In a riveting turn of events straight out of a detective novel, a 3D printed skull played a pivotal role in securing a murder conviction in the United Kingdom.
A 3D-printed skull, crafted through a collaboration between the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Constabulary, emerged as a critical piece of evidence that led to the conviction of four individuals after an eight-week trial.
The Murder Victim’s 3D Printed Skull
The victim, Frazer Brabant, was discovered in his front garden in 2019, bearing severe head injuries. While he initially survived the brutal attack,
he ultimately succumbed to catastrophic brain damage in early 2020, leaving behind a legacy of tragedy at only 31 years old.
The 3D-printed skull, meticulously designed and printed by Dr Morgan Lowther, a senior scientific official from the University of Portsmouth’s School of Mechanical and Design Engineering, provided a visual testament to the extent of Brabant’s injuries.
Dr Lowther explained, “I attended the trial and saw the pathologist use the model to help guide the jury through the injuries sustained by the victim.
He was able to demonstrate the order in which the blows were likely to have occurred, whether they’d come at the same angle, and whether they would have come from the same assailant or the same weapon. The jurors were allowed to handle the model and take it into the deliberation room. I think it was a valuable piece of evidence to help them understand the severity of the attack.”
The Collaborative Effort
While the 3D printing experts at the University of Portsmouth were instrumental in crafting the skull, the Imaging Unit played an equally crucial role. A CT scan was used to meticulously map the victim’s injuries, creating a precise digital model. Hospital-grade X-ray scans ensured that the skull’s anatomy was faithfully replicated.
Dr. Lowther and his team then utilized a Prusa i3 3D printer and PLA to bring 3D print digital model to life. They also fortified the structure with an internal scaffold to ensure it could be safely handled and presented in court.
Using these digital scans, Dr. Lowther and his team embarked on a unique mission. They 3D printed a physical model, layer by layer, using a material called PLA (polylactic acid). To ensure stability, they added an internal scaffold, making it suitable for courtroom presentations.
In court, the model played a critical role. The pathologist used it to guide the jury through the victim’s injuries, demonstrating the likely order and angles of the blows. It helped establish whether they came from the same assailant or weapon. Even the jurors got to examine the model, taking it into the deliberation room, enhancing their understanding of the attack’s severity.
The Broader Impact of 3D Printing
This extraordinary use of 3D printing technology is not confined to the realm of criminal justice. Hospitals regularly employ similar techniques for surgical planning and medical training. Technologies like material jetting and FDM are revolutionizing the healthcare industry by providing a tangible understanding of complex medical information.
As Paul Taylor, the National Policing Chief Scientific Advisor aptly put it,
“This innovative use of 3D technology to explain evidence to jurors shows how policing is embracing the rapid developments in scanning and computer modelling capabilities to bring justice to victims.”
The trial’s success highlights the potential for 3D printing to revolutionize how expert evidence is presented, making complex information more accessible to jurors.
It’s a testament to the power of technology in the pursuit of justice, offering hope for a future where justice is not only blind but also increasingly perceptive