Mathematical Reasons Nikki’s Death Was Murder
I’ll be honest here. This promoted comment to a post by Logical Minded Engineer is WAY above my head! If you’ve ever wondered why paying attention in math class was important, read on. He makes some great points. As always, thanks LME for your insightful comments.
Math = Murder!
The lack of a competent crime scene investigation, followed by a rush to judgment by investigators (i.e. suicide), bothers me immensely. I’m not associated with law enforcement in any way and have no credentials to assess a crime scene, but I have thoroughly investigated industrial failures and crunch a lot of numbers in my day job. Consequently, I wanted to see if an indirect numerical (spatial) analysis of the crime scene might shed some light on the night Nikki died. I will share my observations for discussion, but welcome rebuttals and criticism.
To perform a numerical (spatial) analysis of the crime scene, numbers are needed. Unfortunately, the police reports are devoid of measurement and the crime scene photos lack intentional references. This, however, does not mean the analysis is doomed. We have references in the photos of known height. We know, for example, that Nikki was approximately 5’-7” (67 inches) tall. We know her inseam was around 30-32”. We see a guard rail on the balcony, and know the building codes would mandate this be around 3.5 ft tall (42 inches) for a multi-family dwelling. We also know that a 4” spacing between the vertical bars in the metal guard rail is not atypical (and roughly coincides with the distance between Nikki’s ear and temple, as she is seen leaning against them). Once these reference measurements are established, we cross-check them against each other using simple scaling and redundancy (using multiple crime scene photographs taken at different angles). Have performed the above, the measurement provided above appear to be consistent and sensible.
Next, we use the assumed knowns, to establish unknowns. For example, the distance from the balcony guard rail or fencing (next to which Nikki is slumped), to the near edge of the metal door frame of the sliding glass patio door is approximately 3.5 ft (42 inches). If we assumed Nikki was sitting upright in the stool, her chin would be fairly consistent with the height of the guard rail. In the crime scene photos, one of Nikki’s shoulders is adjacent to the guard rail and another is resting on the apartment wall. The shoulder at the guard rail is approximately 10-12” forward of the apartment wall (i.e. equal to the spacing of 2-1/2 vertical fencing rungs). We can assume, a woman of Nikki’s height and weight would have a shoulder to shoulder separation of approximately 18 inches. Sitting upright, her head would be at center (9 inch mark), with 3” to either side of centerline (i.e. as an average human skull is 6” wide). Given these measurements, we can infer that Nikki’s upper and lower torso were angled around 35 degrees away from the apartment wall [=arcsin(11/18)]. After the bullet passed through her brain (immediate death), she would not have been able to cognitively change positions.
Studying the crime scene photos, and again using inferred reference points, it appears the separation between the entry wound at the temple and the distance to the ear is approximately 3.5 inches (I’ll be non-conservative in this estimate, just to prove a point . . . later). Although the exit wound is not shown in the photographs (too small and resilient skin returned to shape and hid it), I believe it was described in a private autopsy report as being just above and to the rear of the left ear. I’m inferring from this that the exit wound was below the height of the temple, approximately 1-1/4 inches. I believed the bullet followed a straight line path from entry to exit, as the exit wound was hardly identifiable (demonstrating that the bullet was not tumbling, but continued to pierce at exit), Using the above values with the assumption of a 6” wide skull, we find that the gun would have been held at an angle of 30 degrees to Nikki’s head (horizontal plane) [=arctan (3.5/6)], and an angle of up to 12 degrees (vertical plane) [=arctan (1.25/6)], tilting slightly downward.
After exiting Nikki, the bullet was reported to have traveled into the condo wall and then ricocheted off of the metal door frame (this damage not evident in the crime scene photos, but reported by investigators). Assuming Nikki was sitting upright (and using geometry), her head would have been approximately 5-8” from the metal guard rail and very close (i.e. 5” or less) to the condo wall. If we assume the bullet traveled 37 inches and hit the wall at or near the metal door frame, the angle it would be traveling (with respect to the condo wall) would have been around 8 degrees [=arctan(5/37)]. Let’s say it hit the wall 16 inches before the door frame (i.e. changing direction after hitting the preceding wall stud and traveling through the insulation to ricochet off the metal door frame). Then, the angle the bullet would have had to travel (with respect to the condo wall) is 13 degrees [=arctan(5/21)].
We have got a serious problem here! Nikki’s body was positioned 35 degree toward the condo wall, and then the gun brought to her head was further positioned another 30 degrees (additive). The bullet should have struck the condo wall at a cumulative 65 degree angle, provided Nikki was facing directly forward. How does the bullet arrive where it was reported to have impacted the building and ricocheted?! Nikki would have to have turned her head sharply(greater than 50 degrees) toward the metal guard rail (fence) before firing the fatal shot.
Let’s recap everything just learned above and apply it to the suicide scenario. First, Nikki would have had to hold the gun at an awkward 30 degree angle to the side of her head (wrist bent forward, with the gun tilted slightly downward by around 10 degrees (even more awkward). Keep in mind that the gun has a 3.5” barrel length and her hand would be this distance away. Keep in mind that the gun used was a double action only gun (DAO), with a reported notoriously long and heavy trigger pull. Keep in mind that Nikki would have to have done this with her head turned more than 50 degrees to the right. Get a protractor and try to mimic these angles . . . they are uncomfortable (un-natural) and would have made pulling the trigger difficult at best! Did you try it?! Where was your right elbow? That’s right, it was extended all the way outward (particularly to achieve the 10 degree downward tilt). Nikki didn’t have the freedom of movement to do this, her arm motion was restricted by the adjacent metal guard rail. Even if she positioned her elbow between the 4” spaced metal rungs, it would only have bought another approx. 2” of space. She needed far more to perform this maneuver comfortably (again, the gun barrel length itself was 3.5”). OK – even with Nikki’s space restrictions, I can still force my hand and head into the position required to create the “evidence” later reported. – though, it’s an uncomfortable veritable act of contortion. So – this begs the question, why would Nikki choose to end her life this way – in a difficult, uncomfortable manner, if she was the only person on the balcony, and, therefore, would have had other less taxing viable alternatives. I would argue that she didn’t. This isn’t logical. Some could argue that Nikki could have leaned forward or to the side to provide the space needed to make suicide easier. However, I do not believe this was the case, otherwise, I believe Nikki would have lost balance after the gunshot and fell to the floor. Nikki was not found in this position.
When I reflect on this, I also recall reviewing the position Nikki was seated in while sitting on the balcony stool. It was not a natural position that one would be comfortable in for any length of time. Instead of centering herself in the chair, with the wicker backing pressing against the whole of her back, she elected to place the weight of her back partially against small diameter ornamental metal bars that appear to serve as arm rests. She also rested the weight of her right knee on a table corner. (and also possibly partially on the metal guard rail rungs). None of this appears natural – particularly for a person seeking final comfort and rest in death.
Let’s consider the spatial analysis again, but this time assume that Nikki was murdered in cold blood. As a murderer has not been arrested, tried, and convicted, in this case, I’ll simply refer to a fictitious killer for this illustration using the designator “PJ” for Pathetic Jackass (and assume he’s right handed). If PJ confronted Nikki on the balcony, she would naturally cower into the corner, distancing herself as far as she could. I believe PJ approached Nikki and pushed her head against the condo wall (pinning it with his dominant hand). The right hand would also prevent her from moving left (her only escape route). With the left hand he pushed the gun tight against her head, because he knew that with the tight contact, the sound of the gun blast would be further silenced (lessening the chance of waking Zack or the neighbors). If we look at the angle of contact à 30 degrees – horizontal plane / 12 degrees – vertical plane (tilted downward), this is a VERY natural position to hold a gun to someone’s head when you’re facing them and leaning above them. With his stance above the victim, PJ’s arm motion would not be encumbered by the metal guard rail. I believe Nikki tried desperately to save her life (her son was sleeping only a short distance away). She braced her right knee against the metal rungs of the guard rail to try to gain leverage to push away. When PJ placed the gun against the right side of Nikki’s head, I believe Nikki turned her head to the right to observe it and break the contact (this is a natural reaction), while attempting to push away with her right knee.
So – why is it that the MS State Authorities continue to try to rationalize the absurd and improbable? Attorney General Jim Hood – we’re waiting for an answer! Remove suicide as the cause of death from Nikki’s death certificate now (even if you don’t feel you yet have enough evidence to arrest a murderer). This vibrant and loving mother was an innocent victim, not a hapless criminal as your expedient and unfounded suicide ruling denotes!
In a future post, I’d like to comment on the blood evidence shown in the crime scene photos – it troubles me as well (suggesting possible tampering with the victim’s body after death). Till then . .
Posted on November 29, 2011, in Cold Cases, Crime, Murder, Nikki LaDue January and tagged Cold Cases, Gary Hargrove, Mississippi, Murder, Nikki LaDue January, Pass Christian, Phil January, Suicide, Thomas Pustay. Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.