The conclusion is that death was violent and the victim died due to rapid exsanguination.
A soldier, aged 20, took automatic rifle loaded with blank cartridge, leaned it on his own chest and fired.
On autopsy, following findings were registered: on the shirt, in the level of the left pocket, there was a star-like defect on clothes, 30 mm in diameter. On the front-left side of the thoracic cage, below, inside, and diagonally from the left nipple, there was an oval wound, transversally set, measuring 16 × 12 mm, with rough, bruised, and blood-suffused edges and sides. The surrounding area, up to 7 mm in diameter, the skin was burnt, with erased drawing, seared, dark red colored. In the left half of thoracic cage, there was 700 mL of liquid and partly irresolutely coagulated blood. In the level of V intercostal space on the left side, there was a defect in intercostal muscles, left edge of sternum, and upper-inside part of the fifth rib joint, the dimensions of which on the surface were approximately the same as those of wound on the skin. On the defect edges, these structures showed blackish shade. Pericardium was completely lacerated as were the right ventricle, right auricle, and partly interventricular septum. Total sprain of V and VI rib joints to the sternum was also registered.
Pathohistological findings: there was a destruction of parts of the myocardium and recent hemorrhage in the tissue. On skin section sample taken from surroundings of the wound, recent hemorrhages and presence of foreign bodies in the cutis were registered.
The conclusion is that the death was violent, caused by destruction of the heart, which was the result of high mechanical pressure of gunpowder explosion while shooting blank cartridge using hand firearm weapon from absolute range.
Contrary to the public opinion, blank cartridge is dangerous weapon that may cause potentially fatal injuries when fired at a close range, especially to the head and the thorax.
Blank cartridge firearms demonstrate the characteristics of a missile when fired at close range. It can cause destruction of the skin and underlying structures including bones.1–7 This ammunition is available in several loads and caliber sizes. Ignition of a 9-mm load for revolver, for example, will lead to expansion of a pressure wave at 1200 to 1500 m/s, creating a gas volume of 950 mL/g for nitrocellulose and 280 mL/g for black powder. The explosion leads to a pressure of 100 to 200 bars at the muzzle of the handgun.8 For a barrel length of 105 mm, a 9-mm load can create a pressure of approximately 5, 3, and 1 bar at a distance of 3, 5, and 10 cm, respectively. The power density in such a case may be equivalent to 0.75, 0.27, and 0.1 J/mm2 at 0, 5, and 10 mm. A projectile has a theoretical capacity to penetrate human skin at minimum value of 0.1 J/mm2.9
The explosion temperature of nitrocellulose in a constant volume is 2500°C to 3000°C, which results in a temperature of approximately 1500°C at the muzzle, lasting for 0.1 to 0.5 milliseconds. The high temperatures of burning gas will cause formation of CO-hemoglobin, which is evident by bright red muscle tissue.1
There were rare descriptions in the available literature of the cases of injuries caused by blank cartridge ammunition that had lethal outcome. Most of the described cases were those of injuries caused by different types of gas weapons, weapons used for a sleeping and killing animals in slaughterhouses, etc.
There are also descriptions and studies of the cases of injuries caused by practice ammunition that has cork on the top cartridge case, which could be made of wood, cardboard, plastic mass, etc. Performing experimental shootings from rifle using blank cartridge with cork, and shooting from different ranges, Smith obtained following results: from 4-cm range cork passed through intercostal muscle into the pleural cavity, from 5 cm range, a 5 cm deep wound occurred, and from 50-cm range clothes were torn off and there were fleeces of the skin.10
Brinkmann (1990) presented a case of nonlethal injury caused by firing blank cartridge to supraclavicular pit from close range, when a wound of 5 mm in diameter occurred on the skin, and the damage of frontal tracheal wall in the body, which led to both-sided pneumothorax, pneumomediastinum, pneumoperitoneum, and subcutaneous emphysema of the thorax and abdominal wall.11
Considering relatively easy availability and insufficient precaution in use of this type of ammunition, frequent injuries are possible, which are proven to be far more serious than expected.12
At the moment of firing blank cartridge, gunpowder explosion occurs and creates striking wave. Because of the construction of cartridge case and weapon, it has a directed action, and enormous lifting power, which can heavily destroy materials on its way and can create specific channel passing through solid tissues. After shorter directed trip, part of striking waves concentrically spreads toward periphery, proportionally losing power after certain distance.
According to its characteristics, entrance wound caused by a blank cartridge is almost identical to entrance wound caused by conventional ammunition fired from absolute range. The difference is that skin defect is not caused by striking power of projectile, but exclusively tension created by gunpowder gases, which, like conventional ammunition, create other characteristics of entrance wound in cases of shooting from absolute range. The characteristics are as follows: relatively irregular shape of defect, with frequent presence of skin tear that originate from the edge of the wound, burns, and blackness of edges and initial part of wound channel, impressed and layered gunpowder particles and soot particles in initial part of wound channel, as well as absence of contusion ring and projectile erasure. Histological findings on skin material taken from the edges of such wounds are also nonspecific, because all the elements that are characteristic for conventional projectile shooting from close range can be seen (layered and impressed gunpowder and soot particles, coagulation necrosis of dermis, impressed parts of epidermis and hair, even erasure of parts of epidermis). Because of all that, differential diagnoses between this type of injury and injury caused by conventional ammunition fired from absolute range is very difficult, almost impossible.
In all 3 presented cases, the pressure wave had sufficient directed energy to perforate not only the skin, but also the bone below it (skull, rib) and deeper soft tissues and to create specific wound channel. In cases of absolute range shootings with conventional ammunition, the wound channel is wider toward the entrance hole, and described to have a shape of “truncated cone.” Specificity of the channel of the wound caused by blank cartridge is that the channel itself is wider than the entrance hole, and it also has a shape of truncated cone, only now its narrower part is toward the entrance hole. Apart from that, the destruction of the tissue that creates the wound channel is much heavier than in cases of use of the conventional ammunition, so the channel itself is more voluminous, and with no exception, without an exit hole, probably due to sudden loss of tension power of gases. Also, products of gunpowder explosion (soot and gunpowder particles) can be found along the whole wound channel.
1. Rothschild MA, Karger B, Strauch H, et al. Fatal wounds to the thorax caused by gunshots from blank cartridges. Int J Legal Med
2. Rothschild MA, Maxeiner H, Schneider V. Cases of death caused by gas or warning firearms. Med Law
3. Rabl W, Markwalder C. Gunshot injury caused by a training bullet. Arch Kriminol
4. Rabl W, Riepert T, Steinlechner M. Metal pins fired from unmodified blank cartridge guns and very small calibre weapons-technical and wound ballistic aspects. Int J Legal Med
5. Clarot F, Vaz E, Papin F, et al. Lethal head injury due to tear-gas cartridge gunshots. Forensic Sci Int
6. Puschel K, Kulle KJ, Koops E. Once again: risk of injury caused by blank pistols. Arch Kriminol
7. Milroy CM, Clark C, Carter N, et al. Air weapon fatalities. J Clin Pathol
8. Rothschild M. In: Berg S, Brinkmann B, eds. Freiverkäufliche Schreckschußwaffen, medizinische, rechtliche und kriminaltechnische Bewertung, Schmidt-Römhild, Lübeck; 1999.
9. Sellier KG, Kneubuehl BP. Wound Ballistics and Scientific Background
. Amsterdam, The Netherlands: Elsevier; 1994.
10. Ceramilac A. Opsta i Specijalna Patologija Mehanicke Traume
. Beograd: Zavod za udzbenike i nastavna sredstva; 1986.
11. Brinkmann M. Freie intraabdominelle Luft nach (isolierter) Trachea-Schusverletzung. Anaesthesist
Keywords:© 2009 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.
shot wounds; firearms; blank cartridges; gunpowder gases; entrance wound