"Homicide by heart attack" revisited

Staci A. Turner, Jeffrey J. Barnard, Sheila D. Spotswood, Joseph A. Prahlow

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


The sudden death of a person caused by an arrhythmia that is induced by physical and/or emotional stress provoked by the criminal activity of another person is sometimes referred to as "homicide by heart attack." Published criteria for such an event relate to situations where no physical contact occurs between the perpetrator and the victim. Situations involving physical contact, but with absence of lethal injuries, are frequently treated in a similar fashion by forensic pathologists. Herein, we propose a set of modified criteria, which include cases where physical contact has occurred. Five examples of so-called "homicide by heart attack" are presented, including a 40-year-old man who was struck in the head with a wooden statue, a 74-year-old man who was punched in the jaw by a robber, a 66-year-old woman who was startled awake by a home-intruder, a 67-year-old woman who struggled with a would-be purse-snatcher in a parking lot, and a 52-year-old man who was in a physical altercation with a younger man. In each instance, autopsy revealed the presence of severe, underlying heart disease, as well as absence of lethal injuries. In each case, investigative information was such that the emotional and/or physical stress associated with the criminal activity of another individual was deemed contributory to the death. The presumed mechanism of death in each case was a cardiac dysrhythmia related to underlying heart disease, but initiated by the emotional and/or physical stress.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)598-600
Number of pages3
JournalJournal of Forensic Sciences
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 1 2004


  • Forensic science
  • Heart attack
  • Homicide
  • Manner of death

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Genetics


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