Kentucky v. Thomas Mays

This case was brought to me in September, 2000.  Mr. Mays had been indicted by a grand jury for the murder of one Gary Wayne Thacker on the night of 18 September, 1999.  Mr. Mays, being poor, had been in pre-trial confinement since the night of the shooting incident.  Mr. Mays was being represented by the local office of the Kentucky Department of Public Advocacy.

The materials brought to me by the DPA (some 175 photographs, autopsy reports, investigation reports, grand jury testimony transcripts, etc.) clearly showed that they, and Mr. Mays, desperately needed a terminal ballistics expert.  Plus, they needed someone who could refute the “science” of blood stain analysis.

The deceased was found supine, in a relatively straight position, body mostly parallel to a pick-up truck, but angled enough that his head was under the edge of the bed.  He was oriented head towards the front, with his head slightly in front of the rear wheel well.  The deceased was very bloody.  There was blood spatter on the ground, on the side of the frame under the bed, and also on the side of the bed.  There was also a pool of blood on the ground at the rear wheel.

The primary evidence in the case was the testimony of a detective, who recounted his blood stain pattern analysis of the shooting incident scene.  This included photographs of the scene after the detective had “strung it up”.  In reviewing the evidence, I was stunned.  The detective’s testimony was total rubbish fiction.

The detective, we will call him Short Round, had attended the 36 hour course, taught by Mr. Herbert McDonnell, on blood stain pattern analysis.  Though this alleged “science” may have some application in killings by sharp object (machete, hatchet, etc.,) and blunt object (club, re-bar, etc.), it has nothing to do with firearms.

Flaunting his attendance at this course, Det. Short Round testified to the grand jury that Mays shot Thacker with a shotgun, “…in a most cowardly manner…” while Thacker was laying on the ground.  He testified that Mays was standing  either in the bed of the truck or with one foot in the cab.  When asked by a grand juror how Thacker was knocked to the ground and did not move, Short Round replied that he did not know, but, and then repeated his testimony.  He showed the photographs with all the strings and tape, as if that proved his testimony.  As a result, Mays was indicted for murder in the first degree.

Long previous to my taking this case, I had bought a seat for, and attended, the blood stain pattern course taught by Mr. McDonnell.  Mr. McDonnell calls himself “Humble Herb”.   He had patented a type of fingerprint dusting brush, which he widely sold, and is commonly used.  He created the methodology of blood stain pattern analysis from his association with police.

Humble taught the course with a great deal of flair, including liberally dispersed parlor tricks with his necktie, disappearing poker chips, and so forth.  He also sprinkled the course with Canadian history, the proper pronunciation of his last name, and myriad other extraneous material.

Humble starts the course with the (correct) preamble that a droplet of liquid in the air will form a sphere, not the oblong tears that one sees in a cartoon.  Using expired human blood from the local blood bank, Humble (and all the students, in practical exercises) dropped blood from an eye dropper onto index cards held at various angles.  The spherical droplets obviously formed elongated stains upon the cards, the degree of elongation depending upon the angle the cards were held at (to a terminal ballistician, that is angle of impact).

After a day plus of this, Humble teaches “stringing up” the scene by taping lengths of string with one end at a blood stain, and one end at a supposed point of origin.  But he explains nothing about how to specifically identify a specific blood stain to a specific point of origin.  The student is left to select the various points on his own.  Humble than continues with definitions of blood stains as caused by “low speed, medium speed, and high speed” ejected blood, opining that high speed is a result of gun shots.  He further teaches about transfer of blood stain, using pieces of t-shirts (ignoring different fabric weave, surface finish, etc.).

Humble correctly states that the first blow with a club or knife, does not create spatters which leave bloodstains, because the wound must fill with blood first.  It is, Humble says, the second and subsequent blows which eject blood as the blood has now collected in the wound area.  But then, in the next breath, Humble states that a bullet, upon impact with a human, spurts gushes of blood back out from the entrance.  He implies that with a bullet, copious quantities of blood are withdrawn from the flesh and capillaries.  Upon a final “exam” of a supposed murder scene, the student is sent home with a diploma and the assurance that he is now an expert, and is qualified to testify in court.

In cases I have consulted on, such as Indiana v. David Camm, the blood stain “experts” invariably start out their testimony by repeating the droplets and cards stuff, and other parlor tricks, in order to snow the jury into accepting their testimony without question.  Defending attorneys almost never properly cross.

As a terminal ballistics expert, I knew Humble’s course, with respect to gun shot, was BS (and I don’t mean Blood Stain).  I have made many multiple hundreds of kills, fired many thousands of killing and carcass shots, and done hundreds of post-mortems, on mammalian targets (both quadripedal and bipedal).   I have watched the heaving chests, with attempts to inhale and exhale; blowing blood, and coagulated globs, out of the thoracic cavity.  I have watched the blood flow from mouth and nose, and watched the progression as the blood slowly filled the lungs and drown the victim in his own blood.  Humble and the other prosecution “experts” have never done any of this.

In the Mays case, the shot cloud, about two inches across, entered at the left collarbone and traveled down (in relation to the body) into the left lung.  But there was blood that had flowed down his chest, down his belly and had actually formed a pool of blood in what would have been his lap if he were sitting.  This could not possibly have happened if Thacker had been supine at the moment of the shot and had not risen.

Further, there is a huge difference in reaction, to the atmosphere, of highly oxygenated blood from the lungs (and early parts of the arterial system); a opposed to blood on the return leg of the venous system.  Such return blood carries CO2 and all sorts of bodily function by-products, which change the nature of coagulation.  The blood on the truck bed was highly oxygenated and was already semi-coagulated globs when they hit; with some globs sticking and some globs sliding down.  I could go on, but even with the photographs, it is rather gruesome reading that only a terminal ballistician would love.

I wrote a report thoroughly refuting each and every part of the “analysis” by Short Round in detail.  In reality, Thacker was running at Mays, like a linebacker coming to sack the quarterback, when Mays fired.  The impact of the shot stunned Thacker who stopped, went down to a sitting position, with legs out before him.   He leaned left, struggling to breath, and felt the entrance wound with his right hand.  Blood was flowing down his chest and pooling in his lap.  Thacker was blowing blood and coagulated globs out onto the truck.  He slowly fell back to supine and breathed his last.

We prepared for trial.  Mr. Mays was on board and extremely gratified that someone was going to testify as to exactly how the shooting happened.  However, while this legal process was playing out, Mr. Mays’ house mysteriously burned to the ground.  His wife and children fled to another state in order to achieve some measure of safety.  If someone thinks that the Hatfield-McCoy Feud cannot happen today, they are sadly mistaken.  And the local gendarmerie made it crystal clear that they could not, and would not, get in the middle of a feud.   Those kind of things “…jest happen, don’tcha see…”.

Mr. Mays pled to lesser charges and was released for time served in pre-trial confinement.  He has since re-joined his family and is trying to be a good citizen.

Sometime later, while working on another case, I saw Short Round in an evidence room, and mentioned this case to him.  He stated that he had read my report and was happy to know what actually happened.  In front of witnesses, and in defense of his testimony, Short Round said “Don’t blame me”.  He stated that his testimony was exactly what the prosecutor had told him to say.

Detective Short Round is now living the Dolce Vida, with 20 year full retirement, for a “career” built upon garbage.