Cobb v. Estate of Charlotte Burke

Mr. R. Kenyon Meyer of Dinsmore & Shohl, Louisville, KY, approached me about this case.  He needed a terminal ballistics, and an exterior ballistics, and an ammunition expert.

Mr. Daniel L. Cobb was suing the Estate of his ex-wife, Ms. Charlotte Burke; seeking the entire estate, approximately 1.3 million dollars, alleging damages from his being the victim of an attempted murder.   After a series of set-backs for the executors for the estate, they approached Dinsmore for an appeal.  Mr. Meyer intuitively knew something was wrong.   The DA, who signed off, on both  the Coroner’s Report and the Death Certificate; as attempted murder of Cobb, and suicide by Burke; was one and the same person as the attorney for Plaintiff Cobb in civil court.

After a 911 call, in January, 2009, police and EMT arrived at the house of Mr. Cobb.  He had been wounded by gunshot.  His ex-wife, Charlotte Burke, lay upon the floor deceased.  Cobb told the police and EMT’s that Burke had come to visit him, had pulled out a revolver, shot him and then turned the gun upon herself, thereby committing suicide.  Everyone seemed to believe Cobb and very little evidence collection was done at the scene, nor at the hospital where Cobb was treated.

Burke had been wearing a jacket which she had left open at the front.  Under that was a sweater and then her bra.  The entry wound was centered in the chest, with the bullet passing through her body, exiting from her back, and the bullet recovered from under her bra horizontal elastic strap.  Upon studying the autopsy photographs, I saw that the entry wound was clean.  There was no depositing of any unburned propellant, nor any depositing of burned remnants of the propellant, nor any bits from the bullet.  Further, there was not any puffiness nor distortion around the perimeter of the entry wound, as would be present if it was a contact wound (ie. if Burke had pressed the muzzle against her chest at the moment of discharge).  The entry was a clean, round hole from a near 0 obliquity shot (ie. perpendicular to the surface at bullet entry).

The incident was considered so “open and shut” that the Judge, upon motion of the DA (remember he is the same guy as representing Cobb in the civil action) ordered the physical evidence destroyed.  Some paper; such as Medical Examiner photographs, organ harvest photographs and reports, the autopsy report, and some comments from a detective; did survive and were coughed up in RPOD’s in discovery of the civil case.   I discussed with Kenyon what other papers and records should exist as a result of the police investigation of the shooting incident.  Kenyon pursued them with vigor.

At the same time, we had statements from the plaintiff’s “expert”, an unqualified retiree from the Kentucky State Police (we’ll call him “Fumbles”) to the effect that Burke did shoot herself but that the way her jacket was hanging open at the moment of discharge that it intercepted everything and therefore you would not expect anything to be in the wound.  To paraphrase the NFL; C’mon, Fumbles, you expect me to believe that sh*t ?.

We were beginning think that we would have to go into a very contentious hearing.  Then, on 29 October, 2010, (I was in Wyoming getting my new rifle plant running) I got an e-mail from Kenyon’s assistant.  BOOM !!  There, as attachments, were two reports from the Kentucky State Police Central Laboratory. These reports documented tests conducted by Specialist Lawrence Pilcher.  One report was the results of a Griess Test and the other the results of a Sodium Rhodizonate Test.  The Griess test detects the presence of the products of combustion of the propellant used in small arms ammunition.  The Sodium Rhodizonate test detects the presence of any lead particles (which are debrided from a lead or lead based jacketed bullet upon discharge of a firearm).

The tests were properly done, with controls.  The conclusions were (Griess) “No pattern was developed” and (Sodium) “No traces of lead were developed on Item 1 [the sweater]”.  I re-examined the test reports.  The results were irrefutable and unimpeachable.  These tests meant that the muzzle of the supposed death handgun was at least 6 feet from the chest of Burke at the moment of discharge.  Due to the fact that there was no evidence of a remote discharge (ie. gun tied to a lamp and a string or stick attached to it) the conclusion was inescapable; Burke did not shoot herself.

I prepared an affidavit.  Kenyon took my affidavit, with attachments, and promptly bombarded the Court.  After much legal wrangling, the Estate of Ms. Burke was preserved, and her death certificate was changed to death by homicide.

Who, then, was Burke’s murderer.  In all likelihood, it was Cobb.  His bullet wound penetrated the skin of his left abdomen, traveled a few inches through the subcutaneous fat, and exited the skin on his left rear quarter.  This is a very minor wound (he was out of hospital in two days) and he would have been walking and talking after receiving it.  Due to the fact that there was no search of Cobb’s house, and no test of his clothing, we will never know whether he used a pillow or some other cloth barrier when he shot himself.  Therefore, it is, unfortunately, doubtful that Burke’s soul will ever see criminal justice served upon Cobb

I do not know where Cobb is, nor do I know if Burke’s heirs still tend to her grave.

Kenyon is now the Managing Partner of the Dinsmore office in Louisville.