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Defensive Wounds - Hands (Caution: Some Graphic Images)

The Human Hand

Defensive Wounds
Of The Hands

By Richard Speights

Trained In
Offensive and Defensive 
Knife-Fighting Skills

Case: Travis Alexander

The Human Hand

The human hand is a marvel of the universe, dexterous enough to pick a hair up off a hard smooth surface, sturdy enough to construct expansive cities, and accurate enough to build space ships that flew men to the moon. Our hands, sensitive enough to distinguish between the subtlest textures are our tactile connection to our world.

Our brains make us human; our hands express that humanity.

Instinctive Reactions

Our incentive to self-preservation is instinctive. All people, men, women, and children, in possession of their faculties, attempt to defend the body under attack. This instinct follows a hierarchy of protection. In descending order: eyes, head, neck, torso/abdomen, and limbs (including the hands and fingers).

When a violent eruption flings debris around a room, a person blinks before responding with any other reaction to the sudden loud noise and or flying objects. Slapped or punched, a man will blink first before raising a defense.

The eyes are housed in the head along with the brain, an organ more vital than the eye. If an assailant attempts attack with a baseball bat with an overhand swing, *his target will instinctively cover his head with his hands and arms. This act sacrifices the arms, hands, and fingers to save the eyes and brain.

The neck is the conduit for the air supply to the lungs and the blood supply to the brain. If the neck is threatened, the human instinctively protects it with equal vigor. Targeting the neck in a fight is so difficult it’s easier to kick a man in his knee than to punch him in the throat. 

This defensive raising of the arms and hands puts them in danger, in a position to suffer bruising, abrasions, contusions, and lacerations.Kick

This is a paradox. If an attacker attempts to strike the arm, hand, or finger with a hammer, the person under attack will jerk these out of the way. However, when the attacker attempts to strike the head, neck, or torso with the same hammer, the same person will place the arm/hand/finger in harm’s way. No matter how unreasonable, this is the nature of the hierarchy of protection—sacrifice the expendable to protect the vital.

The Death of Travis Alexander

On Jun 9, 2008, police officers recovered Alexander’s decomposing body from a bathroom shower. He had suffered a bullet wound to his forehead and multiple knife wounds to his head, neck, arms, torso, abdomen, back, upper arm, and hands. Detective Flores wrote in his investigative report:



“I attended the autopsy on 6-12-08 at 0935 hours. Dr. Horn found that Travis had multiple lacerations and punctures and one gunshot wound. The wounds are listed as follows:

  1. Eleven punctures to his upper back between the shoulder blades.
  2. Two large lacerations to the top and back of his head.
  3. One puncture to the back of his neck and ear.
  4. Four punctures and lacerations to chest.
  5. Three lacerations to belly.
  6. One laceration across throat, which severed the right carotid artery and airway.
  7. Four incised lacerations to the left hand (defensive wounds).
  8. One incised laceration to right thumb (defensive wound).
  9. One single gunshot wound to right brow. Projectile recovered in left cheek of victim.”

(Incident/Investigation Supplement Report, Case Number: 2008-1610844 / emphasis mine)

Flores Supplementary Investigation Report
(Pages 12/13—not highlighted)

The writer of the above report defines wounds on the hands as defensive, as if based solely upon the notion wounds on the hands show a defensive action. This is also the language in the following court evidentiary hearing report.


 “The victim was then stabbed 27 times in the back, shoulders, head and chest. Cuts on the hands were defensive wounds from grabbing the knife.”

Ruling of evidentiary hearing on August 7, 2009, Court Ruling
(Second PDF Page, Highlighted)

(Side Note: Notice Flores refers to the deceased by his first name, “Travis,” in his report. This over-familiarity with the dead man shows a closed-minded sympathy before the investigation reached any conclusions and or conviction of a suspect in court—open-mindedness is the key to truth’s discovery. An over-sympathizing, closed mind will not see evidence clearly. This approach tends to cause the investigators to fit evidence to conclusions instead of allowing evidence to lead to conclusions.)

According to the written, public reports, the authorities declared the wounds on Alexander’s hands defensive, from “grabbing at the knife,” based solely on their location. Later HLN’s forensic expert said the same thing, and then demonstrated grabbing at a knife while the reporter simulated stabbing at him. Like the court officers, HLN’s “expert” simply assumed the cuts on the hands were defensive, even though his demonstration would have produced many more wounds and in different places than those on Alexander’s hands.

The language in the court hearings and investigative reports does not mention the actual location of cuts to Alexander’s hands. It simply assumes all the cuts, the two in his left palm, and the two to the back of his left hand and the one to this right thumb had been produced through the action of grabbing at a knife.

The Nature of Hand-To-Hand Combat Empty-Handed Attack

As one trained in hand-to-hand combat, unarmed and armed, I have a problem with this apparent habit of declaring cuts to the hands as defensive. Fights are fluid, and defenders and attackers can cut and get cut in all sorts of places. Wounds received in one fight are not necessarily replicated in the next.

Simply noting cuts on and in the hands and labeling them defensive without studying further possibilities is absurd. If I were fighting an attacker, I can think of a number of situations wherein I might cut his hand or hands.

For instance, an aggressor might attempt to control me by grabbing my clothes or wrists. I will respond in a way that removes his hand absolutely and quickly. If I’m empty-handed, I might grab one of his fingers and break it. Or I might wrap my arm around his, pinning the hand gripping my clothes to my body, stomp his foot, and then deliver a well-placed counter strike. (If he’s armed with a knife, I will not want to pin his arm. I will rather break his grip to keep my distance from his blade.)

Steven Seagal and Tommy Lee Jones

Steven Seagal is an aikido master. I enjoy watching his moves. He is fast and accurate. For the movies, however, he modifies real fighting techniques for the camera to give the audience a good show. For instance, in a real knife-fight, an expert would never allow his knife’s sharp edge to come into contact with his opponent’s knife-edge—so a real fight has no little click-click-click sound effects. I also guarantee an expert would never attempt to control a knife hand as seen in the picture of Jones holding Seagal''s wrist. If someone tried that with me, I’d drive the knife down into his wrist and or arm, attempting, 
even, to cut off the hand controlling my wrist.

Notwithstanding, if I’m armed with a knife and an aggressor grabs my clothes, I will cut his hand with all the force I can muster. This will leave a deep wound, even possibly cutting off a couple of fingers. I will do whatever I must to make him let go, even cutting off his hand if I am able. In a survival situation, winning the fight saves my life.

Knife-fights are not pretty or gentle. Therefore, the horrible wounds a defender leaves on his aggressor will match the wounds the aggressor will leave on the defender, ugly, bloody, and revolting.

And don’t think an unarmed man will refrain from attacking a knife-armed individual. Fighting is an aggressive activity, and men under stress, brains addled by hostility’s extreme intensity, have made the most unfathomable decisions.

Yet, the theory behind defensive wounds states a man or woman will hold up his or her hands to shield the head/neck/torso from attack. This relates to the instinctive reaction to preserve head/neck/torso. This unarmed, empty-handed defender might receive knife wounds on his palms and, if he covers his face with his palms, the backs of his hands.

However, if an unarmed attacker aggresses a person armed with a knife, that attacker will probably receive identical cuts to his hands. Remember, sacrificing the extremity to save the head/neck/torso is instinctive. An attacker may make bad decisions, which derive from the conscious mind, but he rarely looses his instincts, which derive from the subconscious. 

I say again: An enraged man on the attack rarely uses good deductive reasoning. It’s an uncommon day in which he thinks, “The object of my attack is armed with a knife. Don’t attack him!” Nonetheless, his instincts will remain intact, and he will instinctively sacrifice his arm/hand/fingers to save his head/neck/torso.

I, personally, am not opposed to deliberately grabbing the knife blade with my bare hand, if I believe I have an opportunity to control his blade long enough to win the fight, even if the grabbing the knife cuts my hand badly. Better to live with deep scare than to die with clean hands.

Aggressor Gripping the Clothes

In a totally defensive posture, a person’s hands are open, blocking blows and, possibly, attempting to push away an attacker. A person taking on this defensive posture will not grab his attacker’s clothing. Grabbing the attacker’s clothing prevents the attacker from leaving, prevents the defender from fleeing, and pulls the attacker closer even —the very opposite of the defender’s instinctive to gain distance from the assault.

According to court documents (Hyperlink Court Hearings 01), the detectives, prosecutor, and medical examiner were, in one voice, describing the wounds on Alexander’s hands as defensive. They were saying Alexander had taken on a totally defensive posture, hands open and blocking blows from a knife.

However, if the knife wounds demonstrate Alexander had been holding Arias’s clothes, it would prove he were not in a defensive position but an offensive posture. This, of course, would bolster Arias’s claim of self-defense.

The Cuts

There are five knife wounds to Alexander’s hands, one stab-like wound to the right thumb, two incised wounds to the palm of his left hand (one deep; one shallow), and two incised wounds to the back of his left hand (one shallow cut to the back of the left thumb; one deep in the muscle below the left thumb).

Photos From Autopsy

The Location of These Cuts

The officers of the court concluded cuts on the hands are always defensive. In their declaration, they reveal they did not consider any other possibility.

However, the location of three of the wounds on Alexander’s hands demonstrate he was gripping Arias’s clothing: the two cuts to the back of his left hand, and the stab-like wound to his right thumb.

How can I tell?

Imagine three pieces of paper, one atop the other in a jumble, lying on the floor during the fight. Further imagine these papers were moved after the fight, and it becomes important to the case to replace the papers exactly where they originally lay. A thin stream of blood has landed across these jumbled papers, leaving a streak of thin blood across all three and on the floor.

It would be a simple matter to put the papers back where they were by aligning the streak of blood on the papers and the floor. The cuts to the back of Alexander’s hands line up in the same way.

The Two Cuts On The Back Of Alexander’s Left Hand

Total Defensive Position

Have a woman act as Arias and a man as Alexander. Using the autopsy drawings and crime scene photographs, draw two lines on the back of Alexander’s left hand with a Sharpie, matching the two wounds. Draw a line to match the wound on his right thumb as well.

Arias is left-handed. Have the Arias actor hold a simulated knife her left hand saber grip. Have the two actors stand face-to-face.

Saber or Hammer Grip

This is a form of saber grip or hammer grip. The fighter can either thrust the knife forward in a stabbing motion or swing the knife like a hammer in a slashing motion.

With Alexander performing a totally defensive action see if you can position his hand under her knife to simulate the two cuts to the back of Alexander’s left hand (move slowly and deliberately. Don’t hurt each other). Remember, she has to cut Alexander twice with his hand in the same position, and you have only the wounds on Alexander’s body for targets. If his hand is free to move away from the cutting knife, it is unreasonable for him to leave his hand in place for the second cut. It is also unreasonable she would have cut his hand twice, leaving two identical cut lines by coincidence.

Have her hold the knife dagger grip and repeat the simulated attack. Reenact with Arias off to Alexander’s right side as well for both grips. (Except for the cuts to his left hand, all the wounds on Alexander’s body are on his right side, front and back.)

Dagger or Ice Pick Grip

This is a form of dagger grip or ice pick grip. The fighter can either drive the knife downward in a stabbing motion or swing the knife in a punching action, creating a slashing motion.

You will discover there is no convenient way to for Arias to cut the back of Alexander’s hand twice. Any cut to the back of the hand would appear coincidental only.

Gripped Clothing Position

Now have the Alexander actor reach out, hands positioned as if showing the size of his latest fishing trophy, and grip the Arias actor by her clothes up around the chest area. This is the natural place for a man to grab a woman to control their actions. (There was testimony Arias wore a sweater that day or some other garment over her shirt.). Grip the clothes with the hands in fists, thumbs on top.

Have the Arias actor hold a simulated knife saber grip. Use a pencil, unsharpened for safety. Have her cross her body with her left hand and lay the pencil across the top of Travis actor’s right thumb, between the two knuckles on the drawn line, simulating an downward slashing motion.

The pencil will line up perfectly with this shallow cut between the knuckles.

Have the Arias actor then place the pencil over the second cut on Alexander’s left hand.

The pencil will line up perfectly with the deeper cut in the fleshy part of the hand.

Now have her curl her arm up to her left and lay the pencil against the outside of Alexander’s right thumb. The pencil lines up perfectly with the knife thrust (stabbing motion) that penetrated Alexander’s flesh and into the cuticle.

Thereafter, have the Arias actor hold the pencil, point up, as she would have after cutting the back of Alexander’s hand. Have the Alexander person grab the pencil with his left hand, simulating grabbing the blade of the knife. Have her pull the simulated knife down. If the pencil had been a knife, it would have left a deep cut in the palm, identical to the deep cut in Alexander’s hand.

I believe: Alexander held Arias by her clothing. She cut him across his right chest, and he released the grip of his right hand, cradling the wound to his chest with his arm. She cut his left hand twice, leaving one hesitation cut between the knuckles and one deeper follow-up cut in the fleshy part of the hand below the thumb.

Alexander then re-gripped her clothes with his right hand and grabbed for the knife with his left. She pulled the knife down, leaving a deep cut in his palm (the second, shallower cut in his left palm came later).

Alexander withdraws his left hand, and then Arias then stabs up at his right hand gripping her clothes, catching his right thumb, driving the tip of the blade up into and through the thumb’s cuticle. Alexander fully releases her clothes for the first time since the fight began.

Thereafter, scared and angry, Arias counter-attacks Alexander’s torso and throat. This effective counter-attack kills Alexander: stabbing the vena cava and severing the throat. She first effectively diminished his defenses, which opened him up to her the effective counter-attack.

Coincidence and Puzzle Pieces Puzzle Piece

No matter how many pieces in the puzzle, each has its own place.

Remember the jumbled papers on the floor previously mentioned. Yes, there is blood all over the room, but that doesn’t allow the investigators to place them wherever they feel or desire.

Objective observation allows investigators to observe reality. Subjective observation allows/causes the investigator to see whatever he wants. From the Mesa City police’s narrow-minded investigation to prosecutor Juan Martinez verbally gutting every every Arias defense witness—nobody looked for possible alternatives.

Yes, the wounds on Alexander’s body were horrendous, much like the wounds I oft bandaged as a medic. However, I did not allow the horrors to overwhelm me. Surely grown men and women in police departments across the country can do the same.

Most of the time, when the cops discover a decomposing body covered with knife wounds in a bathroom shower surrounded by floors painted in blood, the dead person has been murdered. However, sometimes people kill other people in self-defense. The problem is: a knife fight plays no favorites. The wounds left on the attacker are just has horrific as wounds left on the victim. 

If Alexander had been murdered while taking on a total defensive position, he would not have gripped Arias by her clothing. Gripping the clothing of a psychotic killer, who is frenziedly stabbing and slashing at one’s body, is absolutely counterintuitive.

Since the wounds on the back of his left hand and on his right thumb perfectly demonstrate he had been gripping Arias by her shirt, then it proves he was the aggressor and not the defender. Since he was aggressing, then her claim of self-defense has merit.

Working for the People Victims’ Families

It’s not good enough for the police, investigators, and medical examiners to simply glance at the wounds on the hands and announce, “defensive wounds.” It is their responsibility to relay more on scientific inquiry and less on fill-in-the-blank assumptions. Otherwise, they are not acting in the interest of the public good.

If a person kills another in self-defense, that is called justifiable homicide. Who then is the victim? The constant theme during the Arias trial was how the state and the prosecutor were working for the victim’s family.

This extended even to the Mesa Police Department:Mesa Police Department

 “ ‘I got to talk to several of the family members afterward [after the verdict]. They wanted to first say thank you and I wanted to tell them we were proud to honorably represent what had occurred," he [Mesa Police Chief Milstead] said. "They were very complimentary of the work of the Mesa Police Department…’ ”
While the case seemed to take on a life of its own, the investigators never lost sight of who they were working for.” 

Mesa Police Chief Interview, Fox Phoenix

If a defendant is innocent until proven guilty, then for whom were the cops in the above story working? Did Arizona authorities investigate only to prove Arias guilty? Were they interested discovery or declaration?  

And for whom did the medical examiner work? Many of the Dr. Horn’s answers showed he tailored his testimony in support of the prosecutor’s case. This is in contrast to the absolute hostility he demonstrated toward the defense lawyers. When the prosecutor needed to show Alexander was shot last, the ME changed his mind and announced the bullet came last; even though documents from 2008 shows everyone agreed the bullet wound came first. Is his testimony based in reality or political expediency? (It is rather shocking to hear a ME claim the intact dura mater statement in his report a typo. It’s not like the autopsy report was a sworn document of discovery or anything.)

It follows if a medical examiner is willing to tailor testimony, then he will be more willing to falsify evidence—the personification of the proverbial slippery slope. He could think, "If the prosecutor, cops, and court have predetermined guilt, then a little forged evidence to help the jury reaching a “correct” verdict can’t be all that bad, right?"

And if the system were so honorable, then why did the judge allow the prosecutor such free rein to verbally gut every defense witness taking the stand? Moreover, there is no honor in the state appointing Twiddle Dee and Twiddle Dum as Arias’s lawyers, two people apparently unable and or unwillingness to defend their client with any due diligence.

Honestly, when Willmott could not capitalize on Dr. Horn’s assertion the intact dura mater statement in his autopsy report was a typo, she demonstrated incredible obtuseness as a criminal attorney. The juror’s question handed her Dr. Horn’s head on a silver platter, and she dropped it.

And, really, how long must a lawyer lounge around the defense table like a silverback in tall grass before anyone notices his total disinterest in fighting for his client? The judge should have dismissed that man long before Arias’s first motion. The judge did not, and Nurmi would not. No wonder the jury found Arias guilty. Nobody was available to argue against the verdict.

With this in mind, there is little wonder no one made a studied accounting for the wounds on Alexander’s hands, other than to croak out the words “defensive wounds.” If they had investigated with minds unclouded by prejudice, they might have discovered Alexander had held Arias’s clothing, proving he was the aggressor. 

The wounds on Alexander’s hands tell a story. So do the wounds on his body. But those wounds speak only to those observant and sincere enough to listen. If the men and women involved in forensic science cannot hear that voice, then what good is the field?

Who knows if a jury will ever hear information found in a paper such as this? The authorities in Arizona seem more interested in appeasing the howling mob gathered at the bottom of the courthouse steps than exhibiting an ardent desire for fair justice.

But, to fight corruption, in this case, puts one on the side of Jodi Arias. Nobody likes facing that sort of heat, even if the hatred against her is unwarranted. Know this, though, if we don't clean the house, the filth soon makes everyone's life unbearable. A corrupt system has touched Arias's life in the worst way. It will eventually touch your life too. 


Richard Speights, August 5, 2014
Writer, Photographer, Trained Combatant

*See new pronoun antecedent rule. 

  If my father had been a baker or candlestick maker, he would have taught his son skills in baking or candlestick making. However, the old man was a former Green Beret, so he taught me the skills of unconventional warfare, marksmanship, knife fighting, and the like. I remember everything he ever taught me. 


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