Casey Anthony Trial | Day 10 – Daily Updates (Thoughts & Observations)
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Day 10 – June 4, 2011 – Saturday
The Prosecution’s List of Witnesses for June 4, 2011
- First Prosecution Witness: Karen Korsberg Lowe – FBI Trace Evidence Examiner.
- Second Prosecution Witness: Mike Vincent – Orange County Sheriff Crime Scene Unit Assistant Supervisor.
The Prosecution’s Witnesses:
The Hair and The Air
Today, Saturday, the 10th day of the trial, the prosecutor introduced the famous hair strand, the one consistent with Caylee’s hair in appearance and mitochondrially belonging to her maternal DNA line. This hair garnered its own headlines back in 2008 because it was a strand of hair that showed ‘banding,’ which the prosecution and the FBI examiner claim is sometimes produced by a deceased body on certain hairs in a certain phase of growth. Living humans don’t produce it, but sometimes dead ones do. Equally famous is the air from the trunk of Casey’s car, which countless witnesses identified as the smell of death, the odor from a decomposing human body.
What was also unique about these two bits of evidence is that they also mark ‘firsts’ in their field. This was the first time that testimony on hair-banding would be given; and this was also the first time that air had been collected and preserved for analysis. Both were introduced into evidence, but not without the Defense putting up a fight.
Ultimately, it will be up to the jury to decide whether the hair and the air will be considered ‘junk’ science or ‘cutting edge’ forensics.
Karen Korsberg Lowe
Karen Korsberg Lowe is a 13-year trace evidence examiner for the FBI, with a Bachelor in Science degree in Biology, a Master’s degree in Criminal Justice, and some post-graduate courses in Forensic Science. Ms. Lowe has been qualified as an expert to testify on microscopic hair analysis in countless trials. The Defense requested and was allowed to voir dire the witness, to question her competency as an expert witness, pointing out in the process that this is the first time she is testifying with respect to hair-banding, with only six months of training in that particular area.
Ms. Lowe talked about the 100-year history of hair analysis, which involves the collection, identification, and comparison of hair. She described the various different microscopes used to analyze and compare hair, and the kinds of things you can determine microscopically. Ms. Lowe emphasized a number of times through her testimony that hair cannot identify an individual; but it can either be consistent with an individual or exclude an individual.
The FBI hair examiner then talked about a number of articles in the Journal of Forensic Science dealing with the study of hair roots in all their growth phases, as well as the hair-banding of post-mortem hair, which is formed by parallel lines of air pockets between hard and soft keratin near the hair root, during certain phases of hair root growth. The key here is that hair-banding has never been found on the hair of living people, only on dead ones. Later on, the Defense will ask and Ms. Lowe will answer that she cannot say that there is not something else in the world that could possibly cause hair banding, but she can say they have only found it thus far on post-mortem hair.
One study, in 2001, showed that post-mortem root-bands can occur as early as 2 days and as late as 15 days after death. The study also found that hair which was pulled out (from either a dead or living person) did not develop any root-bands after 44 days in the summer, nor after 44 days in the winter. Hence, it was determined that hair from live people could not mimic hair-banding and for post-mortem hair to develop the banding it had to still be attached to the decomposing body, as well as be in the growth phase, where soft and hard keratin meet.
The prosecutor, Jeff Ashton, presented some photos of hair roots under a microscope in various growth phases, as well photos depicting the difference between hair roots that were pulled out during the growth phase and hair roots that were naturally shed.
The witness identified some packets of evidence she had examined and they were admitted into evidence. Ms. Lowe explained that she was given known hair samples from known individuals to examine, as well as unknown hair samples that were found. She tested about 11 of those unknown hair strands, and only one showed signs of the darkened root-band. [Identified as Q12.]
In Ms. Lowe’s opinion, the Q12 hair showed signs of apparent decomposition and hair-banding at the root. The prosecutor, Mr. Ashton, asked if that characteristic was found under any other circumstances, other than decomposition. Ms. Lowe responded that it is not, however, she made a point to say ‘apparent‘ decomposition because they cannot say that the hair-banding only came from decomposition, but the fact is that there is nothing else they know of that causes the hair-banding.
This root-banded hair came from a Caucasian head of hair, it was light to medium brown, 9 inches long, with no chemical processing or dyes. Under a comparison microscope, the FBI hair examiner compared the root-banded hair strand (Q12) to both Caylee and Casey Anthony’s known hair samples and determined that the Q12 hair was consistent with hair from Caylee Anthony, but inconsistent or dissimilar to Casey Anthony’s hair.
A small piece of the Q12 hair was sent for mitochondrial DNA analysis, which is a test that will indicate the maternal lineage of the tested sample. [The mitochondrial DNA information is passed on from a mother to her children, male or female. Although a definitive form of identification is possible through nuclear DNA testing of tissue cells, it was not possible here with Q12 because there was no tissue attached to the Q12 hair.] The mitochondrial DNA test linked the Q12 hair to Caylee’s maternal lineage, meaning the hair could belong to Caylee, Casey, Cindy, Cindy’s mother, Caylee’s uncle Lee, and so on. Considering that they are all alive, except Caylee, and she is the only one that could have produced a post-mortem root-banded hair, chances are that hair sample Q12 came from Caylee.
During cross-examination, Jose Baez talked about a National Academy of Science Report commissioned by Congress where they mention the limitations of the science of hair analysis, which it states should never be used for identification without nuclear DNA testing. Ms. Lowe agrees, in fact, she pointed out at the beginning of her testimony that hair analysis cannot be used to identify an individual, only to exclude an individual. And agreed that the only way to identify an individual through hair evidence is if a nuclear DNA test can be done.
Mr. Baez made a point of reminding the jury that Ms. Lowe’s expertise in hair banding comes from six-months of training and four articles she read, and this was the first time she was testifying on hair-banding.
Mr. Baez asked, in what seemed more of a statement than a question, “You don’t know what causes hair-banding.” Ms. Lowe replied that she does not and although it is true that you don’t always see hair-banding in deceased individuals, “Hair-banding has not been replicated in other conditions outside of a deceased body.” Mr. Baez tries again, “You don’t know if hair-banding could be caused by something else?” “Correct,” Ms. Lowe answers.
The Defense asked the FBI hair examiner why she had not brought to court a photo of the Q12 hair root-band, after all, she brought other hair photo exhibits. [Mr. Baez insinuates a nefarious reason for not doing so, although I doubt that, I, too, wondered, why didn’t she? It would have been easy enough to photograph the root-banded Q12 hair under an electron microscope, and show the jury how she determined that there was a root-band on the Q12 hair.]
Mr. Baez tried throwing everything in, but the kitchen sink, bringing up the rumor that Cindy Anthony gave the police the wrong hairbrush; questioning why nuclear DNA testing was not done, even though it was explained that the hair did not have the tissue necessary; bringing up the primary and secondary transfers of hair; and so on.
Upon redirect from Mr. Ashton, Ms. Lowe explained that the root-banded hair Q12 was not naturally shed, because it did not have the Q-tip shaped root, it had the stretched or tapered root end common in hair that is in a growth phase, but is pulled from the head. She talked about how hair analysis and mitochondrial DNA is useful for eliminating sources of the hair. [For instance a Caucasian vs a Negroid hair can easily exclude someone as the source of a hair, and they can easily be identified.]
In the end, the Defense got the FBI examiner to say that she could not categorically eliminate any other possible cause for the hair banding.
DEFENSE: “And you cannot say the hair only came from a dead body?
LOWE: “That’s correct.”
The prosecutor missed the opportunity to rehabilitate their FBI hair examiner again, by asking her if the hair-banding had ever been found to be produced by anything other than a decomposing body, but they didn’t and the last thing the jury heard was Ms. Lowe agree that she cannot say the hair only came from a dead body.
Mike Vincent is an Orange County Sheriff’s Crime Scene Unit assistant supervisor, who supervised CSI Gerardo Bloise in 2008 and assisted him with processing the Sunfire Pontiac belonging to Casey Anthony. Mr. Vincent assisted in collecting samples from the vehicle for analysis, including air samples.
He described several attempts to collect air samples on July 21, 2008, by Dr. Michael Sigmund from the Forensic Science division at the University of Central Florida. He sucked air out through a syringe and deposited it in special bags made to hold air samples, and they hung carbon filters in the closed trunk to absorb whatever chemicals might be present. The samples were shipped to Oakridge National Laboratory. Mr. Vincent identified the evidence envelopes.
On July 22, 2008, he and his team took a sample from the tire cover and placed it in a can, sealed and shipped it to the Oakridge Lab.
On July 23, 2008, he observed another attempt to collect air samples by Dr. Sigmund from the University of Central Florida, where he hung two kinds of filters and closed the trunk for 40 minutes, collected and sealed the samples, and shipped them to the Oakridge Lab in Tennessee.
On August 29, 2008, Mr. Vincent received a portable air pump, 9 test tubes and instructions on how to collect air samples from the trunk from Dr. Vass at Oakridge National Laboratory. On August 30, 2008, CSI supervisor, Vincent, collected air samples from the trunk; the interior passenger side of the vehicle; from the trash bag found in the vehicle and from the garage itself, using the equipment sent to him. [It is unclear at this point, if he means the Anthony garage or the Forensics Garage, but later on he talks about having collected air samples from the Forensics Garage bay.]
These samples were shipped to Dr. Vass at Oakridge Lab, along with a clean specimen to ensure detection of contamination during shipment.
On September 27, 2008, he collected a sample from the tire wheel well, which was scraped off and shipped to Dr. Vass at Oakridge Lab.
On October 30, 2008, other pieces of the spare tire cover, stained and unstained pieces, were also collected.
Hair samples and Q-tip swabs for DNA analysis were taken from George, Cindy and Lee Anthony, placed in petri-dishes, sealed, and sent for analysis.
On August 1, 2008, gas cans were collected from the Anthony home. The gas cans were swabbed for DNA and fingerprints, but they were unsuccessful in obtaining either. The gas cans were returned on August 13th to Cindy Anthony.
In cross-examination, Jose Baez discussed the fact that no blood was found in the car, on July 17, 2008, when it was processed. He asked and Mr. Vincent denied calling the media to film Mr. Vincent processing the car. They talked about the attempts by Dr. Sigmund to collect air samples on July 17 and July 23, where Mr. Vincent merely observed the collection. Mr. Baez points out that it was Mr. Vincent’s first time collecting air samples using Dr. Vass’s methods.
Jose Baez mentioned the difficulty in collecting meaningful air samples when air is free-flowing and every time they open the doors and trunk, air flows in and out. He asks Mr. Vincent if he has any information as to the air in the car on June 16, 2008, the last time anyone saw Caylee alive; or from the tow-yard where the car sat for a couple of weeks; or from the dumpster next to which it was parked for three days; or from the Anthony’s garage where it was aired out for a couple of days. And he answered, “No.”
Next, Mr. Baez asked Mr. Vincent about taking air samples from a trash bag that had been placed in a dry room to dry out and noted that the odor would be different between wet and dry trash. Mr. Vincent acknowledged that when he took the air sample of the trash it was dry.
Mr. Baez asked about the metal gas can and why he was unable to find any fingerprints or DNA on it, could it be because someone had wiped down the can to clear fingerprints? “Yes,” Mr. Vincent replied, but it did not appear to him that the can had been wiped clean.
Sometimes more, is just more; it is not necessarily better. The prosecution is offering very scientific evidence, some of which might be confusing to the jury, not necessarily more convincing. I think when people get confused, especially when they are not allowed to stop and ask questions, they tune out and they discount it.
The odor from the car that so many people, with extensive experience in smelling human decomposition, recognized coming from Casey Anthony’s car trunk, was very convincing. You had Casey’s own father, a former detective; her mother, a nurse; the tow-yard manager who had also worked in waste management and had experienced distinguishing the smell of both; the police officers; the scientists; the crime scene unit investigators; among others, all identified the odor of human decomposition coming strongly, shockingly, overwhelmingly from Casey’s car. Why throw that into doubt with first-time air collection techniques and overly complicated chemical compound analyses?
And the darkened band around the hair, near the root… If you are the Defense, do you want your client’s death penalty case to be the first time anyone testifies to this kind of science? And if you are the prosecutor, do you really want the verdict overturned on appeal?
What are your thoughts?
Martie Hevia (c) 2011 – All Rights Reserved