Feb 26, 2016 | By Alec

James George Stiffler

When 3D printing is linked to a lethal shooting case, minds immediately jump to the very controversial 3D printed gun issue. But a court case in Montana’s state capital of Helena proves that 3D printing can also play another very important role in shooting cases. Defendant James George Stiffler, accused of deliberate homicide of a home invader in 2013, has just been acquitted after a 3D printed floor plan of his home was used to prove that the home invader was indeed still posing a threat at the time of the shooting.

On May 22, 2013, Stiffler shot and killed a man he testified broke into his home. The home invader ransacked the residence and threatened the inhabitant, local media reported. Stiffler shot the man, Henry Thomas Johnson, but prosecutors contended it was an unjustified murder because the man was climbing out of a window and was no longer a threat. Stiffler’s defense attorneys instead argued it was a justified use of force and self-defense, and that the home invader brought it upon himself.

The issue thus revolved around time and location of the shooting and the people involved, and according to prosecutors the exact layout of the home required Stiffler to get dangerously and unnecessarily close to the intruder. To solve this issue, Stiffler’s attorney Quentin Rhoades resorted to 3D printing, believing that this “technologically advanced update to traditional 2D architectural models empowers jurors to make better use of evidence.” A 3D printed model would also be much quicker to produce that a traditional model, while it also cost about a third of the price.

This 3D printed model, developed by Ogden, Utah-based Whiteclouds, became key to the defense. After careful examination of the high quality model, a deliberate homicide charge was dropped. The trial of ended with a hung jury Feb. 11, and Stiffler will not be retried on the charge. The jury became deadlocked because of the model, and after about 11 hours of deliberation an end was reached in the two-week trial. According to Lewis and Clark County Attorney Leo Gallagher, only two of the twelve jurors wanted to convict the defendant, and the other ten opted for acquittal. “I don't expect a different result if we try it again,” he said. “This seems to be the appropriate resolution.”

Rhoades, speaking on behalf of his client, said he feels content with the outcome. “We are pleased and gratified. It seems to make sense,” he said. “It's a great relief to be done.” Though the case could be reopened in the case of new evidence, that is not expected. The one-of-a-kind 3D printed model is believed to be the key to the result.

According to the 3D printing specialists of Utah-based Whiteclouds, this was quite a 3D printing challenge – as details needed to be absolutely perfect. Established in 2013, the company specializes in delivering high quality 3D printing solutions to commercial clients from medical, architecture and entertainment industries. They also boast the largest full-color 3D printing facility in the world.




As the company’s Cris Fowers tells 3ders.org, they created the exact scale model in 2,105 layers of sandstone material. The model included every small detail, including the doggie gates and the immediate topography important to the case. “We used the ProJet 860Pro to print the entire model except the working front door. We printed that on the ProJet 3500. The model is made of sandstone-like material but the front door is UV-cured resin,” he says. “The client provided floor plans of the home and exact measurements and locations of all of the furniture inside the home. We also received nearly 300 images of the interior of the home so we could create an exact replica.”

The model itself was designed in Maya software, and was 3D printed in about 90 hours. No post processing was necessary, aside from the standard infiltration process for sandstone material. The model was 3D printed in three different pieces (middle, right and left), which each section glued to the other. “It had to be separated because of how large the model is. The print bed of a normal 660 Full color Sandstone printer is 10x15 inches. The whole model took twice the available print bed size – 20x30,” designer Michelle Fernando tells us. "The middle is the smallest and each piece would approximately take about 30 hours to print."

In fact, the hardest part was modeling the base of the house (or the landscape), especially on the left side. “Being twice the size of a house model that we normally do, I had to make a lot of divisions on the landscape in order to achieve a smooth slope. With adding more divisions, it required me to put in a lot more effort than it normally does to ensure two important things.” Fernando says.

"One was the thickness of the base. Under the base is hollow and is supported by 4 walls. Each wall has to be thick enough to support the weight."

The additional divisions also required the in-house specialists to put a lot of effort in achieving the right thickness of the base (to support the weight) and achieving a high level of flatness for the walls.

"Second was the flatness of one of the walls. Adding more divisions adds more things I have to edit and flatten. It has to be perfectly flat and aligned to the base it is going to attach to which is the middle piece." Fernando adds.

All in all, it took about one and a half weeks to design. But when it concerns a murder charge, no effort can be spared.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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