StGdCase for Coroner

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                            ISSUE 32 AUSTRALIAN SCREEN EDUCATION
                                           A   Case for the Coroner is a six-part documentary that could serve as a springboard to discus-
                                               sion on death and the grieving process, forensic science, different court systems in Austral-
                                                              ia, families and family breakdown and the relationship between science and
                                                                     the law. Specific episodes deal with issues such as the Bali bombing,
                                                                          drug use by young people, young children and accidents at home,
                                                                            the homeless, and the elderly in nursing homes.

                                                                                                               It would be suitable for teachers of
                                                                                                               middle to senior secondary students
                                                                                                               in English, SOSE, Science, Media and
                                                                                 above: Glebe Morgue below     Legal Studies.
                                                                                 and previous page: Dr Jo
                                                                                 Duflou, Duty Pathologist at   A Case for the Coroner
                                                                                 Glebe Morgue                  Episode Summaries

                                                                                                               Episode One – Bali Bombings

                                                                                                               On 12 October 2002 terrorist bombs
                                                                                                               rip through the Sari nightclub in Bali,
                                                                                                               leaving over 200 people dead. As the

                                                                                                               tragedy hits home in Australia, it’s clear
                                                                                                               that the task of identifying the victims is
                                                                                                               fraught with problems. Bodies are piling
                                                                                                               up in the makeshift morgue in Denpasar,
                                                                                                               rapidly deteriorating in the thirty degree
                                                                                                               heat. NSW State Coroner, John Aber-
                                                                                                               nethy prepares for a crisis, while his
                                                                                                               team gears up for a potential influx of
                                                                                                               unidentified bodies.

2                                                                                                              For the relatives of the dead, the proc-
                                                                                                           above: Glebe Morgue

ess of victim identification seems like      difficulties she faced because of her         hands down his finding, which allows
a sea of red tape; the instrument of an      addiction, and how she came to die            Amber’s mother Gwen some closure
uncaring bureaucracy. Former rugby           suddenly after appearing to be getting        about her loss.
league player Craig Salvatori thinks he      her life together.
has identified his wife Kathy from a pho-                                                  Episode Four – Cale Pridmore
tograph. But the Coroner maintains that      Episode Three – Amber Stewart                 and Matthew Wendt
even loved ones can get it wrong, and        (Part 2)
that without forensic checks mistakes                                                      The decomposed body of a young man
are made all too often.                      It’s Day Three of the inquest into the        lies unidentified in the cool room of the
                                             heroin death of 14-year-old Amber             Glebe Morgue. A toddler is found dead
Episode Two – Amber Stewart                  Stewart. NSW State Coroner John Ab-           on the bathroom floor of his family
(Part 1)                                     ernethy is hearing evidence from the last     home. Both cases call for the Coroner
                                             man to see her alive, flatmate Mark Or-       to provide answers.
In March 2000, Amber Stewart died            mond, who says he ‘freaked out’ when
of a heroin overdose at the age of           he found her dead and failed to call an       Each year, the Coroner investigates over
fourteen, one of Australia’s youngest        ambulance until hours later.                  130 cases involving children. Cale Prid-
heroin deaths. Eighteen months later,                                                      more’s body was found on the bathroom
NSW State Coroner John Abernethy is          There’s fresh evidence about why Amber        floor near a power cord, but the autopsy
holding a week-long inquest in the New       left home, due to a violent incident with     shows no sign of electrocution. Head
England town of Armidale.                    her step-father; and how the DOCS de-         injury, drowning and asphyxia are all
                                             cided she could not return home, even         ruled out … so what killed Cale?
                                                                                                                                       ISSUE 32 AUSTRALIAN SCREEN EDUCATION

The Coroner hears evidence from Am-          though her mother believes she should
ber’s friends and relatives about the        have been ordered to. The Coroner             Meanwhile, the unknown male has been

  coroner                         inquest                   pathology                    post mortem             morgue

  autopsy                         forensic                  adversarial                  inquisitive             DNA

  coronial investigation          corpse                    death certificate
                                                                                                                           chart 1
                                                                                                                           occurred during the eviction.

                                                                                                                           Episode Six – Noreen Waldron

                                                                                                                           78-year-old Noreen Waldron was the life
                                                                                                                           of the party at the Allara Nursing Home
                                                                                                                           where she lived. Her death in February
                                                                                                                           2000 would not normally have looked
                                                                                                                           suspicious. But in a five week period,
                                                                                                                           fifteen other people have died at the
                                           top-bottom: NSW State Coroner         identified by a tattoo on his arm. Mat-   same nursing home. When the media
                                           John Abernethy at Waldron inquest •   thew Wendt was a young, successful        gets hold of the story, questions are
                                           Production crew (L-R) Graham Wyse     IT expert, much loved by family and       raised about the possibility of a serial
                                           (Sound), Ian Walker (Second Unit
                                                                                 friends. So how did he meet his lonely    killer preying on the elderly.
                                           Director/Research), Pieter de Vries
                                                                                 end behind a dumpster in an industrial
                                           (Camera), Paul Warren (Camera),
                                           Hugh Piper (Director) • Sgt Don       wasteland?                                Mrs Waldron’s case has the Coroner
                                           McLennon and Det. Snr Cst. Michael                                              and his investigators puzzled. She was
                                           O’Rourke at Waldron inquest           Episode Five – Robert Wintle              found with toxic levels of the drug qui-
                                                                                                                           nine in her blood. But how did she over-
                                                                                 A detailed look at the operation of the   dose? Was it an accident? Could she
                                                                                 Glebe Morgue in Sydney and the work       have taken her own life, or been mur-
                                                                                 of the Coroner’s team of pathologists     dered? As the investigation unfolds, it’s

                                                                                 as they conduct an autopsy on Robert      clear forensic tests can’t always provide
                                                                                 Wintle.                                   the answers. In a job full of mysteries,
                                                                                                                           it’s one of the most baffling and intrigu-
                                                                                 Mr Wintle was found dead in a park in     ing cases the Coroner has heard.
                                                                                 the South Coast fishing town of Ber-
                                                                                 magui. The previous day, he had been      Before you watch the
                                                                                 evicted from his Housing Commission       documentary:
                                                                                 flat with the help of local police. The
                                                                                 coroner must decide whether to hold       1. The title sequence for each program
                                                                                 an inquest when the autopsy reveals       shows a number of words. They are
4                                                                                Mr Wintle’s heart attack might have       listed in chart 1, along with others
mentioned in the programs. How many                                                     is not so much the cause of death, but
do you know the meaning of? Discuss                                                     who it is who died. Forensic scientists
the meanings with your teacher or your                                                  who work with the coroner often have
classmates. Do any of these words have                                                  to establish the identity of a body. Such
the same meaning as each other?                                                         was the case in the Bali bombings (Epi-
                                                                                        sode one) and also the death of Mat-
2. The coroner deals with unexpected                                                    thew Wendt (Episode four).
death. Discuss the following with your
classmates:                                                                             Fingerprints

a) What does death mean to you?             both above: NSW State Coroner John          There are four main types of finger-
                                            Abernethy at Waldron inquest
b) What do you think an ‘unexpected’                                                    prints: the arch, the whorl, the loop
   death means?                                                                         and composite. However, everyone in
c) The death of a family member, a             why someone died?                        the world has a unique set of finger-
   friend or a pet. How did you feel        b) Why is it important to know the          prints. There are no two identical sets
   at the time? How do you feel now?           identity of a body?                      of fingerprints. Even identical twins have
   How did others react to the same         c) How do you feel about autopsies?         different fingerprints. Your fingerprints
   death?                                      How would you feel if a close family     begin to develop about five months be-
d) Have you been to a funeral? Discuss         member required an autopsy?              fore you are born. Your fingers and toes
   different types of funerals. Were they                                               begin as stumps with bumps. As they
   positive or negative experiences?        After you watch the                         grow, ridges and valleys form around
e) Does your family talk easily about       documentary:                                the bumps. These ridges and valleys
                                                                                                                                     ISSUE 32 AUSTRALIAN SCREEN EDUCATION

   death or is it a difficult subject? Do                                               become fingerprints. Throughout the
   you think different cultures are more    Identification                              1900s fingerprints were used as the
   or less open when talking about                                                      most reliable form of identification.
   death?                                   Determining the cause of unexplained
                                            death is the coroner’s main function. It    An American gangster, John Dillinger,
3. Many issues are raised in the docu-      is an ancient office dating back 1000       went to amazing lengths to try to re-
mentary. Look at the list of questions      years, and reflects our society’s demand    move his fingerprints. He tried to burn
and discuss your feelings and opinions      for an explanation to the mysterious, the   them off with acid but they had grown
with your classmates.                       unnatural and the unexpected.               back by the time he was caught.

a) Why is it important to know how or       Often the mystery surrounding a death                                                                                      5
                                           Activity: Test your fingerprints.             Which works best – light or dark finger-              obvious, like whether you are likely to
                                                                                         print powder?                                         go bald, or get diabetes later in life, or if
                                           If you dip your fingers in paint or your                                                            you might pass on an inherited disease
                                           hands are dirty, you make visible finger-     CAUTION: The graphite powder may                      to your children. Your fingerprints don’t
                                           prints. If you hands are clean, the oils      stain fabric and carpet. Use with care                contain any information like this.
                                           and bacteria on your skin still leave a       and wipe up after use.
                                           fingerprint. These fingerprints are almost                                                          Only the tiniest sample—a single cell or
                                           invisible and are called latent prints.       Find out more about fingerprints at:                  even just the sweat from a fingerprint—
                                           They are revealed by dusting with a           Dr Karl’s great moments on the ABC                    is needed to make a DNA profile. You
                                           fine powder. Fingerprint powder may be                     shed between 30 000 and 40 000 skin
                                           white, black or grey and in some cases        moments/s282734.htm                                   cells every minute. The cells that you
                                           in fluorescent colours. Different colours                                                           shed from the inside of your cheeks
                                           are used to provide the best contrast on      CrimTrac Agency                                       get trapped in your saliva. You also lose
                                           different coloured surfaces.                  h t t p : / / w w w. c r i m t r a c . g o v. a u /   about seventy hairs every day. These
                                                                                         fingerprints.htm                                      can get trapped in your hairbrush. This is
                                           What you need:                                                                                      why tooth brushes and hair brushes are
                                                                                         Discussion: Fingerprints and privacy                  valuable sources of a person’s DNA.
                                           An ink pad
                                           A sheet of white paper                        It is not possible to identify someone                Activity: DNA Extraction
                                           Graphite powder (black)                       from their fingerprints unless a copy of
                                           Talcum powder (white)                         their fingerprints is available for compar-           It is possible to extract DNA fairly eas-
                                           An empty film canister                        ison. The fingerprints could be obtained              ily from plant material. The web sites
                                           Teaspoon measures                             from fingerprint records or, if these are             listed below give instructions that
                                           A soft paint brush                            not available, it might be possible to find           would be suitable for upper secondary
                                                                                         something that the person has touched                 students .
                                           What you do:                                  and lift fingerprints for comparison. In
                                                                                         many countries, only known criminals                  Find out how to extract DNA from kiwi
                                           Firstly, make a copy of your own finger-      or criminal suspects have their finger-               fruit at:
                                           prints by rolling one finger at a time onto   prints taken by the police and kept on                ti/human_body/dna.html
                                           the ink pad, then gently pressing it onto     record. In other countries anyone joining             and from onions at:
                                           the white paper. Label each fingerprint       the Armed forces or Public Service has                helix/experiments/dhexpdna.html
                                           as you go. If you press too hard the fin-     their fingerprints taken. Some people
                                           gerprint lines will not be clear. Identify    believe that the whole population should              CrimTrac Agency
                                           each fingerprint as a loop, whorl, arch       be fingerprinted!                           
                                           or composite. You can find images of
                                           these by going to the following web site      Do you think the government should                    Samples of DNA can be used to identify
                                           and choosing the Forensic science PD          keep fingerprints of everyone for easy                bodies. To do this, they often take DNA
                                           booklet:                                      identification at a later time? Whose                 from close relatives to make a match. In
                                              fingerprints should be kept?                          doing so, the DNA sample may reveal
                                           whodunit_.html                                                                                      other information about them—including
                                                                                         Who should have access to fingerprint                 things that they may not know, such as
                                           Fingerprint other friends or family           records?                                              sensitive information about their health.
                                           members.                                                                                            This information could be kept on file for
                                                                                         When would fingerprints be of little use              the rest of their lives.
                                           Next, make your fingerprint powder.           in identification of a body?
                                           Carefully place a quarter of a level                                                                Discussion: DNA and privacy
                                           teaspoon of graphite powder and half          DNA
                                           a level teaspoon of talcum powder into                                                              Imagine if your parents read your private
                                           the film canister. Put the lid on and gen-    Who’d have thought you’d be identifying               diary and then told everyone what was

                                           tly shake to mix.                             my daughter by the spit in my mouth.                  written there. DNA is a bit like a diary of
                                                                                            The mother of a Bali bombing victim                all your characteristics.
                                           Try to find your own fingerprints on a
                                           surface that you or your friends or fam-      Except for identical twins, no two people             Would you want the police to know sen-
                                           ily have touched recently. To dust for        have the same DNA. So DNA can be                      sitive information about your health?
                                           fingerprints, dip the paint brush into the    used to identify people. Unlike finger-
                                           powder and gently dust over a smooth          prints, DNA contains all the information              Would you want them to tell you if they
                                           surface, such as glass or a mirror. Can       that makes you who you are. In your                   found out you were likely to get a dis-
                                           you identify whose fingerprints they are?     DNA there are genes that code for obvi-               ease in later life?
                                           Try altering the colour of your fingerprint   ous characteristics, like hair colour, eye
6                                          powder by changing the proportions of
                                           the talcum powder and graphite powder.
                                                                                         colour and your blood type. Your DNA
                                                                                         also contains information that is not so
                                                                                                                                               Would you want your information kept
                                                                                                                                               on file?
How private should your DNA be?                that you prefer not to know.                These include:
Profiling the population                       The laws are not good enough to stop        Forensic dentists
                                               people using your information.              Forensic pathologists
A DNA profile is like a ‘fingerprint’ of                                                   Forensic counsellors
your DNA. A small sample of DNA is             Other people believe that DNA profiles      Entomologists
treated in a special way to make a sort        should only be taken from some people,      Dactylographers
of bar code pattern that is unique. Some       such as suspects or people who have         Forensic photographers
people believe that everyone in the            committed crimes in the past. They also     Police
population should be profiled. A huge          think that the laws should be changed
file of everyone’s DNA could be kept,          to control the use of genetic information   Find out about each of these profes-
and every time a crime is committed or         and to protect people’s privacy.            sions. What is their role in the coronial
an unidentified body is found, the file                                                    process?
could be checked to show exactly who           What is your opinion?
was involved.                                                                              What sort of training is required for each
                                               What new laws about DNA profiles            profession? How important is each pro-
Making a DNA profile is much more time         should there be?                            fession in the process of determining the
consuming and expensive than taking                                                        cause of death or identifying bodies?
a set of fingerprints. Some people think       Who should have their DNA profile
it would be a waste of money to test           taken?                                      The legal process
everybody—especially people who
have never committed crimes and are            Should the government know the infor-       Each State and Territory has its own Act,
law-abiding citizens.                          mation stored in everybody’s DNA?           which governs the powers and duties of
                                                                                           the Coroner. So the specific duties and
The DNA profiling debate                       Privacy laws and DNA                        responsibilities of the Coroner will vary
                                                                                           in each state.
DNA profiling is a very useful tool to help    Privacy commissions have been set up
solve crimes, but a DNA profile can re-        by the Commonwealth government and          We are not bound by the rules of evi-
veal private information about you that        state governments. The role of these or-    dence; we can proceed in basically any
you might not want to know.                    ganizations is to protect the privacy of    way we wish, provided we don’t trample
                                               your personal information. They set out     on rights such as the rights to procedural
Arguments for profiling                        rules that govern what information can      fairness. In fact, through hearing for ex-
                                               be collected, what the information can      ample, hearsay evidence, you might be
Many people believe that DNA profiles          be used for, how information is stored      able to back track to get to the direct
should be taken of the whole population        safely, who can get access to the infor-    evidence. It’s an inquisition as opposed
because:                                       mation and so on. The type of personal      to adversarial systems where the tribu-
                                               information mentioned in privacy laws       nal, be it the judge and/or jury, is merely
It is the only way to identify someone         includes name, address, sex, age, finan-    the umpire. This is my inquisition—the
positively when there are no fingerprints      cial details, marital status, education,    coroner’s inquisition.
at the scene of a crime.                       criminal record or employment history.      John Abernethy
                                               The laws do not specifically mention
It will act as a deterrent for people think-   DNA profiles, because DNS profiling         Activity: Compare the Coroner’s
ing about committing crimes.                   is such a new science. The Australian       Court in two different states
                                               Law Reform Commission has set up
It may help to solve past unsolved             an enquiry called Essentially yours: The    Go to the web site of the Monash Uni-
crimes.                                        protection of Human Genetic Informa-        versity National Centre for Coronial In-
                                               tion in Australia. Its purpose is to sug-   formation which provides an overview of
It might tell you information about your       gest changes to the laws to ensure the      the different state based coronial courts,
health that you can act on—that you            privacy of our genetic information.         with links to each state:
                                                                                                                                         ISSUE 32 AUSTRALIAN SCREEN EDUCATION

want to know.                                                                    
                                               For an outline of the enquiry’s             Background/australi.htm
Arguments against profiling                    key recommendations go to http:
                                               //               Look up the details of the coroner’s
Other people feel strongly that DNA            mr2905.htm                                  court in your state and one other state.
profiles should not be taken from the
whole population because:                      Forensic workers                            Whereabouts in the legal system does
                                                                                           the coroner’s court fit in each state?
It is very expensive.                          A number of different professionals work
                                               to identify bodies and to determine the     What constitutes a ‘Reportable death’
It is an invasion of personal privacy.         cause of death.                             in each state?                                                                  7
It may tell you information about yourself                                                 List any other differences you can find in
                                           the role of the coroner in each state.       What does mourning mean? How impor-                    and determining cause of death.
                                                                                        tant do you think mourning is?
                                           Activity/Discussion: Adversarial                                                                    Do you think that the TV drama paints an
                                           system and inquisitorial system              What is the purpose of a funeral? Do you               unrealistic picture of the coronial proc-
                                                                                        think it is part of the grieving process?              ess? Would you line up to take a guided
                                           Which system does the Coroner’s Court                                                               tour of the morgue?
                                           use to solve the mystery of an unex-         What is a wake? Do you think it is part
                                           plained death?                               of the grieving process?                               Web sites:

                                           What are the advantages and disadvan-        Activity/discussion: Mourning in                       NSW Coroners court:
                                           tages of the adversarial system?             different cultures                           
                                           What are the advantages and disadvan-        The Australian Museum in Sydney has
                                           tages of the inquisitorial system?           developed an exhibition and associ-                    The web site of the Monash University
                                                                                        ated web site called ‘Death—the last                   National Centre for Coronial Information
                                           Grieving and closure                         taboo’.                                                provides an overview of the different
                                                                                                                                               state-based coronial courts with links
                                           Any society demands an answer to the         If you go to the section about mourning                to each state:
                                           mysterious, unnatural and unexpected.        it outlines how different cultures mourn     
                                           In many of the episodes in this series       their dead. It is at:                                  Background/australi.htm
                                           there is talk of closure and the grieving    h t t p : / / w w w. d e a t h o n l i n e . n e t /
                                           process.                                     remembering/mourning/index.cfm                         A downloadable booklet produced
                                                                                                                                               by the State Coroner’s Office and the
                                           Discussion: Closure                          Chose one or more of the different                     Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine
                                                                                        cultures and compare the mourning                      entitled ‘When a Person Dies—The
                                           What do you think closure means?             procedure with what would happen in                    Coroner’s Process’ can be obtained
                                                                                        your family. You may have to interview                 from:
                                           How do you think closure is achieved?        an older family member or friend.            
                                           In your opinion, how important is it to      Gruesome or entertaining?
                                           know how or when a loved one died?                                                                  ‘Death - the last taboo’ is an exhibition
                                                                                        One of the problems of most forensic                   produced by the Australian Museum in
                                           In your opinion, how important is it to      institutes and most places that deal with              Sydney. The web site explores (amongst
                                           see the remains of a loved one?              death is that western society tends not                other things) Autopsies, the Mourning
                                                                                        to like to talk about death, but they are              Process and the different ways that dif-
                                           Activity/Discussion: The grieving            somewhat titillated about it. I’m sure that            ferent cultures deal with death. Note that
                                           process                                      if we had guided tours of this place, there            some material on this web site may be
                                                                                        would be a line around the block.                      quite confronting for some students:
                                           Most people agree that there are stages        Dr Michael Rodriguez, Neuropathologist     
                                           in the grieving process. The number of
                                           stages vary in different references.         There have been many programs on TV                    Study Guide by Pennie Stoyles.
                                                                                        about solving unexplained deaths. Many
                                           Look up the ‘grieving process’ on the        have police or detectives as the central               This study guide was produced by ATOM.
                                           internet. Find three or four different       character, but in others, coroners and/or              For more information about ATOM study
                                           references.                                  forensic pathologists are also the central             guides or The Speakers’ Bureau visit our
                                                                                        character.                                             web site:
                                           For each reference list the different                                                               or email:
                                           stages of grieving.                          Discussion

                                           How are the stages different (or the         To what extent do you agree or disagree
                                           same) on the different web sites?            with the above quote?

                                           In what situations (other than the death     Do you think people have a morbid
                                           of a loved one) are you expected to go       fascination with death?                                A Case for the Coroner is available on
                                           through the grieving process?                                                                       video via mail order from:
                                                                                        Watch an episode of CSI, CSI – Miami,
                                           Do you think it is important for people to   Silent Witness, or Halifax f.p.                        ABC Video Program Sales
                                           understand the grieving process before                                                              GPO Box 9994 Sydney 2001
                                           they experience a serious loss?              Compare the ways in which the TV pro-                  Ph: 1300 650 587 Fx: 02 8333 3975
8                                          Activity/discussion: Grieving rituals
                                                                                        gram and A Case for the Coroner deals
                                                                                        with the process of identifying bodies

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