RECORD OF INVESTIGATION INTO DEATH (Without Inquest)
Coroners Act 1995
Coroners Rules 2006
I, Robert Pearce, having investigated the death of the deceased
WITHOUT HOLDING AN INQUEST
These findings have been partially de-identified in relation to the name of the deceased by direction of the Coroner pursuant to S.57(1)(c) of Coroners Act 1995
(a) The identity of the deceased person, born February 1969, in Dilston Tasmania;
(b) The deceased died on 20 February 2012 at Dilston in Tasmania;
(c) The deceased’s death occurred as a result of injuries caused by a self inflicted gun shot wound to the head;
(d) No other person contributed to the cause of the deceased’s death.
1. The deceased was aged 43. Prior to his death he lived alone at Dilston.
2. On Monday 20 February 2012 the deceased’s younger brother, became concerned about his inability to contact the deceased. He went to his home. He found the deceased in his bedroom lying on the bed holding a rifle. There were wounds to his head and he was dead. The police were called.
3. One of the attending police officers, Constable Storay, described what he saw. He said the deceased was lying on his right side on the bed and appeared to be deceased. Held in his left hand was the muzzle of a Stirling Model 20, .22LR calibre rifle. Constable Storay later examined the rifle and found that it contained a single used .22LR casing in the breach. The deceased had his right hand up to his face. There was blood spatter on the bed and on the wall. Constable Storay noticed a gunshot wound underneath the deceased’s chin and “possibly a second wound to his left side of his face temple”. Constable Storay found a second spent casing on the carpet near the foot of the bed.
4. A post mortem examination was undertaken by Forensic Pathologist Doctor Terry Brain at the Launceston General Hospital. The examination disclosed two bullet entry wounds, one to the left temple and one under the left chin. The chin bullet track extends vertically through the pallet and into the brain, causing a considerable brain injury. The bullet path of the left temporal region extends into the left frontal lobe of the brain which was observed on examination to be swollen and bruised. There were small fragments of bone chips within the bullet tracks and some, but a very small volume, of metal present. There is a substantial skull fracture involving the left temporal region which extends for five to six centimetres.
5. Dr Brain observed “contact marks” as a semi-circle around both entry wounds.
6. The firearm was examined by First Class Constable Simon Taylor of the Ballistics section of Tasmania Police in Hobart. First Class Constable Taylor described the rifle as in working order. His standard safety tests revealed that the rifle is not prone to accidental discharge when handled in a normal manner and is fitted with an efficient safety catch.
7. The evidence of all of the attending police officers is to the effect that there is no physical or circumstantial evidence suggesting the involvement of any other person in the deceased’s death. In those circumstances, the principal issue for investigation is whether the presence of two gunshot wounds is inconsistent with both wounds having been inflicted by the deceased himself. I requested further investigation on that issue because it involves consideration of whether a person, having inflicted a gunshot wound involving entry of a point .22 calibre bullet into his brain, is capable of reloading the rifle and discharging it a second time.
8. Senior Constable Taylor indicated that the firearm was a bolt action repeating rifle. Cartridges are inserted and ejected by manually sliding the breech bolt forward and rearward along the axis of the bore. Once a cartridge is discharged the user must extract and eject the fired cartridge case by lifting the bolt handle upward and pulling it rearward. To reload the firearm the user must manually place a cartridge into the chamber, push the bolt forward and lock it into position by pushing the handle down. The safety catch during this operation will remain in the “fire” position and the firearm can then be discharged again. However the operation of unloading and loading the firearm is a relatively simple action and does not require much force or strength.
9. In Dr Brain’s opinion it is possible for a person to survive trauma to the frontal brain. That part of the brain possesses very little in the way of critical functions for life. On the other hand the brain stem, in this case seriously injured by the bullet path from the wound under the deceased’s chin, has critical functions for life including maintenance of blood pressure, diaphragmatic movement, breathing and normal heart functionality. Thus, according to Dr Brain, it is most likely that the under chin wound was the second wound inflicted and the cause of the deceased’s death.
10. Whether the deceased was capable of inflicting a second shot after a non-lethal first shot to the frontal lobe depends, according to Dr Brain, on the degree of trauma to the frontal lobe. In this case it was light to moderate. Dr Brain does point out however that it is nonetheless unusual that a person with such an injury is capable of the dexterity required to reload and refire a firearm.
11. All of the other circumstances strongly indicate that the deceased fired both shots himself and no other person was involved. He was found holding the gun. There is no evidence of the presence of another person. It was observed that there was blood on the fired cartridge case taken from the chamber of the rifle following its second discharge, consistent with the deceased handling that cartridge after having been already injured. The deceased’s brother, daughter, mother, friends and his former partner, provided statements to the police about the deceased’s relationship and financial difficulties. He had made comments in conversations and text messages in the period leading up to his death which disclosed a fragile emotional state and were consistent with having formed an intention to take his own life. There was no suicide note but the circumstances of his death satisfy me that his death could not have been accidental.
12. Thus, notwithstanding the presence of two gunshot wounds, I am comfortably satisfied on the basis of all of the evidence that the deceased discharged the gun twice and inflicted both wounds himself, the second of which caused fatal injury.
13. The firearm was never registered and the deceased held no firearms licence. Where the firearm came from has not been established.
14. Although with hindsight it is clear that the deceased formed an intention to take his own life it could not be suggested that his family and friends could have anticipated or done anything to prevent his actions.
Comments & Recommendations:
15. I have decided not to hold in inquest into the deceased’s death. The investigation has sufficiently disclosed the identity of the deceased person, the time, place, the relevant circumstances concerning his death and the particulars needed to register his death under the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act. I am satisfied that no other person contributed to the deceased’s death. I do not consider that an inquest is likely to elicit any further information concerning the issues that I am required to determine.
I convey my sincere condolences to the deceased’s family.
Dated: 8 day of May 2013 at Launceston in the State of Tasmania.