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UT Tower shooting claims one more life

This story originally was published on Nov. 11, 2001.

It took 35 painful years, but a rifle bullet fired by Charles Whitman on Aug. 1, 1966, from the observation deck of the University of Texas Tower finally killed its victim this week.

David Gunby, 58, died Monday at Harris Hospital in Fort Worth, and the Tarrant County medical examiner, Dr. Nizam Peerwani, ruled the death a homicide, given the chronic kidney problems he suffered because of the gunshot wound.

"There is really no doubt that his death is related to his initial injury, and therefore we ruled it as a homicide," Peerwani said.

The unusual ruling apparently has no legal implications, though it raises a few questions about the time gap between the shooting and the death -- and how to rewrite the record book.

Gunby was a 23-year-old UT engineering student and had just left the library when Whitman shot him and dozens of others on the campus below. The former Eagle Scout lay under the sun so long waiting for help that he got sunburned as Whitman -- also a former Eagle Scout -- continued firing, said his son, Michael Gunby of Fort Worth.

The ruling brings to 15 the number of people killed by Whitman, a 25-year-old architectural student, during his shooting spree at UT that day. Whitman himself was finally gunned down on the tower's observation deck by police. Earlier that day he had killed his mother and wife. Another 30 were injured.

That the bullet was fired 35 years ago is irrelevant, Peerwani said.

"Supposing he was shot a year ago and he died now? What would you call it?" he said. "If you can show that he had died as a consequence or as a complication of a gunshot wound, you'd call it a homicide, right? So, time is not the important factor. The important factor is that, did he die of any injuries that he sustained resulting from the initial trauma?"

Peerwani, who has been medical examiner in Tarrant County for 22 years, said he did not consult with the family in ruling the death a homicide.

David Ganby had worked as an engineer at General Dynamics in Fort Worth but was retired. Divorced, he had two children, Michael and a daughter, Christy French, both of Fort Worth, and five grandchildren.

Gunby was shot in the back. Because of the kidney damage, Michael Gunby said, his father had to go for dialysis treatment three times a week -- every Monday, every Wednesday, every Friday -- after work. For 35 years. Each treatment lasted five hours.

"Strongest man I ever met, as far as mentally," his son said. "He had to revolve his life around his dialysis."

His father spent most of his life in pain, Michael Gunby said, but in the past year, it got worse as his body struggled to cope with the long-term effects of chronic kidney disease. He was bedridden and lost his eyesight.

With no prospect of improvement and doctors' encouragement, David Gunby decided to stop his dialysis Nov. 5, his son said. On Monday, he died.

The fact that Gunby ended his dialysis also makes no difference to his homicide ruling, Peerwani said: "If he had not sustained those injuries, he would not need renal dialysis and he would not had to have made a choice like that."

Michael Gunby said his father tried a kidney transplant once, but his body rejected it and he almost died. He never tried again.

The medical examiner's ruling raised a minor but interesting question for the Austin Police Department: whether to add Gunby's death to the list of 29 people murdered in Austin in 1966 or to count it as a homicide for this year. Paul Flaningan, a police spokesman, said the department will consult with the Texas Department of Public Safety.

It is "very rare" but not unheard of to count as a homicide a death based on an attack and injury sustained decades before, said Dr. Robert Bayardo, the Travis County Medical Examiner for 23 years. He said he was involved in a recent Houston case involving a death ruled a homicide stemming from an attack 30 years before.

"The definition of the cause of the death is the injury, disease or combination of the two responsible for initiating the train of physiological disturbances -- brief or prolonged -- which produce the fatal termination (death)," Bayardo said.

Susan Klein, a University of Texas law professor who specializes in criminal law, said that it "used to be a rule of common law that you had to die within a year and a day of the act causing the injury.

"In most jurisdictions, that's no longer true, because medical science is such that we're better at figuring out what causes death, and people can linger on a long time -- although 35 years certainly seems to be at the outer end," she said.

Peerwani said he didn't think there were any legal implications to his ruling, especially given that Whitman is long dead:

"I think this is a case that will not require any more legal intervention -- I think the case is open and shut."

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