Nicole's Feet

 

A photograph that is sometimes seen shows Nicole's left foot and right calf projecting under the front fence on the south side of the walkway. The place where her feet are is topologically outside the front yard, and a few inches from a point below the intercom. The photograph is usually shown for the fact that it depicts the infamous "Thai takeout menu" beneath her feet. (This object is an irrelevant piece of door-to-door advertising that is stuck in gates like Nicole's, and falls to the ground the first time the gate is opened. Typically, they lay where they fall until the next time the gardener visits.) Since no lose shoes were found in the debris of the crime, it is generally believed that Nicole came into the final encounter barefooted.nic-ft3.jpg (14894 bytes)

We notice that in the photograph Nicole's left toes are pointed and her right toes are curled. This is consistent with my understanding of her last conscious moment. She was erect and in the killer's grasp; he was behind her, probing the left side of her neck with the point of the knife. The pain and aversion would cause her to curl her toes, but he was producing torsion to her head, bending it to the right to better expose his target in the porch light. Nicole tried to minimize the pain of this bending of her neck by lifting the left side of her body by extending her left toes.

IMPLICATIONS
: There are a few interesting implications to this picture. First, the posture in which Nicole was found could not be the posture in which she first fell to the ground. If this were true then she would have been standing with both feet outside the fence, and the fence itself would have prevented her from falling north into the final position. So, she must have come onto the ground first on the north side of the fence, and then her leg and foot came to be projected under the fence.

Second, it appears that the vertical height of the opening beneath the fence through which Nicole's legs are projected is not great -- less than six inches. And, we expect that this must be true, or the gate would not offer much security -- a person could squirm under the fence. So, there is a suggestion that some deliberate cause resulted in the feet under the fence: with so many easier places for her feet to come to rest, this one that requires the insertion of her feet through a restricted opening does not seem random.

Third, we see that there are abrasions on Nicole's legs at just the place where the legs would contact the bottom of the fence. There are abrasions on both ankle bones, and in three places on the right leg at mid calf. From these, it is obvious that the legs were not inserted under the fence gently, but with force, and roughly. From the fact that there are three abrasions to the right leg at about the same height, it appears that there were three attempts to get that leg into the position that it was later seen, before the action was successful. From the appearance of the wounds themselves, it is possible that these could have been suffered while Nicole was conscious or unconscious. But two of them -- the left ankle bone and the right calf wound farthest to the back -- seem extensive and raw, but there is no loose blood. This could indicate that these wounds occurred when there was a low blood pressure, as there would have been after the throat was slit.

CONSCIOUS OR UNCONSCIOUS? Among the wounds to Nicole that Dr. Lakshmanan described, there was 1) a severe perforation of the left carotid artery, as with the point of a knife, that probably rendered her unconscious, 2) a bruise to the back of her head, as could be sustained by a fall, face up, onto one of the concrete surfaces in the area where she was found., and of course 3) the fatal two slashes to her throat. In the civil trial, Dr. Spitz also describes several abrasions to the dorsal aspect (shoulders, elbow, neck, and hand) as "scrapes against concrete or stucco," and of small extent. Since these are to the back side of her body, and the bruise to the back of the head suggests that she was prostrate and face up after she was rendered unconscious, it is natural to think that these scrapes were due to a slight dragging, as to reposition her body for the throat slashing operation. But, if the bruise to the back of the head and the abrasions to the back of her body occurred after she was unconscious, then her feet were not in the position seen in the photograph. To get the feet under the fence requires that Nicole is on her left side, not her back.

JUST POSSIBLE: However, it is just possible -- however unlikely -- that Nicole was conscious when her feet went under the gate. This requires that during the struggle Nicole come to be in roughly the position she was found in, with her left cheek on the ground, and while she was in this position, she flailed her feet, jamming them under the fence. This in itself is unlikely, because by raising her feet up just a couple of inches as she struggled she could have pushed on the fence with the most powerful muscles of her body -- her legs -- and aided herself in her struggle. Also, the few wounds to Nicole do not indicate any real struggle on her part -- there were only two defensive wounds, one to each hand. However, it is within the realm of physical possibility that she could have shoved her feet under the fence during a struggle with the killer.

Then, the killer would have to raise her into a kneeling position and twist her to attack the carotid arteries -- there is not enough light to see the target when Nicole is lying on her cheek at the base of the steps. It is awkward to raise Nicole to the position with her legs twisted and under the fence, but it can be done. Then, after she has been rendered unconscious by perforating the carotid artery, the killer needs to move her into some other position than where found to slit the throat -- there is not a sufficient blood pattern anterior of Nicole's neck in the final position that such an operation could have been conducted there. Finally, then, the killer would put Nicole in the position in which she found. Also, this scenario does not account for the scrapes to the back of Nicole's body that Dr. Spitz described, but perhaps these were suffered in an earlier part of the action.

Although the foregoing is physically possible, it seems needlessly difficult, and to no understandable purpose. (Why not simply leave her with cheek on the ground, where she has trapped herself by thrusting her feet under the fence, twist her head, and cut her throat there?) So, we are led to believe that Nicole's legs were thrust under the fence by the killer while she was unconscious as part of a planned sequence of events.

DEATH SPASMS: It has been suggested that Nicole's feet could have been projected by her death spasms. In this concept, she would have been lying roughly the position in which she was finally found, bleeding to death and unconscious, and she would have been subject to her own "death spasms." I am not much familiar myself with the phenomenon, but understand that the dying person can make involuntary, random, and purposeless contractions of the muscles of their body, and that these can range from twitches to convulsions. By such means, the body, and particularly its limbs, can change configuration from the beginning to the end of the process of dying without external action.

According to this concept, Nicole was in the final position, with her feet near the fence, but not yet projecting under it when spasms of the muscles of her hips and legs caused an extension of her legs which were previously in a bent configuration. This extension might then cause the legs to be forced under the fence, in spite of the resistance apparent in the wounds to her legs, and even by repetitive motions as indicated by the multiple wounds to the right legs. According to my little understanding of involuntary reflexes, all of that is possible. But, it also requires that there be no concurrent torsional spasm that would cause her foot to turn, and it requires that these spasms occur in both legs. And, there could be no concurrent flailing spasm that would lift the foot a couple of inches in the air where it would not fit under the fence, nor a contractive spasm that would withdraw the foot.

I honestly don't know enough about the involuntary reactions of a person who is dying of trauma to rate this possibility, though I have heard of a couple of examples anecdotally. The phenomenon itself does seem to be a serious possibility. On the basis of the fairly precise geometry that is required to get the feet through that small space, I am inclined to think this is not the most likely explanation for what is seen. And, even if this explanation were true, one must still expect that before the spasm thrust her feet under the fence, Nicole was in the posture of one who was kneeling, and fell over on her side.

POSTURES: We also notice that the space beneath the fence is so small that Nicole's feet could not be put under it in the vertical orientation (toes pointing up or pointing down). This maneuver requires that the foot be sideways, consistent with the abrasions on Nicole's legs. But, because of the lack of spatter, we believe that she was face down and close to the surface over which she bled at the time her throat was slashed. Her final position was with her left cheek on the ground, not face down. Also, both Drs. Lakshmanan and Spitz opined that the right handed killer slit Nicole's throat from behind her, a posture which would minimize any blood that could get on him. If Nicole's head were turned during that action, blood would be projected forward and upward. So, Nicole's throat was not slashed in either of the previously established postures, face up, or left cheek on the ground.

Thus, Nicole seems to have been in at least three postures after she was unconscious: face up, as she fell upon becoming unconscious; face down, when her throat was slashed; and on her left cheek, as she was finally seen. Since she was unconscious during these transitions, they must have been caused by the killer.

RESULT
: We wonder why the killer went to the trouble of putting Nicole's feet under the fence, and we expect that the best clue lies in the result that was actually produced. Nicole's final position produces two results: 1) her body completely spans the walk so that a person can not go up the walk without stepping over her body, and 2) her head is turned (rather than nose down) so that a person approaching the body will be able to recognize her face (dimly). Nicole is 5 foot 5 inches tall, so she is considerably longer than the four foot width of the walk. To put her in the position found requires that her knees be bent, which they were. But, if her feet had not been projected under the fence, they would be bent even more, suggesting that she had fallen over from a kneeling position, and this may have been an appearance the killer did not want.

All we know for sure is that Nicole's body was left in a conspicuous and recognizable way, and we believe from the appearance of her feet under the fence that this was done deliberately by the killer, though other possibilities exist.

Dick Wagner • Van Nuys, CA (3/02/99) NG_523

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