"His whole torso was just pulverized, he was so shot up"
of witnesses who saw Leonard Peters' body, both at the shooting scene and after the autopsy, said it was riddled with bullets. That testimony is in stark contradiction to the official autopsy report, which says he was hit by only a single bullet -- a bullet which did not leave his body. Which is the truth?
As with the official account of what happened on Little Valley Road that night, the explanation of how Leonard Peters died has also changed. Soon after the shootings, a Sheriff's spokesperson told the press that Leonard was killed in a "hail of bullets," which is consistent with eyewitness accounts.
Lucille Lincoln, Bear's mother, saw Peters' body about 15 minutes after the shooting: "His whole torso was just pulverized, he was so shot up." Peters' girlfriend, Cyndi Pickett, said there were a dozen holes in the back of his head, large enough for her to insert a finger -- like buckshot scatter. She also said there were multiple bullet wounds to the front of his torso.
But according to the autopsy, the bullet which killed Peters entered at the left corner of his mouth, fractured the left lower jaw and lodged between the vertebrae of the neck. There was no exit wound.
The autopsy claim of a single wound also seems to be contradicted by the behavior of the Mendocino County Sheriff's Department at the crime scene. Stating that Deputy Bob Davis showed signs of life, his body was whisked away by ambulance within minutes of the shooting. Leonard Peters was not accorded the same life-saving efforts; the Sheriff's Office said Peters was obviously dead.
The bullet that killed Davis entered at the corner of the left eye and exited behind the left ear. A large portion of the skull and brain was missing from this area "with brain extruding through the defect." Of the two, who would you try to revive? The deputy, with half of his head visibly blown off, or the other man with a single, neat wound? Only if Peters' body was "pulverized," as Lucille Lincoln stated, would he seem an unlikely candidate for survival.
"Switching the bodies is highly unlikely"
J. Jindrich, the pathologist who performed the autopsies, was asked to account for the contradictions. What of Pickett's claim that she could put her finger in the holes in Peters' head? Dr. Jindrich said that during the autopsy the brain is removed, the extraction is accomplished through an incision in the back of the head. The skull is then sawn and the top pried off for access to the brain cavity. The reconstruction of the corpse is left to the embalmers at the funeral home. Dr. Jindrich felt certain that what the family observed was the rather crude method with which the skull is re-attached and the skin sown back on. The wounds in the torso are also accounted for by the work of the embalmers as they conceal the disfiguring autopsy process.
Not quite so clear is how Dr. Jindrich managed to miscalculate so many physical traits of Leonard Peters' body. The autopsy report states that the "teeth are natural and in a reasonable state of repair." The family contends that Peters had a removable dental plate containing three false teeth in the upper front of his mouth. Peters also had a tattoo on his hand that was not mentioned, though the autopsy does detail a couple of scars on his hands.
Dr. Jindrich explained that these things could have been easily overlooked.
"I think you realize as well as I that switching the bodies is highly unlikely," Jindrich said. "I mean, where would they get the body? We're not exactly dealing with the CIA here."
It should be noted that Dr. Jindrich took no part in identifying the bodies; that is done by the Sonoma County Coroner's office. He is a highly respected pathologist recommended to the Peters family to do an independent autopsy. It was a coincidence that he was called to perform the autopsies when Sonoma County's regular pathologist was not available.
The family of Leonard Peters has publicly questioned the sheriff's account of Peters' death, and their suspicions of foul play were fueled when they were not allowed to view Peters' remains for a week. It was seven days before the body, embalmed and cosmetically enhanced after the autopsy, was delivered to the home of Leonard's sister on the Round Valley Indian Reservation.
Dr. Jindrich's explanations of what the grieving family of Leonard Peters observed when they examined the body seem quite plausible. But given the long history of abuse by law enforcement in Round Valley, the callous disrespect for the grieving family's feelings and the gross abuse of police power following the killings, the family's suspicions are also understandable. Dr. Jindrich has agreed to compare photographs of Peters with those taken at the autopsy to put the matter to rest.
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