Tiffany Young-Hartley: A CSI Expert Comments On The Strange Physics Of Her Husband's Alleged Shooting

Categories: Crime

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CSI: Falcon Lake
​One of the things that has troubled us from the get-go about Tiffany Young-Hartley's accounts of the events on Falcon Lake has always been her initial description of the moment her husband was shot.

This is how she described that event to Greta van Susteren.

Hartley says they were headed back to Texas after taking pictures of Old Guerrero. Suddenly, some boats came out of nowhere and started shooting at them without preamble. (In other versions, she says she saw at least one of the boats previously and that its occupants had waved at them in a "very friendly" manner.) They took off at high speed, with Tiffany surmising that Hartley stayed behind her because he was heroically positioning himself between his wife and the shooter.

"So, as you are fleeing, bullets are flying, you look at your husband, is that right?" Van Susteren asked.

"Yes, I saw two shots hit next to me," Young-Hartley replied. "And I looked back at my husband, that's when I saw, that he was flying over the jet ski."

Wait a minute...This bullet was powerful enough to pick up all 250 pounds of David Hartley and lift him over the handlebars of the jet ski and then propel him through the air at a greater velocity than the watercraft? That spectacular scenario didn't seem likely outside of Miami Vice.

A local attorney advised that I take these misgivings to a blood-spatter expert, so an Internet search and a phone call led me to Iris Dalley, a retired crime scene investigator for the Oklahoma Bureau of Investigation. Today, Dalley is a crime scene consultant and serves as the president of the International Association of Blood Pattern Analysts.

She says that there is no way that a bullet would propel Hartley through the air and forward off his jet-ski. "The bullet won't make you airborne," she says. "A sudden stop of the jet-ski could. "Like if you are in a car wreck and you are not wearing a seat-belt, your body still has forward momentum whether your vehicle does or not," she says.

Dalley has a lot of questions that only Young-Hartley could answer. Dalley wants to know if Hartley's wound was an instant kill shot. Tiffany has been vague about whether or not her husband was completely dead when she was forced to abandon him in the water. In one interview, Hartley reportedly said that he was still making some kind of noises, and Dalley says that's consistent with a fatal head wound -- some involuntary gurgling and guttural sounds can be common.

But a "through-and-through instant-kill wound in the head" will not propel someone over the handlebars of a jet-ski, Dalley reiterates, nor does she believe that his hand slipping from the throttle would be enough to send him flying forward. (Dalley says it's possible that Hartley would fly through the air if his jet-ski hit a wave at the same time the bullet shredded his brain, but the wave would be the immediate cause, not the bullet.)

"If it was an instant kill, if it took out the brain-stem or the cerebellum or even if it were in the neck around C-2 or C-3, there would be no further voluntary motion in the body," Dalley says. "Depending on his muscular activity at the time that it happened, there may still be some contraction in the muscles, but generally, gravity would instantly take over and they would just go down wherever they are."

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There will be blood, but it might not tell much
She cites as examples both the Zapruder film -- "I'm sure you've watched that over and over," she says matter-of-factly -- and the televised suicide of Pennsylvania politico Budd Dwyer, who "didn't fly back or jump up -- he was just kinda suspended in the air for a minute and then -- down."

As for JFK, she says that although he "had a huge gaping wound in the back of his head, and it was definitely a back-to-front shot, but his body didn't go flying anywhere. It reacted to the first shot -- a pugilistic response, a muscle spasm that pulls you into nearly a fetal position, and while he's doing that, he gets hit with the second one and you can see him just drop. Gravity takes over and he just falls right where he is.

"So that's what you'd be looking for on the jet-ski. If he's traveling and he gets that kind of shot, his muscles may flex wherever he's at, whatever position he's in, and then there'd be that relaxation, like you saw Kennedy fall over."

We asked Dalley to examine some of the other evidence in the case.

Some commenters have wondered about Young-Hartley's assertion that her husband's lifeless or near-lifeless body was floating face-down in Falcon Lake, despite the fact that he was wearing a life jacket. These days, most life jackets are designed to flip people over, but Dalley doesn't think they always perform as designed.

"It would depend on his center of gravity and how the jacket fits him," she says.

Amid much ballyhoo last week, Sheriff Sigifredo Gonzalez of Zapata County announced that Tiffany's lifejacket contained what he believed was blood evidence. Apparently there was a speck or spot of what he believed, though in Gonzalez's case, you would almost say "hoped," to be David Hartley's blood on the vest that Gonzalez believed would lend credence to Tiffany's story, as it would constitute the only physical evidence of any sort in this entire affair. Test results on the vest were due yesterday, but are either incomplete or were not released to the media.

In any case, Dalley thinks the evidentiary value of that life jacket is minimal. "If it's just a single small stain, that doesn't say he's dead or alive, and you...can't say when it got there," she says.

The pattern is of more interest, she says. "Is it a direct, undiluted blood drop? What shape is it? Is it circular? Elliptical? Irregular with contiguous margins? Those are the kinds of things I would look for in trying to determine a mechanism. The pattern, what it looked like before they did anything to it: that will tell you more than anything about whose DNA it is."

Not having seen Hartley's wound, she doesn't know how much blood might have been in the water when Tiffany tried to pull her husband out. "It's gonna be diluting as soon as it hits the water. It's not gonna be like what you see when they chum for sharks and stuff. A lot will be diluted, and a lot would depend on the nature of the wound, whether it was open trauma. In some cases a lot of the bleeding is internal versus external. It leaves me with more questions than answers," she says.

As does every day that goes by in this strange case.


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