Scanning For Answers

Laser Scanning Technology Helps Investigators Piece Together Champion Boxers Death

It was murder, not suicide, which caused the death of former world featherweight and junior welterweight boxing champion Arturo Gatti according to a team of forensic investigators. On July 11, 2009, Gatti was found dead on the floor of his condo in the Brazilian resort town of Porto de Galinas. He had been vacationing there with his wife, Amanda, and young son, when he was discovered lying face-down near a staircase on the first floor of the hotel room. Brazilian authorities initially considered Gatti’s wife a prime suspect and arrested her, but released her soon after and concluded Gatti had hung himself with a handbag strap. Arturo Gatti, police claimed, was despondent following an argument with his wife earlier that evening and took his own life. Skeptical of the Brazilian authorities conclusions, the boxers friends and family hired a group to travel to Brazil and use an advanced laser scanner to determine, once and for all, the circumstances surrounding his death.

Claims of a botched investigation dogged Brazilian authorities almost from the start. Though called a suicide, police failed to explain how the body of a 170-pound man could be suspended from a cloth strap long enough to cause death. Extensive and unexplained trauma to the back of Gattis head was inconsistent with the position in which the body laid, and it caused extensive splatter throughout the tiled dining and kitchen areas of the suite. Toxicology tests were inconclusive and the original investigation failed to adequately document the crime scene for later analysis. In order to fully understand the circumstances of Gattis death, the investigators needed to document and virtually recreate Gattis death. Enter Andre Stuart and the FARO Focus3D Laser Scanner.

Andre Stuart, CEO of the forensic animation firm, Call 21st, was among the group hired by the then 37-year-old fighters family to recreate the scene. The [original] documentation of the crime scene was quite incomplete, explained Stuart. Our job was to reconstruct the crime scene as to the time of death and provide data to other experts to use as the basis of their analysis. The FARO Laser Scanner used by Stuart mounts to a standard tripod and emits laser beams in all directions. The device captures the reflected points and assembles them into a point cloud essentially a three-dimensional image made up of the millions of data points projected from the scanner. That point cloud is then fed into any number of software packages to be transformed into color, 3D representations of actual conditions. It took Stuart five scans (or about 30 minutes) to capture the entirety of the condo space. The data was built-out in Autodesk 3D Max modeling software, which pieced together the data into a three-dimensional animation.

Once a model of Gattis room was constructed, Stuart was able to virtually insert a model of his corpse as it was found on the evening of July 11. The results were telling, and inconsistencies between the Brazilian authorities explanation of events and the actual scene were evident almost immediately. By using the Focus3D, the team captured the dimensions of the scene precisely, and much more quickly than if they had used traditional methods alone. The enhanced functionality allowed for the consideration of the geometry of the scene, interfacing objects, human kinesiology, biodynamics and simple gravity; none of which can be simulated simply with tape measures and chalk. said Stuart.

Gatti was discovered in a pool of blood, with his head nestled in the space beneath a cabinet alongside the staircase. Repeated runs of the forensic animations and numerous drops of a test dummy suspended from the staircase failed to recreate any circumstance under which Gattis head could become lodged in such a way. The recreations also failed to explain a gash in the back of the fighters head, which likely would not occur as a result of a face-first fall from the staircase. Lead detectives worked closely with Stuart, other investigators and doctors to create a scenario in which Arturo Gatti did not commit suicide, but rather was murdered, and included the findings in a 317-page account of the scene.

On September 7, the investigation team held a press conference in Philadelphia to unveil their findings. In addition to mounds of forensic evidence, the team discussed potential motives for murder, including the nearly $6 million of Gattis earnings still in probate. The team argues that the evidence of murder is clear, though they decline to specifically name suspects. Forensic animations proved that the position in which the boxers body was found is not consistent with a hanging. The purse strap, tested for tensile strength, was incapable of supporting a 78 lb, weight for more than a few seconds. Most glaringly, the wound to Gattis head was likely blunt force trauma, caused by something other than a face-first fall from a staircase.

As part of the presentation, scans of the room and forensic animations were displayed for the media, elaborating in great detail the teams version of Arturo Gattis final moments. As a result of the independent investigation, Brazilian authorities have re-opened the case of Arturo Gattis demise and are now seriously considering murder as a potential cause of death. A civil case between Gattis family and widow is currently pending in Quebec, Canada, where Gatti called home.

Despite these new revelations, it appears unlikely there will ever be a clean-cut resolution to the Arturo Gatti case. One thing is clear: Gattis death is likely to remain shrouded in controversy. However, thanks to some high-tech detective work, we now have a much clearer picture of the alleged crime. And as with this case, advancements in laser scanning technology are bound to make the work of forensic investigators faster and more accurate than ever before.

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