Casey Anthony Trial | Day 22 – Daily Updates (Thoughts & Observations)
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Day 22 – June 18, 2011 – Saturday
The Defense’s List of Witnesses for June 18, 2011
- First Defense Witness: Dr. William Rodriguez – Forensic Anthropologist and co-founder of the Body Farm.
- Second Defense Witness: Dr. Werner Spitz – Forensic Pathologist and Medical Doctor.
The Defense’s Witnesses:
The Forensic Anthropologist and The Forensic Pathologist
There were two witnesses on Saturday and some fireworks. Dr. William Rodriguez, a Forensic Anthropologist and co-founder of the Body Farm, was the first witness, who was practically kicked off the stand because of what the Prosecution called the Defense’s violation of the discovery court order.
Although, before leaving the stand, Dr. Rodriguez offered some interesting opinions that did not make the Prosecution happy. He noted that there was no attempt, as noted in the police reports, to determine the exact location of where the body was placed initially, which could have been accomplished by looking for environmental changes that indicate a decompositional event occurred. This, he felt, was fundamentally important to locating trace evidence.
Dr. Rodriguez also noted that with respect to the duct tape, there was no way to determine the exact location of the duct tape on the face due to the movements of the tissue as decomposition occurs, and the disarticulation of the body by animals. The only way to know exactly where the duct tape was on the face is if the body had been buried or mummified. However, this opinion was solicited by the Judge outside the presence of the jury.
The second witness, Dr. Werner Spitz, came with more than 50 years of experience as a Forensic Pathologist. He accused the medical examiner of conducting a “shoddy autopsy” because she did not cut the skull, horizontally, to remove the cap and look inside for black flecks of brain tissue that could have been tested for drugs. The failure to cut the skull cap was something Dr. Spitz felt was a violation of protocol. The prosecutor was able to point out that there are no written protocols on this matter, and that this issue of removing the skull cap was simply Dr. Spitz’s opinion of how autopsies should be done.
And if accusations of a shoddy autopsy were not enough to get people’s attention, Dr. Spitz shocked everyone by stating that he believed the duct tape was placed on the body after decomposition, directly on the skeletonized skull and mandible, with the purpose to keep them together. The prosecutor’s verbal walk-through of how this could have happened, made it seem implausible, indicating that someone would have had to go back to where the body was dumped, pick up the skull, then pick up the mandible, and then place three pieces of duct tape over them, and then proceeded to put them back.
The prosecutor pointed out that the hair was attached to the duct tape, which would not have been possible if the skull had been skeletonized. Also, he pointed out that plant roots had grown through the mandible, skull and tape. [Implying, perhaps, that there would not have been enough time in those 31 days, for the body to have fully skeletonized, the duct tape to be placed, and the plant roots to have grown through them.]
Dr. Spitz, seemingly confused, forgetful, and without fully grasping all the details of the case, at times referred to Casey‘s skull and remains, who is the defendant – not the victim, and was unable to remember the circumstances surrounding Caylee’s death. He, nonetheless, claimed that the manner of death should never have been stated to be a homicide, but rather as undetermined, because the medical data was just not there.
The prosecutor asked him if he understood that the cause of death is certainly based on medical information, but that the manner of death is based on a medical and legal investigation, and it is to include the circumstances surrounding a death, outside of the medical information. The doctor replied that he knew that, however, he was still unable to articulate all of the circumstances that he considered in coming to the conclusion that the manner of death was inconclusive in this case.
Dr. William Rodriguez
Dr. William Rodriguez, a Forensic Anthropologist and co-founder of the Body Farm, the Anthropology Research Facility at the University of Tennessee, began his testimony by commenting that the search for the bones was well done, the recovery was thorough, especially considering that with a small child there are very small bones to be found.
However, he found fault with the lack of attempt to determine the exact location where the body had been initially placed, pointing out that the original deposit site of the remains is where much of the trace evidence is typically found, or example, bullets, teeth, fiber from clothing, and other clues.
Typically, one can find the initial location of the remains by looking for soil changes in consistency and color; vegetation that may have been killed off by the decompositional fluids; and the impact on animal life. All of these environmental changes can indicate that a decompositional event occurred.
Dr. Rodriguez said he had not seen anything in the reports or in the photographs that addressed the environmental changes at the site, something an anthropologist would have included in their report.
The Duct Tape
The Defense then asked the doctor if he had experience with duct tape and he said he had. Dr. Rodriguez explained that the position of the duct tape is noted and looked at when it is attached to soft tissue, when the body has undergone mummification, or when the body has been buried and not moved. In skeletonized remains, as in this case, the decomposition will affect the adherence and the position of the tape.
At this point Mr. Ashton, the prosecutor objected, a sidebar was called, and the jury was excused. Mr. Ashton then argued that the opinion the witness was offering was not contained in his report.
The Judge directly asked the witness what opinions he was he about to offer on the duct tape. Dr. Rodriguez explained that when the duct tape is found in two different positions, then you cannot make a determination as to the exact location of where it was, unless it is in a buried context or the body is mummified. The movements of the tissue to which it was attached as it decomposes, and the disarticulation of the body by animals, makes it impossible to conclude exactly where the duct tape was.
Judge Perry, probably detecting a violation of his discovery court order, asked Dr. Rodriguez when it was that he informed the Defense of his opinion, and the doctor said that he first mentioned it to Mr. Baez in February 2011. The Judge asked him why he had failed to include this opinion in his report, and the witness said it was a “non-issue, and not something I was asked to report on. I noted it on my notes and I mentioned it to Mr. Baez.”
Mr. Rodriguez was asked if Mr. Baez informed him that he is required to include all of his opinions in his report and he replied, “No, I was not.” Mr. Baez asked Dr. Rodriguez if he recalled a series of email exchanges where the Defense mentioned that he had to write a report and include all of his opinions and Dr. Rodriguez answered, “Yes.” [So, which is it?]
Mr. Baez then turned to the Judge and told him that the Defense had informed all of the expert witnesses, via email, that they needed to write reports and include all of their opinions in those reports, or he, Mr. Baez, “would suffer dire consequences.” Jose Baez added that he and Dr. Rodriguez talked about many things in February that are not in the report, but the prosecutor had a duty to depose him and they chose not to do a deposition.
Baez pointed out to the court that in the Judge’s disclosure order he mentioned that the “opinions must be in the report or in the depositions. And the State did not want to depose him.”
Judge Perry, looked directly at Mr. Baez and said, “What you are saying is that you can pick which court orders you will comply with, and which ones you will not comply with. Both sides have engaged in what I call game playing. And this is not a game.” Now, he continued, they have major witnesses, with major opinions, and those opinions have not been disclosed. “It appears to me that it was quite intentional.”
The Judge, looking rather upset, tells Mr. Baez that this witness will step down and the Prosecution can take his deposition this afternoon. The Judge lets Baez knows that he will consider contempt proceedings at the conclusion of this trial. Mr. Baez begins to talk and Judge Perry cuts him off saying, “Mr. Baez, this is not my first rodeo!”
Judge Perry returns the jury and advises them that they are going to accommodate another witness who is from out of town, and the previous witness will return on Monday.
Dr. Werner Spitz
The Defense’s second witness is Dr. Werner Spitz, forensic pathologist and medical doctor. He attended medical school at the University of Geneva in Switzerland from 1946-1950, then transferred to Hebrew University in Jerusalem and graduated in 1953. He went on talking about his internships and residency. In 1959, he came to the United States and was paid by a grant from the University of Maryland, where he held an academic appointment and worked for the medical examiner. In 1961, he went to the Medical School in Berlin where he held an academic appointment, and then returned to Baltimore in 1963, to work for the medical examiner and held an academic appointment at Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland, eventually becoming an assistant ME and then a chief deputy ME in Baltimore. [Half-an-hour later, we still have not gotten to 1972 in his curriculum vitae! Skipping ahead…] He is a fellow in numerous organizations and is licensed to practice medicine in all the countries of the European Union and in numerous states here. He has received numerous awards from law enforcement and has done consulting work for various organizations and universities. [Yes, there is more. You may want to skip ahead to the next paragraph…] He was on the Rockefeller Commission investigating the death of President John F. Kennedy, and later in commissions looking into the assassinations of Martin Luther King. He has published books and articles. He has testified in all 50 states and in foreign countries, and worked with the United Nations. He has testified more than 3,000 times as an expert witness in forensic pathologist. He has conducted more than 60,000 autopsies, and he has practiced forensic pathology for 56 years. And, finally, with all that, the Judge accepted Dr. Spitz as an expert witness in this trial on forensic pathology.
The Autopsy & The Skull
Mr. Cheney Mason conducted the direct examination of Dr. Spitz. The doctor testified that he had asked to attend the autopsy, but he was denied the opportunity to attend. He explained that it is advantageous to have two people look things over at the same time and it is customary in forensic pathology. However, some time later, he was given access to the remains in a funeral home in Orlando.
The first thing he noticed was that “the autopsy was not completely done. If the autopsy had been completely done, the skull would have been opened, as is dictated in our profession.” He explained that a saw is used to remove the cap (via a horizontal cut) so that the forensic pathologist can see the inside of the skull, and he took off the top third of a real skull he had brought in to court for demonstration purposes. (A photo is shown of Caylee’s skull, which the doctor had cut to see the interior.)
Through the photograph shown to the jury, Dr. Spitz points out the black flecks inside Caylee’s skull that “represent the last and permanent result of decomposition.” The doctor claims that the position of the flecks will indicate the position of the skull during the decomposition process. Dr. Spitz claimed that Caylee’s skull was positioned with the left side of the skull down on the ground.
The doctor noted that in Dr. Garavaglia’s report, the medical examiner, she noted taking bone marrow and he assumed it would be sent for analysis, which would help in the diagnosis, however, he subsequently learned that it had not been the case. “Because of this examination,” the doctor noted, “the cause of death remained unknown.”
The Duct Tape
Dr. Spitz was asked if he had read Dr. Garavaglia’s report regarding the duct tape, and he acknowledged that he had, but he disagreed with her conclusions. He said “there was not a shred of soft tissue” on the duct tape, the skeleton was completely clean, in fact, so clean that he had no need for protective gear when he examined the skeleton. He said that there was nothing on the duct tape to suggest that it had been attached to skin. He suggested that perhaps this duct tape was placed there to hold the skull and mandible together after decomposition, but it was his opinion that the duct tape had not been placed on the face before decomposition.
He noted that after reviewing Dr. Garavaglia’s reports, including the toxicology and anthropology reports, he was unable to determine the cause of death. As for the manner of death, he could rule out suicide, but not accident, therefore, if you cannot rule out accident, then you cannot rule it a homicide, like Dr. Garavaglia did.
Jeff Ashton conducted the cross-examination of Dr. Spitz and began by asking him if he agreed that a medical-legal investigation to determine the manner of death requires information outside of medical information, and he agreed. So, Mr. Ashton wanted to know what information Dr. Spitz had been given outside of the medical information, and he replied, “I was given information of the first medical report, the scene, the Anthony home… well, that was was about it.”
Mr. Ashton argued that to determine manner of death you need background, and Dr. Spitz, sounding a bit testy, answered that he understood that and he asked sufficient questions to allow him to have a good idea of what happened.
ASHTON: Who did you ask?
SPITZ: Mr. Baez, Mr. Mason, spoke to other people, I don’t remember who those people were… I had police reports.
ASHTON: What was your understanding of the facts?
SPITZ: Some time elapsed of a month between the disappearance of the child and when the police report was made. Everything needs to be evaluated together, not independently, everything needs to fit together like a jigsaw puzzle.
ASHTON: Wouldn’t you agree that Dr. Garavaglia had more information than you had of the facts?
SPITZ: Well, I read her reports, so I know that information, I would have read it, and I was familiar with it.
ASHTON: But you need to read the police reports and witness statements to make a determination of the manner of death…
SPITZ: I did read the police reports! I recall the facts that I need to form an opinion. I do not recall the facts before she disappeared.
ASHTON: What do you recall about the facts of her disappearance that were significant to your opinion?
SPITZ: A pool in the house, creates possibility of drowning. For a month, went by, without informing the police that the child was missing.
ASHTON: Do you recall any other facts that were significant?
DR. SPITZ: No. But if you want to tell me some facts I will listen.
SPITZ: The failure of Dr. Garavaglia to open the skull was a failure of protocol.
ASHTON: What protocol was that?
SPITZ: We have a child in a case that made national news!
ASHTON: What protocol was that?
SPITZ: The head is opened in any individual where there is any possible involvement of the brain that would benefit from a skull examination. The skull, the head is part of the body. You examine the whole body. When you buy a house you examine the basement. Maybe you can find a house without a basement. …but you examine the living room, the dining room…
Mr. Ashton proceeded to pull out a book Dr. Spitz edited and co-wrote, and asked him to point out the section where it mentions the protocol of cutting the skull open in an autopsy. Dr. Spitz explained that this book is about injuries. Mr. Ashton asked him about other sources, and Dr. Spitz was unable to cite any sources where this protocol is listed as required in an autopsy.
Next, Mr. Ashton questioned Dr. Spitz about the brain debris inside the skull possibly being debris from the flooded area, and Dr. Spitz replies, “No that is not dust, please believe me that the skull of Casey Anthony…” and Mr. Ashton interrupts with, “You mean Caylee Anthony.”
ASHTON: So if there is flooding, couldn’t it be sediment from dirty water that infiltrated the skull and settled in the brain?
SPITZ: This sediment is so common in the brain skull matter that I do not need to research it to know that it is brain matter.
ASHTON: So, you don’t need to bother to have the brain sediment examined by a chemist or biologist because you know that without a doubt.
SPITZ: Well, if they want to examine it, that is fine with me.
Mr. Ashton moved on to argue the doctor’s claims that the duct tape was placed on the skull after decomposition.
ASHTON: You believe the duct tape was put on the skull after the skin had decomposed?
ASHTON: Describe for the jury how this person put duct tape on the skull.
SPITZ: Put duct tape from a roll, tore off a few pieces of duct tape and stuck it on the skull to possibly keep the lower jaw with the rest of the skull.
ASHTON: Your theory is that the body decomposed in that location and the person came picked up the skull or did he put the duct tape on while the skull was on the ground?
SPITZ: Well I cannot tell you that they picked it up.
ASHTON: And when they picked up the skull, then the mandible would have fallen off?
SPITZ: Well, after it decomposed and the skull was moved around, so they would become separated.
ASHTON: So that means that he would have had to pick up the skull, then pick up the mandible, put it back in anatomical position, and then duct tape them back together. So, in your theory, they would have to put duct tape on both sides to hold the mandible to the skull. But this person would have done it with three pieces of duct tape. Why would they use three pieces of tape?
SPITZ: The pieces were not long enough to reach the other side, so maybe they cut extra pieces to make it long enough to reach the other side.
ASHTON: So, if this person removed the skull, stuck the mandible to it with duct tape, then why was the hair the only thing stuck to the tape?
SPITZ: I don’t know why the hair stuck to the tape, it is relevant, because the tape was not sticky, so heat and water removed the stickiness.
ASHTON: Dr. Utz had to cut the tape because the hair was stuck to the tape. (Showing him photo.) So this person who took the skull and mandible, stuck tape to it, put the skull back, and then had to position the hair over the skull?
SPITZ: The person who took this photo put the hair in that position.
ASHTON: Are you saying that personnel from the medical examiner’s office put the hair in that position?
SPITZ: Yes. It would not be the first time that it happened.
[Although the prosecutor commits a faux-pas by referring several times in his hypothetical to the person putting on the duct tape as “he,” which is the Defense’s version of how the duct tape got on Caylee, he does make it sound implausible that the duct tape was placed on the skull after the remains were dumped in the woods.]
My final thoughts are with the jury. How are they sorting through all of this scientific analysis and the battle of the experts. People with equally impressive education and experience arguing opposite points of view must be somewhat confusing.
The admonition to not discuss the case with each other, is that really helpful? I have often wondered why juries are not allowed to discuss the case, as the case goes along. The concern that certain jurors might try to influence others before all of the evidence is in, might be outweighed by the benefits of keeping them engaged. Discussions in the classroom are always useful in understanding the subject matter better. The jurors might benefit by processing the information together, not just intellectually, but emotionally. It would no doubt help the deliberative process move along after the trial, and it might make the time sequestered feel like less of a punishment and more of an immersive college course.
What are your thoughts?
Martie Hevia (c) 2011 – All Rights Reserved