight on the street becomes the loser and finds himself going to court. Someone has to be the victim and someone has to be the defendant, so the guy with the least number of injuries ends up getting to be the defendant and the guy with the most injuries ends up getting to be the victim.

eJournal: When a skilled investigator examines evidence from a case in which a knife was used, can that investigator determine from the wounds and other evidence whether the knife was being used in defense, or if it was used to make an aggressive attack –what one might describe as a “first-strike?”

Bunke: You know, I am not sure that is at all possible. It would be like trying to differentiate if a specific gunshot wound was defensive or aggressive in nature. How do you do that? That is so challenging!

The knife injuries that can be defensive are some of the injuries that are found on the victim’s hands and wrists, but that also crosses over to the suspect’s hands as well.

If the suspect or defendant is using the knife, and his hand slips from the handle to the blade during a stabbing motion, across the four fingers of the hand holding the knife he will often have a cut or cuts resembling a defensive knife wound that could happen if someone grabbed the blade to try to get the knife away. Until you get the rest of the picture from the autopsy report–all the photographs, all the medical records, and witness statements–you don’t have the perspective to put the puzzle together, so at the beginning of an investigation those cuts are just injuries.

To get back to your question about identifying defensive use of a knife, that is SO challenging! I don’t know anybody who can do that. Even then, until you put information in context, how do you start defining it?

None of these events happen in a static environment, without motion. Knife injuries can happen in 360 degrees around the body. Everybody’s moving around and sidestepping, so the bodies are never flat and still like they are in the autopsy room. Until you get the injuries recorded and you get some witness statements telling what they were doing whether it was fighting or struggling or wrestling, whether they fell to the ground and rolled around, maybe one guy’s hand was around behind the other person’s back, only then can you put it in context. At that point, you may think, “These wounds happened at this time, these other injuries happened at this time,” but really, unless it is on video, (which is entirely possible these days) it is initially still a crapshoot.

eJournal: If you can’t rely on the biological evidence to tell the story, it seems that the witness statements must carry incredible weight.

Bunke: Yes, very much so. The biological evidence or the science will tell you what injuries took place, where the injuries are located, and as the case progresses and the science is worked through, if you happen to find the knife in question and the blood on it is tested for DNA, then you can say this is the knife that caused these injuries to this person.