Apr 28, 2016 | By Benedict

A British prosecutor has used 3D printed replica skulls for the first time in legal history, in order to demonstrate the severe head injuries sustained by six-year-old Ellie Butler, allegedly murdered in 2013 by her father, Ben Butler. The two skulls were presented to the jury today.

Photo: The Times

When one considers the places in which 3D printing is used to solve a problem, one tends to think of factories, hospitals, and laboratories. Rarely would one associate 3D printing with a court of law. Surprisingly, however, the technology is carving out a small but important role for itself in the legal sector: turning certain items of evidence, initially rendered as digital 3D images, into tangible, physical objects for a jury’s consideration.

Today, for the first time in legal history, 3D printed replica skulls were used to demonstrate the injuries sustained by an alleged murder victim. The deeply upsetting case concerns six-year-old British girl Ellie Butler, who was allegedly beaten to death in October 2013 by her father, Ben Butler. Butler is on trial for murder, while his partner, Jennie Gray, has been charged with child cruelty.

The 3D printed skulls, which were created using visual data from CT scans and x-rays, are being used to determine whether Ellie’s injuries could have been the result of an accident. The physical models provide a clearer look at the damage inflicted on the skull than on-screen 3D models are capable of. Prosecutor Ed Brown QC has, however, been quick to clarify the extent to which the "electronic records transferred into a 3D object" can play a role in proceedings: "They are illustrative and explain the evidence rather than being the evidence itself,” he said.

Photo: The Sun

The defendant’s barrister has attempted to pour cold water on the 3D printed evidential supplements, saying: ”It appears to us they are not identical... and I think some care should be taken. They are simply somebody's best efforts at recreating what has been seen on the scans and not entirely representative of what has been seen on the scans. Too much reliance should not be placed on their absolute accuracy.”

Although the use of 3D printed skulls is a legal first, other cases of additively manufactured evidence have been reported around the globe. In New York, law firm Fennemore Craig has used 3D printed models in several liability lawsuits, using the printed replicas to demonstrate, for instance, whether a certain technological component might have been designed in a more effective manner. 3D printing has also been used in cases similar to the Butler trial: around one year ago, prosecutors made a 3D printed bottle to represent the weapon allegedly used by defendant Lee Dent in the murder of promising soccer player Alex Sosa.

Photo: Rex Features

The Butler trial continues, with no indication as of yet regarding the impact of the 3D printed skulls. Ben Butler denies the charge of murder.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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