|Major Bashinsky death scene|
I raised the following question in a recent post: Is Sloan Bashinsky Jr. Intentionally Trying to Muddy the Water On Reporting About His Brother's Death?
The post addressed a number of issues connected to the 2010 death of Alabama lawyer Major Bashinsky, in a case that was ruled (dubiously, in my view) a suicide. Sloan Bashinsky Jr., writing at various blogs from his base in Key West, Florida, has agreed with the official finding and taken me to task for raising questions about it.
I raised a provocative question about Sloan's reasons for dismissing evidence that suggests Major did not kill himself, so it's only fair to point out I that I have unintentionally muddied the water on the case myself. I came to that realization after conducting additional research on the issue of stippling in a gunshot wound. My reports on that issue, it turns out, were off target, and I regret the error.
I want to acknowledge my mistake and clear up confusion that it has caused. Also, it seems a good time to reconsider the forensic evidence and possible motives surrounding the death of Major Bashinsky. We will do that by examining several issues in the wake of some spirited back and forth between Sloan Bashinsky Jr. and yours truly:
* The Essence of Stippling--I screwed up on this one, and here is how: The medical examiner's report says in its summary that Major Bashinsky died from a contact wound to the head. Earlier in the report, it states there was an absence of stippling, which is a pattern of abrasions around an entrance wound. Based on my reading of an article titled "Practical Pathology of Gunshot Wounds," I reported that these two findings were contradictory, and the ME appeared to have made a mistake. But my assertion was incorrect.
Where did I go wrong? I relied too heavily on one journal article. The article I cited stated the following about stippling:
The principle indicator of close range ﬁre is stippling, that is, a pattern of tiny, punctuate abrasions in the skin surrounding the entrance wound . . . . Stippling is caused by unburned particles of gunpowder striking the skin. In contrast to other substances that may be deposited on the skin, such as soot, stippling cannot be washed away. The presence of stippling indicates that the muzzle of the gun was within 2 feet of the victim’s body when it was discharged.
I took this to mean that the absence of stippling, as stated in the ME's report on Major Bashinsky's death, means the shot was fired from a distance of more than 2 feet. That is true, but there is an exception--and that is when the gun is placed against, or right next to, the skin. That is a contact wound, and my most recent research indicates stippling is not present in such instances. This is from an article titled "Forensic Pathology":
Contact wound: Muzzle of gun was applied to skin at time of shooting. Classic features include an impression of the muzzle burned around the entrance wound and absence of fouling and stippling (see below). Contact wounds over the skull may have a stellate appearance because of expulsion of hot gases from the barrel which are trapped against the outer table of the skull and blow back toward the exterior, ripping apart the skin around the entrance wound.
The bottom line? Stippling is present on gunshot wounds of intermediate distance--from roughly 6 to 8 inches to 2 to 3 feet. It is not present on contact wounds or shots fired from greater than 2 to 3 feet.
* Forensics and Major Bashinsky--What does my goof mean in the context of the Major Bashinsky case? Not much, really. I focused on stippling because I thought it was part of a contradictory statement in the ME's report. Turns out I was wrong about that. But it's still correct to say that the ME's report offers no scientific evidence to support a finding of suicide. And it's still correct to say that manner of death in the Bashinsky case should have been classified as "undetermined," followed by the kind of thorough police investigation that apparently never took place.
The presence or absence of stippling is relatively minor compared to these key facts that remain about the evidence in the Bashinsky case:
(1) The gun found in the golf-course water hazard, where Major Bashinsky's body was recovered, has never been tied to him;
(2) The ME's report offers no evidence that Major Bashinsky pulled the trigger on that gun--or any other gun that might have been used in his death;
(3) No bullet was recovered at the scene, raising major questions about the official story that Bashinsky shot himself in the pond.
All of these suggest the suicide finding is based on shaky footing.
* The Tao of Sloan--Bashinsky Jr. has become rather surly in recent posts about my reporting on his brother's death, even referring to my blog as "muttface.blogspot,com." Did angels provide him with that kind of clever humor? We might never know. Sloan deserves credit for being right on the stippling issue, but he continues to raise a number of points in curious ways. Let's ponder a few of those from recent days:
(1) In a post dated July 31, 2012, Sloan's headline refers to an "alleged murderer" in connection with my reporting on Major's death. But I've never alleged that Major was murdered. In fact, it's not my role to allege anything; as a journalist, it's my role to find facts, analyze available information, and go where that takes me. My focus has been on weaknesses in the official finding of suicide, mainly because it provides no scientific evidence that the deceased shot himself, and we have no reports indicating he intended to kill himself--no suicide note, no reports of depression or erratic behavior, no tell-tale statements. The Major Bashinsky case obviously does not present a natural death or an accidental death, so the options are suicide or murder. But my focus has been on reporting about weaknesses in the official finding of suicide. I've never said that the finding should have been murder. As noted above, my research indicates the manner of death should have been classified as "undetermined."
(2) In the July 31 post, Sloan refers to my reporting about the scene at Highland Park Golf Course water hazard and states that Major's body was found in "the middle of the pond." That's curious because I've seen nothing in published reports that says the body was found in the middle of the pond. I've been on the course, and played that hole, a number of times--and it features a pretty sizable body of water. I would say "pond" is a good description because it's bigger than your standard water hazard. My impression is that the body was found fairly close to shore, but Sloan might know something that I don't.
(3) In both the July 31 post and another dated August 1, 2012, Sloan asks if I am going to inform my readers about information he has reported regarding his brother's death. I've referred to Sloan's writings a number of times, but I've never made it my aim to report everything he writes about Major's death. For one thing, I'm not sure how much Sloan knows about the case; he lives in Key West, Florida, almost 1,000 miles from Birmingham, and it appears he and Major had been more or less estranged for several years. For another, I have no idea about the accuracy of certain items Sloan reports as fact; after all, this is a guy who says he talks to angels, so that doesn't help his credibility as a news source. For another, Sloan does not strike me as terribly objective about the case; he seems invested in the official finding of suicide, even though it is weak (at best) or deeply flawed (at worst). Finally, folks who are interested in Sloan's take on things can go directly to his blog--and I've provided the links above; there is no reason for me to repeat everything here.
* Corporate Matters Vs. Estate Matters--Both Sloan and I have reported on matters surrounding the Bashinsky family in the days and months leading up to Major's disappearance and death. In his July 31 post, Sloan addresses a possible murder scenario and notes a letter that was attached to Major's body at the scene. In all caps, he writes:
IS THAT HOW YOU WOULD HAVE DONE IT, ROGER, IF YOU HAD WANTED TO BE SURE YOU GOT A WAY WITH IT? IS THAT HOW YOU WOULD HAVE DONE IT, TO MAKE A SURE EVERYONE KNEW MAJOR WAS MURDERED? IS THAT HOW YOU WOULD HAVE DONE IT, TO MAKE A POINT? TO TERRIFY PEOPLE RELATED TO MAJOR BY BLOOD OR MARRIAGE? TO PUSH THEM TO COMPLY WITH THE DEMAND IN THE TYPED THREAT LETTER IN THE BOTTLE ATTACHED BY ROPE TO MAJOR’S BODY – THAT THE COMPANY STOP PAYING OUT GOLDEN ENTERPRISE DIVIDENDS TO THE GREEDY BASHINSKYS AND GREEDY MANAGEMENT, AND KEEP THE DIVIDENDS IN THE COMPANY FOR THE HEALTH OF THE COMPANY AND ITS EMPLOYEES?
Not sure why he's addressing this to me because "what I would have done" is beside the point. But as you can see, Sloan focuses on issues at the family business, Golden Enterprises, the maker of Golden Flake snack foods.
I, meanwhile, have focused on a lawsuit styled Estate of Sloan Y. Bashinsky Sr., et al v. W&H Investments, et al, which reached a curious settlement just two days before Major disappeared. The case involved a possible accounting of some $37 million that the family patriarch, Sloan Bashinsky Sr., had invested in oil and gas wells. Court records indicate that the estate never received much of the information it sought, and it appears the investment firm engaged in serious stonewalling.
Why? Sloan Bashinsky Jr. doesn't seem interested in that question. I most certainly am interested, and we will return to those issues in upcoming posts.