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Free Study Guide-Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson-Book Notes
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CHAPTER 6

Summary

Defense attorney Nels Gudmundsson begins his cross- examination of coroner Horace Whaley by asking about the foam that came out of Carl’s mouth and nostrils. Gudmundsson wonders how the foam, created by a chemical reaction caused by breathing, can take place if a drowned person doesn’t breathe. Whaley explains that the reaction that causes the foam happens in the early stages of drowning, while the person is struggling for air. As a result, Gudmundsson gets Whaley to agree that Carl had not been murdered first and then thrown overboard.

Gudmundsson further reinforces drowning as the cause of death by turning to Whaley’s autopsy report, which says that the presence of foam “indicates beyond doubt that the victim was alive at the time of submersion.”

The autopsy report also states that Carl had a cut on his right hand that happened no more than 4 hours before he died, probably within 1 to 2 hours of his death.


Whaley admits that there is no way to tell whether the laceration above Carl’s left ear had happened as a result of a blow to the head or Carl’s head being propelled against an object. Whaley cannot answer whether the blow happened before Carl died or after, perhaps when he was brought out of the water by the sheriff and his deputy.

The chapter then turns to Sheriff Moran’s drive to the Heine residence to tell Susan Marie Heine her husband is dead. He practices what he will say during the drive but is dissatisfied. Susan is a beautiful woman he knows and sees at church on Sunday; he cannot treat her as a complete stranger.

“I’m afraid I have some ...bad news to report. The worst sort of news, Mrs. Heine,” Sheriff Moran states. Susan backs away not understanding. “Carl is dead,” he says. Having seated herself on the bottom stair, Susan states she knew it would happen one day.

Notes

As he did in chapter 5, Guterson provides information on the nature of Carl’s death. Based on the coroner’s autopsy, the cause of Carl’s death is, beyond doubt, drowning. Carl was not murdered first. We also learn that the coroner could not determine whether Carl sustained the injury over his left ear before or after he died.

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