Saturday, June 9, 2012

The Case of Preston Hughes III: Right Tool for the Job

For more than two decades, the knife used to murder Shandra Charles and Marcell Taylor has been misidentified as the hunting knife found in Preston Hughes' closet. We now know that the murder weapon did not look like this:

Preston's knife

Instead, the murder weapon looked more like this.

Or this:

The double-edged knives shown above are known as daggers. Wikipedia relies on a Missouri court case and a California penal code to define a dagger as "a fighting knife with a sharp point designed or capable of being used as a thrusting or stabbing weapon."

Wikipedia then continues, as it is apt to do:
[O]ver the last hundred years or so, authorities have recognized that the dagger, in its contemporary or mature form, has come to incorporate certain definable characteristics, including a short blade with a sharply-tapered point, a central spine or fuller, and usually two cutting edges sharpened the full length of the blade, or nearly so. Most daggers also feature a full crossguard to keep the hand from riding forwards onto the sharpened blade edges. Another distinctive feature of the modern dagger is that it is designed to position the blade horizontally when using a conventional grip, enabling the user to slash right or left as well as thrust the blade between an opponent's ribs. The full-length edges enable the user to make broad slashes (cuts) using either a forehand or backhand arm movement, while the sharp, acutely-pointed tip makes the knife an effective thrusting or stabbing weapon.
Daggers are far less common than single-edged knives, for daggers have some significant disadvantages.

The first and most obvious disadvantage of a dagger is its double-edged blade. The lack of any blunt edge prevents the user from using palm, finger, or thumb to increase the cutting edge pressure. The lack of a blunt edge also complicates folding designs, making the dagger less convenient to carry and or conceal.

Another disadvantage is that a two-edged blade is less robust than is a single-edge blade. For a given blade width and maximum thickness, two sharp edges demands that more material be removed. On average, a double edge blade simply consists of less steel than does a single-edge blade. The problem becomes particularly acute near the sharpened tip. The tip is more likely to break if it hits an unexpectedly hard target, such as a shoulder blade.

Finally, daggers are not nearly as good as single-edged knives for slashing. That is because the dagger blades must thicken from nothing to maximum thickness in just one-half of the blade width. Their wedge angle is nominally twice that of a single edge blade.

A dagger, on the other hand, will penetrate much more easily than will a single-edge knife. Also, and significantly, its tip lies along the centerline of the blade. This alignment permits considerably more precision as one attempts to stab an opponent in a critical body part, such as a carotid artery.

Consider now the dagger-like agricultural tool below.

Though it has many characteristics of a dagger, it is called a sticking knife, at least according to Lehman's online store. You can find it under Home > Kitchen > Home Butchering > Butchering Supplies > Old Hickory Sticking Knife.

From Wikipedia:
A sticking knife is primarily an agricultural tool. Sticking knives resemble daggers in shape and function, but are made for the utilitarian purpose of "sticking" or bleeding out livestock in home butchering. In some cases the animal would die directly from blood loss, where in others the animal would be killed beforehand and hung by the hind legs to bleed out. 
A sticking knife usually consists of a double-edge pointed blade approximately six inches long. Blades are traditionally made of high carbon steel (such as 1095). Handles are simple, consisting usually of two hardwood scales riveted through the full, flat blade tang. Sticking knives generally lack any kind of guard. 
Few companies continue to produce sticking knives. Firearms have generally replaced the sticking knife in home livestock processing. Most slaughterhouses use humane killers, which project a steel rod through the skull of the animal. ... The Ontario cutlery company continues to produce traditional sticking knives in their "old hickory" knife line.
For a long time, when people needed to cut the carotid arteries of livestock, they relied on a double-edged sticking knife virtually indistinguishable from a dagger.

Always use the right tool for the job.

I suspect Shandra Charles was not killed during a spur-of-the-moment, out-of-control attack. I suspect instead that her killing was premeditated and well executed.

I don't believe it is a coincidence that her carotid artery and jugular vein, and those of her three-year-old cousin, were transected by a double-edge knife.

I suggest that whomever killed Shandra Charles and Marcell Taylor knew enough about killing that they simply brought the right tool for the job.

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