Monday, July 6, 2009

McNair-Kazemi - nagging questions

By Donald Sensing

A little speculation here on the deaths of Steve McNair and his mistress, Saleh Kazemi. (Factual updates are at the end.)

I saw a report that McNair's former Titans teammate Eddie George rejected the idea of the deaths as a murder-suicide because, he said, the shootings were "too professional." I don't know what kind of expertise Eddie has about assassinations. Even if McNair and Kazemi turn out to have been killed by a third party, I have a hard time thinking it would be a "hit job," involving a contracted killer.

But this has been nagging me: whomever killed McNair definitely wanted him dead, shooting him twice in the chest and twice in the head. Not a difficult task with a semiauto pistol, but shooting someone four times is actually an incredibly violent deed, even for the fury of "a woman scorned," and there is no evidence (yet, anyway) that McNair was dumping her.

Now, back to more reflections about some technical issues concerning the autopsies, a followup to my first post on the topic.

One thing the pathologist would try to determine at McNair's autopsy was whether the two pairs of wounds were consistent with rapid fire, and whether he was shot first in the chest or the head.

If the bullet entry wounds and angles are very close for each pair (one bullet with the other of its pair) then it indicates the shots were very close together in time. If one entry wound is a few inches or more from the other, or if it is in a different part of the chest (say one entering the front, the other the side) then it shows that the victim had time to move before the other shot was fired. Or it could show that the shooter was not controlling the gun well. (Certainty in such investigations is an invention of CSI and like shows. Real life is different.)

Wound patterns can even indicate whether McNair was falling after the first shot. He was found sitting up on a sofa, but that doesn't mean he was sitting there when he was shot. If the four wounds are vertically aligned, it can indicate (but not necessarily prove) that he was falling as the second through fourth shots were fired.

If there are exits wounds also, then the location of the correlated bullet reveals much information about the victim's location and posture for each wound. Police have not said whether either victim had exit wounds. Guessing that they were shot with a 9mm pistol (police have not said), then McNair's torso probably did not have exit wounds because of his size and muscularity. (I've been elbow close to him when he was in street clothes, and he was a really big guy.) The head wounds were probably both in and out.

Any large police department will have investigators whose forensic specialty is blood-pattern analysis, "the examination of the shapes, locations, and distribution patterns of bloodstains, in order to provide an interpretation of the physical events which gave rise to their origin." This analysis tells investigators whether the pattern of blood at the scene is consistent with the postures of the bodies and, for example, whether an exit wound was suffered standing, sitting or lying down.

This expertise will help determine whether McNair was shot first in the head or the chest. A corpse does not bleed when shot, it leaks. Once the heart has stopped there is no blood pressure to push blood out of a vein or artery. Which leads to three scenarios:

1. If either of the chest wounds was a heart shot with copious blood around them and there is little blood around the head wounds, it strongly indicates that he was shot in the chest first.

2. Conversely, if there is little blood around the chest wounds but obvious bleeding from the head wounds, the opposite conclusion is warranted.

3. Of course, if McNair died of sanguination, none of the wounds were of themselves lethal and all the wounds will be bloody (brain shots are not always immediately fatal, though they are immediately incapacitating).

The scenario that nags me most is number 2. A (presumably) jilted girlfriend double taps her lover in the head and then also in the chest? That's literally overkill and strikes me as something not even an infuriated just-jilted lover would do, especially having limited firearms experience and being only 20 - Kazemi would hardly think her life was tanked just because McNair was dropping her, if in fact that's what he had just done.

In fact, all of the scenarios have their own nag. For Kazemi to have done any of them seems in my mind to require her to have been in an uncontrollable rage or have been a natural-born killer, neither of which accord with the descriptions of her given to media by family, friends or co-workers. (Then again, "who knows what shadows lurk . . . ?")

Whether thoughts like these have nagged investigators I cannot say, of course. Once the ballistics lab work comes back the picture will doubtless be much clearer. But for now it's not clear at all, and I think that must be a big reason that no manner of death has yet been determined for Kazemi.

Curiouser and curiouser . . .

Update, 5 p.m.: At a press conference late this afternoon, Nashville police spokesman Don Aaron said:

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation continues to conduct ballistics, gunshot residue testing. Kazemi's death classification won't be made until testing is done and results are back. A total of five shots were fired in the apartment: four hit McNair, one hit Kazemi.

Gunshot residue testing isn't 100 percent reliable, Aaron said, but once the tests return, conclusions may be able to be reached.

Police Department aware of Internet postings eluding to McNair's death prior to the death. Keith Norfleet, Kazemi's ex-boyfriend, has not been named a suspect.

There was a period of time between when other people entered the apartment and the police department arrived.

"We are concerned" about the time elapse between when the bodies were discovered and 911 was called, said Aaron, who said the time elapse could be 40 minutes or longer. Police don't believe the bodies were moved.

Detectives have an idea of how the gunshots happened but can't discuss it now.

"It may be that we'll never know exactly why this happened," Aaron said.
WKRN-TV's (ABC affiliate) aite has this nugget:
In an interview Monday, Dr. Bruce Levy, Chief Medical Examiner for the state of Tennessee and Davidson County, told News 2 of the four gunshot wounds McNair sustained, one, to the head, was at close range, or within inches of his body.

He said the other three, a second to the head and two to the chest, were shot from a distance of three feet or greater.

Dr. Levy said Kazemi died of a single contact gunshot wound to the head, which he said means the barrel of the gun was in contact with her skin.

He said while the evidence is consistent with suicide, it is still too early to classify Kazemi's death.
The facts about McNair's wounds make trying to sequence those shots all the more important. Also, in police speak, saying that Kazemi's wounds were "consistent with suicide" does not mean that they have decided she committed suicide. But it does sound like they are leaning that way.

5:50 p.m.: Just now Brian Williams said on NBC News that Nashville police have confirmed that Saleh bought the gun used in the shootings. No surprise that Brian got it wrong. The police have said that Saleh bought the gun found under her body, but have not actually said that the same gun fired the fatal shots. As I wrote yesterday, that determination is made by technical ballistics lab testing, of which Aaron said results are not in yet.


Police: Kazemi bought pistol

McNair-Kazemi deaths not yet ruled murder suicide

NFL quarterback Steve McNair shot to death

Hey, buddy, can you spare $3,000,000?


marine2651 said...

I like your analysis and have a scenario I would like your opinion on. First off, let me state for the record I am a huge McNair fan before I offer this scenario.
McNair SHOOTS girl in head while intoxicated, then shoots himself in the head (the one close shot)sitting on couch after he realizes what he did. (gun is next to mcnair) Friend finds bodies in AM and calls for help. Another friend who has powerful friends gives advice. Wipe gun then someone shoots McNair 3 more times from distance of 3 feet while putting gun in dead girls hand. Gun is placed under girl's body. McNair's hands are wiped with agent to clean gun residue. 911 call placed...therefore steve's name stays intact...plausible?

Donald Sensing said...

Well, it's certainly original. However:

The conspirators would be risking multiple felony offenses, including accessory after the fact of Kazemi's murder, abuse of a corpse and making false statements under oath.

Why shoot McNair three more times? Just once would do. I think your scenario would also run afoul of blood-pattern analysis, too,.

If Mcnair's hands were cleaned by someone else, that could be discovered by pathologists or chemical tests. Also, residue doesn't just get on the hands - it gets on arms, hair, clothes, too, in lesser amounts to be sure, but still there.

(I am guessing that they did residue testing on McNair's hands just as a matter of course, though.)

In fact, the presense of residue on your person does not mean that you fired a gun. It means that you were reasonably near a gun when it was fired. Residue evidence is mostly negative in character - it's lack means you weren't near a firing gun, but its presence doesn't prove that you fired it.

That's where cleaning McNair's hands breaks down. If residue is shown to be on his arms, face, clothing, etc, but not his hands, that's a big red flag right there.

Anonymous said...

I start teaching HS Forensic science in the fall and am trying to think of things my students will think of. I had heard somewhere during the extensive news coverage of this that he was shot once in the head, then the two to the chest and finally in the head again. How would they know it happened in this order? Does it go back to your #2 one head shot bled alot and then the 2nd and 3rd to the chest were the fatal's and the final head shot just leaked?

Donald Sensing said...

That would be my guess, yes.

Anonymous said...

First, thank you for posting intelligent comments about this sad event. I don't believe this young woman killed anyone. It's not consistent with the description given of her by friends, family, and her boyfriend of 4 years. She is described as sweet, gentle, very intelligent, good hearted, and fiercely independent. Also, she was known as a hard working woman, who sometimes had as many as 3 jobs at one time. Evidently McNair recognized these same traits and was attracted by them. He even said he liked the fact that she wanted to spend her own money. Someone like this is not going to kill herself because she can't make two car payments, and her rent is going up because a roommate is moving out. Sahel Kazemi had experienced real hardship from an early age - loss of her mother, and then making her way here from Iran. People like this have already experienced the sometimes sharp edge of life, they are strong individuals - a little financial setback, and/or losing a relationship, doesn't drive them to murder/suicide.
It's interesting that Kazemi's brother is the one that told police she bought a gun, but what did she tell her brother as to why she bought a gun? Initially I was thinking that McNair was targeted over a bad business deal involving large sums of money that he couldn't repay. But seeing the quote from Eddie George, "that this was a professional hit", I'm now thinking maybe this was about unpaid gambling debts, and maybe George is subconsciously alluding to this. If this is true then maybe Kazemi had already been a witness to McNair being threatened, and is this why she bought the gun?
Some would argue that McNair was rich and could have paid off his debts, if he in fact had a gambling problem. But remember, it's not uncommon that many of these atheletes are broke not long after retirement, even though they may still appear to have the trappings of wealth.
That night I believe Kazemi was the first to arrive at the condo. The hit men were waiting and easily overpowered her. They then waited for McNair to arrive, and then put both McNair and Kazemi on the couch. The first shots were the two shots to the chest - this had a dual purpose - first to subdue McNair but not kill him, and secondly it allowed McNair to be conscious of the fact that he was going to die. Next they would have shot Kazemi, and McNair had to witness this. They then shot him once in the head. The other shot to the head was squeezed off from the gun being placed in Kazemi's hand. Remember, they could have used any gun and who would be able to say with certainty that it didn't come from one of the victims. Also, being professionals they would likely have used silencers, and this is why no one heard anything.
I hope you continue to post on this subject. Also, it will be interesting that if in the future anything unusual is revealed about the finances of Steve McNair at the time of his death.

Donald Sensing said...

The only problem is, of course, that there is absolutely no evidence to support your highly imaginative notion.

You've set up a huge straw man imagining circumstances where someone might want to assassinate McNair, but that's all you've done, sorry.

Anonymous said...

Admittedly, I've imagined quite a bit, but in many ways it's no more of a stretch than to assume a young woman commits murder/suicide over a 5 month relationship that has supposedly gone bad, and a small amount of money. Especially when her family and close friends describe her as someone who is incapable of this.
I would like to know the following:
1)Why Miss Kazemi, who is planning a murder/suicide, tells her brother she bought a gun. If you are planning something like this you are unlikely to tell anyone, much less your brother. I wonder what his response was, and her answer??
2)The media is to involved in wanting to shape the direction of a story, as opposed to reporting the facts. To paraphrase one of their headlines, "McNair Was Angry With His Young Mistress".The story that followed related how McNair refused to come and speak with Miss Kazemi as she sat in the back of a Police cruiser the night she was arrested and given a DUI. From this it was inferred that he was upset with her behavior, and this somehow created heightened tension about their relationship. The reality is McNair wouldn't come back to speak with her because the officer was the same one that arrested him on a DUI 2 years earlier. This conversation is on a youtube video, and you are able to hear McNair and Miss Kazemi because the officer put her cell on speaker when she answered the call. The story about McNair being angry over her DUI is a total fabrication.
3) Keith Norfleet, who was Miss Kazemi's boyfriend for four years, and who probably knew her better than anyone, gave an interview in which he said a number of things - "she was the sweetest person", "she was fiercely independent", and that she had come to his apartment early that morning, but he wasn't able to answer the door in time. Perhaps most telling, was at the end of that interview he says, "she was about to break it off with McNair" Well if that's true then she certainly didn't commit this act. Again, the press is to interested in shaping the outcome of this story to do a full follow up to Norfleets last statement, and if they did they didn't bother to publish it.
Finally, here is a link to an article written this past March for Sports Illustrated. In it the author reveals that 78% of NFL players are bankrupt or almost broke, 2 years after their retirement! The financial stress naturally harms their marriage, which often ends in divorce

So that's 8 out of 10 players are broke 2 years after they stop playing football. Do you really think McNair beat those odds? If he didn't, and he compounded the situation with loans, bad business deals, or gambling debts, then it could easily follow that some vicious people got tired of waiting for their money