Kudos to Jeff Ashton

In the Casey Anthony trial, prosecutor Jeff Ashton has finally accomplished what I thought would be impossible: he elicited testimony today from George Anthony that momentarily made me wonder if the defense theory about his involvement in the cover-up of little Caylee’s death and his reason for attempting suicide was wholly fabricated.

But only momentarily. When the trial recessed for lunch, I had a chance to think about what George Anthony said—it made no sense at all.

George Anthony testified that before he swallowed blood-pressure medicine and a six-pack of beer he bought a gun with which to threaten some of “Casey’s friends” whom he thought had information about Caylee’s whereabouts.


Which of Casey’s friends was of a murderous frame of mind or a kidnapping frame of mind in January 2009? Which of her friends had something to hide or something that George thought they were hiding? It couldn’t possibly have been the friends who testified at the beginning of the prosecution’s case, because they were all extremely up-standing citizens, including a politician’s staffer.

Why would a former police officer (George Anthony) decide to take the law into his own hands by committing a felony, namely, assaulting people with a deadly weapon?

Let’s face it: what George Anthony said about the gun purchase is very, very strange—as strange as his claim that he visited a woman named “River Cruise” or “Cruz” at night because she had cancer and he was being charitable.

Technorati Tags:

Mysterious Human Behavior in the Casey Anthony Trial

Just when you thought it was safe to go into the water, the shark-attack siren sounds.

On Tuesday in the Casey Anthony trial most of the witnesses and a few of the attorneys behaved in rather unexpected ways—unexpected at least by this mystery maven.

For fear of defaming any individual, I’m not going to be specific. But one thing I feel I learned from Tuesday’s testimony is that a lot of people have no qualms about lying under oath on TV in a high-profile trial. In addition, a lot of family members have no qualms about contradicting one another on the stand—family members who clearly love one another.

I think I’m safe in characterizing the attitudes of the attorneys, however. Prosecutor Drane-Burdick was sullen all day—as she was yesterday. Prosecutor Ashton was prissy and IMHO disingenuous in his constant surprise at the defense.

While the “chatters” on the various live-video websites were unanimously condemnatory of the defense team, I felt defense attorneys Baez and Mason behaved appropriately. They hammered away at their client’s accusers, including George Anthony and Roy Kronk.

Many interesting witnesses appeared outside the jury’s hearing, as well. Many of them won’t be permitted to testify—apparently. And I must say—as a former criminal-trial juror—it’s what the judge doesn’t let you hear that drives you wild after the trial when you find out about it.

But the jury did hear important evidence today and yesterday about the way in which Caylee Anthony’s remains were discovered. If I were on the Anthony jury—and obviously I am not—I would be very troubled by Roy Kronk’s testimony today and by Lee Anthony’s testimony about his mother’s sending a detective to investigate a psychic’s lead about the possibility that Caylee’s remains were in the woods near the Anthony home.

I’m not saying I would believe the defense theory that Kronk moved the remains around (other than his statement that he lifted the plastic bag and the skull fell out at his feet—which casts serious doubt on the CSI evidence). I’m saying that if I were asked whether Casey Anthony deposited Caylee’s remains with duct tape in the woods near her home, I would have to say I have a reasonable doubt.

But I want to be very clear: I am not an average person in any way. I am not an average juror. What I’m saying is that I was surprised to find that I served on a jury of other non-average jurors. There may be one of us on the Casey Anthony jury.

So, despite the foul-mouthed chatters on the various trial websites, I don’t think Casey Anthony is coming off as a cold-blooded killer.

Technorati Tags:

Anthony Family—Complexer and Complexer

Yesterday’s testimony of Lee Anthony in the murder trial of his sister explained a great deal to me about the family’s interpersonal relationships—or, rather, I should say more precisely, inspired my writer-me to add a dimension or two to my Casey-Anthony-look-alike character.

Having toyed with my character’s family overnight, I have now decided that she should have an older brother who also lives in their parents’ home after graduating from high school and who lives in the home when my character becomes pregnant.

In my novel’s plot line, the brother would be the first in the household to notice she was pregnant—sometime in her late-sixth month. It took him this long to notice, because he spent little time with his family. He has serious conflicts with his parents. They often criticize him for “not getting a life,” while at the same time demanding that he contribute to the household budget and act as “the man of the house” when his father abandons them for other women—as he does from time to time.

I don’t mean that in my novel the mother literally says any of these things to her son. Instead she implies these obligations. Mothers have ways of saying things without ever saying them—saying multiple, contradictory things.

All his life, my character’s brother has felt responsible for his little sister. He feels this way to this day. When he realized she was pregnant he “confronted” his mother with the fact. Her response was not only dismissive, she told him in no uncertain terms to butt out. For almost three months, as his sister’s belly grew and grew, his parents gave him the cold shoulder, refused to discuss the impending “big event” and treated him as a non-person. He came and went. He spent as little time in the house as he could—and that little time was primarily at night in his bedroom.

A few days before my character gives birth, her brother raises the issue one last time. His mother completely shuts him out. He understands that he isn’t even welcome in the hospital after his niece is born.

No one else in the family comments. The mother-son relationship is too well known.

But, you say, isn’t this unrealistic? Incomprehensible? Improbable?

No, I reply. It is the well-known psychological phenomenon of “parentizing” of children. In an unhealthy household, parents and children are often co-dependent. The parents demand, in effect, that one or more of their children take care of them instead of the other way around. The children, though, are entirely dependent upon their parents and cannot act in loco parentis (a legal term that means “in place of parents”). As a result, the victimized children lose all self-esteem; they know they are incompetent to do what their parents want them to do. They learn to feel more and more responsible for their parents and siblings.

Because my character’s parents have always been “over-the-top,” immature people, they really never wanted to have children. They had children only to fulfill society’s expectations of them. They would have preferred to remain footloose and fancy free forever. When their first child was a boy, naturally they said they were “thrilled.” When their second child was a girl, naturally they said they were “thrilled.” But the first thing they did after the birth of my character was to make it clear to the boy that as the older brother it was his job to “watch out for his little sister.”

And that’s what he tried to do all his life.

So, when he discovered that my character was pregnant “out of wedlock,” he knew his parents would blame him for not taking adequate care of her. Furthermore, he actually felt that he had let her down in some big way.

My character, though, is secretly glad that her pregnancy has caused her mother to get angry at her older brother. She always thought that her mother preferred him to her—she thought that was why her mother never gave her any love, that is, that her mother expended all her love elsewhere.

I’m still working on the complexities of this fictional family’s relationships. I think I will probably develop a backstory in which brother and sister are extremely close in childhood, best friends, in fact. At some point they “play doctor” or my character’s brother says, “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.” My character will participate in these normal games, but subconsciously something will fester in her like an infection. She will feel deeply guilty about these games and the feelings they engender in her. I’m not sure why yet: either it will be because of her mother’s rather prudish attitude toward sexuality or her open resentment of her husband’s extramarital affairs, or it will be because of her father’s sexual abuse of her—or maybe all of the above.

Technorati Tags:

Casey Anthony’s Brain—Is It a Dangerous Mind?

The dream of criminologists is to find a physical characteristic or set of characteristics that can predict with certainty which children will grow up to be sociopaths. In particular, the issue is what causes “bad seeds," that is, individuals who are predestined to commit crimes, especially murder.

Psychologists have long studied people who lack emotional responses to other human beings, the sort of people that tend to be criminals. In high-profile televised trials, mental-health and FBI profiter commentators typically identify these people as displaying “a flat affect” when confronted with proof of human suffering. You may recall, for example, psychologists describing Scott Peterson’s flat affect (expressionless face) when confronted with photos of his wife’s torso. (Since the Peterson trial was not televised, we have only these commentators’ word for how the defendant looked.)

For over a century, biologists have attempted to find specific defects in the human brain that lead to anti-social behavior. Neurologists in particular have wanted to determine whether genetic defects can be identified in young children.

Why would anyone want to predict criminality in a child? Dr. Adrian Raine of the University of Pennsylvania says, “[I]f I could tell you, as a parent, that your child has a 75-percent chance of becoming a criminal, wouldn’t you want to know and maybe have the chance to do something about it?”

Dr. Raines does not offer any advice for parents of such children, however.

Recently The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that Dr. Raine has proposed that he has found two or three physiological brain defects that are early-childhood indicators of “dangerous minds.” According to Dr. Raine’s theory, sociopaths can be spotted in infancy and sometimes even in the womb.

Studies of the heads of criminals date back to the 1800s. Phrenologists mapped the bumps on human skulls and claimed to be able to determine personality traits of individuals based on their unique bump patterns.

Anthropologists compared human skulls and purported to be able to identify racial differences in bones and particularly in skulls. Paul Broca developed craniometry and believed he could predict personality based on the size and shape of a skull. In addition, this field of anthropology proposed some racist theories about intelligence, too.

During the 20th century, numerous studies were conducted of possible biological causes of aberrant human behavior. In the 1990s, neuroscientist Dr. Antonio Damasio demonstrated that the size of the amygdala (a part of the brain responsible for many emotions) is a predictor of certain behaviors in humans.

In 1997 Dr. Raine applied both Damasio’s theory and another of his own observations involving damage to the prefrontal cortex of the human brain: Raine PET-scanned the heads of 41 convicted murderers with those of 41 “normal” people. Dr. Raine looked at the number of convicted criminals from “good homes” who also had brain abnormalities. He concluded that genetic and biological factors were more influential on criminal minds than were “nurture” factors. In other words, the criminals he studied were born bad. (I have no idea how he defined a “good home.”)

Earlier in his research career, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education, Dr. Raine studied the possibility of predicting specific acts of violence by criminals. He taped electrodes to a number of convicts heads and then locked himself in the back of a van with them. At that point—with prison guards stationed outside to rescue him if necessary—Raine proceeded to do his best to irritate the prisoners in hopes they would snap and try to beat him up. He believed he could predict the moment they snapped using their brainwaves. The experiment was a failure: nothing he did got a rise out of any of them.

In addition, Dr. Raine has found what he refers to as a “hole” known formally as a cavum septum pellucidum. He has found this hole in fetal scans as well as scans of adult criminal brains.

To What End?

First, I would like to point out that Adrian Raine is a private-sector researcher. He conducts his research under the auspices of universities (and in this context even state-owned universities are not public-sector). In addition, while Raine’s research is potentially applicable to forensics, it is not intended to produce evidence of criminality that can be presented in court. His aim is to help caregivers (parents, teachers, mental health professionals) identify potentially problem children in order to provide therapy before they develop sociopathy.

However, it is inevitable that his studies (and similar ones) will be used for highly dubious social engineering purposes. The only acceptable use for this research IMHO is in gene therapy to prevent the development of fetal brains that exhibit these abnormalities.

Casey Anthony’s Mind

I suspect that if the State of Florida could produce brain-scan evidence of Casey Anthony that demonstrated she had a small amygdala, a large frontal cortex, and a hole between the  halves of her brain, they would. Both Ms. Drane-Burdick and Mr. Ashton appear to me to have a visceral dislike of Casey Anthony. And this is what most troubles me about their prosecution of the case:

Why do the prosecutors not want Casey Anthony to be able to put on a defense? Why do they object to almost every witness for the defense and to almost every item of evidence the defense puts forward?

If I were on the Casey Anthony jury, I would resent what seems to me to be the prosecution’s attempt to prevent me from hearing her side of the story.

Technorati Tags:

Privatize State-Run Crime Labs Now

A commentator on In Session’s Casey Anthony trial coverage recently claimed that if trial attorneys present too much detail about CSI evidence, jurors would likely ignore it all. (Of course, this same commentator claimed earlier that these days jurors expect to hear a lot of CSI evidence.) The Casey Anthony trial likely provides support for both of these claims.

For this one-time criminal-trial juror, the mountain of CSI evidence presented by both sides is beginning to amount to a big yawn. Unlike the In Session commentator who was critical of defense-expert testimony, this endless discussion of post-mortem hair-banding and disgusting fumes rising from a square of auto carpet convinces me that the State of Florida wasted a great deal of taxpayer money on forensic examinations.

Why? To try to convince a jury that they had solid evidence against Casey Anthony—when in fact they do not.

Junk Evidence

In order to develop its forensic-science case against Casey Anthony, the State of Florida found that local crime labs were inadequate to process the mountain of evidence (hairs, fumes, stains, leaves, twigs, fibers, clothes, shoes, shovels, dirt, duct tape, plastic bags, cloth bags, trash, garbage, DNA, body fluids, bones, bugs, stickers, and the lack of same).

So they sent most of this junk to the FBI lab in Virginia and some to a federal research lab in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. The FBI lab costs U. S. taxpayers roughly $8 billion (with a B per year; Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which provides the U. S. with critical research into energy and technology (not merely crime-solving) costs roughly $1.65 billion (less than one-quarter of the FBI Crime lab). The Florida Department of Law Enforcement has an annual budget of roughly $1.4 million (with an M).

For their share of these funds, what have Florida taxpayers received in evidence to prove that Casey Anthony willfully, maliciously murdered her daughter?

1. An Oak Ridge Lab anthropologist’s crackpot theory that the results of a gas-chromatography/mass spectrometry analysis, which showed relatively high levels of chloroform in a gas of unknown origin found in Casey Anthony’s car, was highly suggestive of human decomposition (although an Oak Ridge Lab chemist explained that relative amounts of any chemical in a gas of unknown origin is meaningless, even if in fact chloroform is one of 30 to 80 possible emissions from human decomposition)

2. That only three peer-reviewed studies have been conducted on the gases emitted from decomposing human flesh, and that two of them were authored by an Oak Ridge Lab anthropologist who also believes in divining rods

3. One FBI hair-analyst’s opinion that a single hair found in Casey Anthony’s car was “consistent with” and could not be “excluded from” coming from the head of Caylee Anthony and furthermore that the hair displayed post-mortem hair-banding, which she did not choose to show to the jury by means of photographs taken of the hair

4. Less than a dozen peer-reviewed articles have been published in forensic-science journals on the topic of post-mortem hair-banding

Sidebar: In the thesis (not peer-reviewed article) on hair-banding linked above,  “the author suggests that during the forensic investigator’s examination of a decedent with an unknown PMI [post-mortem interval], a sample of 25 head hairs should be collected and saved for evaluation. The slow decomposition rate of hair, relative to other soft tissues, makes it a valuable source of information in older forensic cases.” Please note that Caylee Anthony’s hair mass found with the skull contained a sample of 25 hairs, but they were unusable for a hair-banding analysis, and the hair found in the car was only a single hair and there was no known PMI.

5. That the FBI lab has an on-going study of whether hair-banding can occur in ante-mortem hairs (that is, hairs from living people) which is so far inconclusive but which has begun to suggest that hair-banding may not be an exclusively postmortem event

6. That the only relevant, usable DNA recovered from any of the evidence was one sample of mitochondrial DNA from a hair, but all that this evidence proved was that females descended from Caylee Anthony’s great grandmother had at some time ridden in Casey Anthony’s car

7. That the FBI lab does not test for “touch DNA,” although it is well-established in Europe

8. That multiple FBI examinations of three pieces of duct tape,  one of which piece was stuck the hair remains, turned up no evidence of anything other than that the FBI lab contaminated the tape on two spots

9. That fly and insect remains found in the car trunk and at the site of recovery showed that flies and insects that are attracted to rotting meat (human and pork) were present. These bugs included “early colonizers” (that is, ones that show up during the early stages of decomposition) and “late colonizers” (that is, ones that show up during later stages). The fact is that Caylee Anthony’s remains completely decomposed—and that’s why nothing but bones and a little hair were ultimately recovered, but there is no CSI proof-positive that anything decomposed in the trunk of the car other than some unknown meat. (The best evidence of human decomposition came from a tow-truck yard operator, not a crime lab.)

10. That a shovel Casey Anthony borrowed from a neighbor was found to have soil on it, but as soon as the remains were found the FBI Lab ceased its examination and never compared the shovel evidence to the soil in the wooded area where the remains were found—so there is no evidence that Casey Anthony borrowed the shovel to bury the body. In fact there is no evidence that Casey Anthony borrowed the shovel to bury anything.

11. That none of the public laboratories found any stains or any substances on anyone’s clothing or shoes. Nothing of evidentiary value.

12. That no fingerprints were found at all.

13. That a bag of garbage from the Anthony car was dried out in order to preserve the organic materials in it, and as a result numerous experts were forced to testify that there were no wet materials or “food” present in the trash when they examined it

14. That a bag of garbage from the Anthony car was odiferous when discovered, but subsequently smelled less strongly after it was dried out.

15. When instructed to search the Anthony family’s computer hard drive (not the defendant’s laptop hard drive), a computer forensics expert on the Orlando police force failed to recover any useful evidence. Then a software developer from Canada recovered a series of searches that took place within a few minutes on an afternoon in March 2008 when supposedly only Casey was at home. No thorough, comprehensive analysis of either hard drive was ever conducted.

I could go on, but it bores me. The fact is that investigators in the Caylee Anthony murder case did not cleverly use CSI evidence to prove what killed her, let alone whodunit.

At this point, the only “evidence” that Casey Anthony did anything wrong is that she lied about her daughter’s whereabouts after she must already have been dead. A reasonable juror would conclude from this that Casey knew Caylee was dead.

But that doesn’t prove how she died.

If the jurors in the Casey Anthony trial have ceased to take notes, this is why. When they retire for deliberations, they will discount most of the physical evidence and be forced to rely on witness testimony. Note that I said “discount,” not “ignore.” The jurors will discuss that fact that for every CSI clue presented, an equally convincing counter was also presented.

And you don’t have to be a Ph. D. to understand this.

It seems to me the taxpayers of Florida would have been better served to have all the evidence in this case analyzed by privately-owned labs, rather than government-owned and run labs, which have an inherent prosecution bias.


Technorati Tags:

Comment on Scott Peterson from “Voice of Sanity”

In Peterson’s case I believe the most likely scenario was that Amber called the Peterson house and Laci answered the phone. Later Laci confronted Scott with his philandering and they argued. He struck her and killed her—unintentionally. I even think he may have tried a C-section to save his unborn son. In the end, he wrapped the body in a blanket and tossed it in the bay. Murder, yes. First degree, pre-meditated murder, no.




Utterly impossible and totally at odds with the prosecution’s own evidence. I’ll give you three valid pieces of evidence to prove it but first there’s a point that must be made. This trial taught me that most people (my working estimate is 98%) are as dumb as a sack of rocks. They don’t know how to think, how to make connections or how to come to valid conclusions. As a result, they confuse the immaterial with the material, the unrelated with the related.

Instead of learning to think they have learned to fake it. They make comments that may serve them well in other areas, but in the area of law they lay themselves as bare as they would discussing calculus or physics.

You can, for example, point out that there was no evidence that Conner was ever in the sea. They will counter with some irrelevancy about watching porn, dying his hair or playing golf.

If you ask them a question like, “If Scott had NOT ordered porn channels, would you stand up firmly for a verdict of not guilty?” They will, if honest, admit no. They still cannot grasp the reverse of this, that therefore watching porn does not go to a conviction, and similarly with the other irrelevant matters that the senile Delucchi allowed in.

OTOH, if there was solid evidence that Conner was never in the sea that would immediately lead to an inevitable conclusion that Peterson was innocent. This is a material fact, unlike most of the prosecution nonsense, but most cannot grasp this and, I fear, never will. They simply don’t have the skills needed. See Dunning–Kruger effect for more on this.

So what are the three pieces of evidence? Here they are:

1) Laci Peterson could not have been in the sea for more than 14 days at the extreme outside. 16 weeks is impossible – there would remain only a few scattered bones of hers and nothing of the baby. Read about this here:

2) Every witness in the trial gave testimony based on science or experience that the baby was full term. Drs Henry Lee and Cyril Wecht did the same, although they weren’t called to testify. This means that a baby aged 32 weeks and one day went into the water (allegedly) and a full term (37 – 40 weeks) came out. Here is a quote from Dr. Wecht:

“After Henry and I examined Laci Peterson’s body for nearly ninety minutes, technicians brought in the body of Conner Peterson…. The biggest issue was the baby’s body development. To obtain; an accurate estimate of age, we measured the baby’s length. Decomposition does not impact length because a person’s bone structure does not shrink from immersion. Conner measured about nineteen and one-half inches, which is technically within the range of a full-term baby. Plastic tape had been and still was wrapped around the neck and held there by a knot.”

3) Laci Peterson’s underwear had the seat only worn out. The front was intact, the seat was missing. This would have taken weeks and would not have happened post mortem. Read about this here:


So we have three unshakable pieces of evidence proving that Laci and Conner lived long after Dec 24th. This make Scott innocent, without a doubt. Every other piece of evidence, without exception, proves the same thing. Not one piece goes to guilt.

And yet, nothing I have said will make any difference to the dullards who hate him. For them, ‘evidence’ is just random phrases they use to shore up their shoddy conclusions. I note that, to this day, the jury themselves also cannot offer any reason to convict him other than prejudice and fear. What a sad state of things!


A Voice of Sanity.





Casey Anthony Story—Weird and Scary

I was going to title this blog, “Hey, Jose, Ask the Right Questions.” But having heard that the prosecution has told the judge in the Casey Anthony trial that Casey may have “gotten” the story about her child drowning in a pool and being found by her grandfather from a neighboring cellmate, I’m utterly baffled.

America, wake up!

If we continue on this path, justice in this country is doomed. This new news story is nothing but innuendo and rumor. Yet national news outlets are reporting “facts” that not only haven’t been proved, they haven’t even been alleged.

I’m not naïve. I don’t believe every tale a pathological liar tells me. I didn’t believe Scott Peterson anymore than I believe what I’ve heard so far from Casey Anthony. But in neither case do I believe the state proved or has proved so far their guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

In Peterson’s case I believe the most likely scenario was that Amber called the Peterson house and Laci answered the phone. Later Laci confronted Scott with his philandering and they argued. He struck her and killed her—unintentionally. I even think he may have tried a C-section to save his unborn son. In the end, he wrapped the body in a blanket and tossed it in the bay. Murder, yes. First degree, pre-meditated murder, no.

I think the most logical explanation in the Casey Anthony case is that Casey used chloroform to sedate Caylee, and she died—accidentally. Then Casey concocted elaborate lies to cover up. Child abuse and murder, perhaps. First-degree, pre-meditated murder, no.

It’s hard to believe the prosecution will be able to prove the cellmate (so to speak) story predated Casey’s story to her defense attorneys. The attorneys cannot be compelled to say when she first told them the drowning story. And one has to ask whether or not the cellmate borrowed her story from Casey—apparently the woman has a long criminal record (which Casey does not, a fact no one seems to give her credit for, that is, her history of good behavior).

So—frankly—unlike the national media, this news story interests me little.

What I think is shocking is the national media. Last night, a popular talk show asked the question, “Will Caylee Anthony get justice? The Casey Anthony trial is the most-followed trial since O. J. Simpson. Will justice be served this time?”

Get real! O. J. Simpson was a major sports hero. He was a celebrity. He was wealthy. He was a mature adult. He had abused and divorced one wife before he abused and murdered a second. He didn’t just murder his wife, he butchered her and her friend while his two young children slept inside their home.

Casey Anthony is nobody. She isn’t famous except as the media has made her infamous. She is indigent. She is in her twenties and has never lived outside her parent’s home. She never abused her daughter or anybody else’s daughter. If she murdered her daughter, the evidence suggests she did so by putting her to sleep (the idea of suffocation by duct tape AND plastic bag is absurd on its face).

Sidebar: Jose, you did a great job showing that the Vass evidence of a huge amount of chloroform in the air sample was bogus. But you didn’t make it clear to the jury. In addition, you tried to claim Oak Ridge scientists have no quality controls—by using the “standards” which are in fact “controls.” The “errors” you pointed out in the tests were actually quality control. What you should have asked was, “Your research experiments are open-ended, are they not? Isn’t that the purpose of research, namely, to see what will happen?” The chemist would have said, “Yes.” Then you should have asked, “But Vass’s experiments weren’t to see what was in the air sample; they were conducted to prove the air samples came from decomposing human flesh, right?”


Technorati Tags:

Casey Anthony Trial—Rhetoric of Cross-Examining Defense Witnesses

OK. I admit it. I’m not the typical trial spectator and apparently not even a typical juror, but in trial after high-profile trial I find myself wanting to put a sock in the mouth of prosecutors when they start sarcastically cross-examining defense witnesses, especially expert witnesses.

Today in the Casey Anthony murder trial, prosecutor Jeff Ashton attempted time and again to belittle a Dutch expert in the detection of “touch DNA” by sneering at his lack of a Ph. D. (does Ashton have a Ph. D.? I do), by ridiculing the fact that his company has established its laboratory on a Colorado farm (which is known internationally as the “Crime Farm”), and calling his company a “mom and pop shop” because it was founded jointly with his wife, who is also a DNA expert.

As a Ph. D. and rhetorician, I would advise any lawyer who is cross-examining an expert witness—defense or prosecution—to show respect to all the experts who testify, especially when by definition that individual is an expert in a field in which you are not. I honestly don’t believe it takes a Ph. D. to find it distasteful to have to watch an ill-informed know-it-all try to humiliate people who have distinguished themselves in any field.

So far in the Anthony trial, I’ve gritted my teeth through Ashton’s cross-examination of a Ph. D. forensic entomologist who achieved distinction before the age of 30, a distinguished retired Ph. D. forensic botanist, and now a distinguished expert in touch DNA whose credentials include innovations in the field of DNA amplification and collection of minute, degraded samples of DNA. When Ashton belittled the young-genius entomologist I thought to myself: “He’d better hope there aren’t young jurors who admire this guy for what he’s achieved.” When Ashton belittled the female botanist, I was glad to see that her experience as a university professor and lecturer enabled her to deftly counter all his jabs so that I didn’t need to wonder if there were any retired women professionals on the jury who might find his attitude offensive.

But I’m utterly baffled at Ashton’s attitude toward Richard Eikelenboom. In voir dire, the witness said that Ashton had been rude when he presented himself at the D. A.’s office for deposition and turned him away. Of course, this testimony came outside the jury’s hearing. On the stand Tuesday afternoon, though, it seemed to me as if Ashton’s sarcasm was his last-ditch attempt to imply to the jury that they ought not to listen to his opinion that touch DNA could probably have been found in the Anthony case, especially on the victim’s clothing and the duct tape found at the scene.

Rhetorically speaking—meaning “from the standpoint of the emotional effect on the jury”—I believe Ashton’s stance will convince the jury that he’s either grasping at straws or terrified that the jury will believe Eikelenboom.

I thought about blogging on this topic earlier, because I found Jose Baez’s respectful cross-examination of all the prosecution’s experts, including Haskell (who clearly had no respect for Baez) and Vass, whom he managed to get to admit he believed in magic, to be the appropriate rhetoric.

A bit of advice to Ashton: You may show your contempt for opposing attorneys and clients, but it is dangerous to show the same contempt to distinguished experts who happen to believe that every American is entitled to present a defense and to ask a jury to decide their fate.

Forensic Sciences versus Science and Sciences

The Casey Anthony murder trial highlights the rampant misuse of CSI evidence in American courts. Both sides in the case have trotted big-name forensic scientists to dazzle the jury. Yet little of the forensic-science evidence presented has clarified any of the mysteries surrounding the death of little Caylee Anthony. Only the eye-witness testimony has shed any light on this case.

The problem arises from the term “forensic science.” The word “forensic” in this term means “relating to debate and argumentation.” The “science” in this term is a misnomer like most terms involving the word “science” (such as social science and political science). More apt would be the words “arts” or “craft.” For example, no one would claim to study “legal science,” because all lawyers know that practicing law is an art and craft—a skill, one that varies in quality according to the abilities of each practitioner.

Forensic science provides support for one of the sides in a legal debate or argument. It produces evidence present to bolster an argument, such as: Caylee Anthony had duct tape applied to her mouth and nose, thus suffocating her.

By definition, forensic science can also supply support for the argument that the duct tape was not applied to Caylee Anthony’s face at all but rather to something else, such as the neck of one of the bags found near her remains. Forensic science can even supply support for the argument that the duct tape became stuck to the hair at some point after the remains were dragged around by carnivores. I can think of a very long list of possibilities that forensic science could be used to support.

It isn’t science. Science is the study of nature to discover facts that lead to an understanding of the truth. Science has a specific methodology, which is vastly different from the methodology of forensic science. Science’s methodology begins with the understanding that the truth is not known; a hypothesis about the truth is proposed; and then an almost endless series of experiments is conducted to confirm or deny the hypothesis.

Forensic science begins with an assumption (not a hypothesis). The assumption in the Anthony case is that Casey Anthony murdered her daughter, carried her around in the trunk of her car for several days, concocted a kidnapping tale, then wrapped her daughter’s dead face in duct tape and stuffed her into a plastic bag (or, if that can’t be proven, that she suffocated her daughter with duct tape or maybe by putting her in the plastic bag—although you can’t have it both ways), and then discarded her like trash in a nearby wooded area. All of the FBI laboratory investigators and all of the Orange County investigators proceeded from this assumption to try to find evidence supporting their claims.

But one only bothers to go to the extraordinary effort of looking for a needle in a haystack if you know in advance that a needle is there to be found.

Science is currently looking for a needle in a haystack using the multi-billion-dollar Large Hadron Collider at CERN, a research center in Switzerland. The needle science is looking for is the Higgs Boson, an incredibly small particle that is assumed to exist and must exist if other physics concepts and equations are to be believed to be correct.

Note: I did not say that science and the governments of the world all agreed to spend billions of dollars trying to find evidence to support an assumption. The Higgs Boson is an hypothesis at this point, but it is an hypothesis derived from over a century of scientific research.

In other words, if Casey Anthony’s guilt were a scientific hypothesis instead of law-enforcement assumption, the so-called forensic scientists working on the problem would likely still be working on it until Casey Anthony dies a natural death at a ripe old age.

Unfortunately for American defendants in murder trials these days, no one in the courtroom seems to understand that forensic evidence ought not to be labeled scientific and ought to be understood by everyone—especially the judge and jury—as simply one or two people’s interpretations of a phenomenon they observed.

No amount of forensic science can tell the Anthony jury whether or not the smell and stain in the trunk of Casey’s car was from human decomposition or from pork-chop juices.

Technorati Tags:

Who was Caylee last seen with?

Note to blog subscribers: I inadvertently published the wrong draft of this post. I apologize for erroneous information included in that draft. It should never have been published. I have absolutely no knowledge about the Casey Anthony murder trial, other than what I have read or heard in the press.

Yesterday after the prosecution in the Casey Anthony trial rested its case, Judge Belvin Perry denied the pro-forma defense motion for a directed acquittal for several reasons, all but one of which made perfect sense. As I understand it (and I am not a lawyer, thankfully), Judge Perry reiterated several fundamental principles of U. S. law:

  • The jury, not the court, is the finder of fact.
  • When considering a motion for acquittal, a trial judge must always view the people’s case in the most favorable light.
  • The prosecution had demonstrated that the defendant had motive, means, and opportunity to commit the crime.

Sidebar: Judge Perry also explained that under Florida law multiple acts of life-threatening child abuse is a first-degree murder crime.

Of everything he said, only one concept strikes me as completely illogical, even though I’m sure he’s right about it being the law, namely, that the last person with whom a murder victim is seen is “whodunit.”

It seems to me this is chop logic, a tautology. The last person with whom a two-and-a-half-year-old child is usually seen is her mother. It’s only suspicious when it’s someone other than a parent.

In this case, the last person who saw the victim with her mother is the grandfather—which makes George Anthony the defendant’s primary accuser. It wasn’t as if Caylee was last seen with Casey by a crowd of strangers with no stake in the issue.

Judge Perry cited several child-murder cases in which the principal evidence against the defendant was the fact of having been the last person seen with the victim. If I’m not mistaken, though, none of the defendants were the children’s parents. I’m sure that in at least one case the defendant was an estranged boyfriend of the mother.

Sidebar: The motive in one boyfriend case was, apparently, to seek revenge on the child’s mother for dumping him. Oddly, Judge Perry said that the prosecution had demonstrated that Casey’s motive was “her relationship with her mother,” meaning Cindy Anthony. I suppose he meant that Casey was jealous of Cindy’s domineering affection for Caylee, but try as I might I can’t see how a daughter who loved her mother so much that she would be jealous of her mother’s love for her own daughter would to want to kill the daughter, whom she also loved. Was Casey hoping to regain her mother’s affection by doing away with her chief rival? It seems to me that—in fact—there is literally no love lost between Cindy and Casey. If Casey wanted to kill anybody it would more likely be her mother. (And, by the way, don’t we all know a few mothers and daughters who don’t get along?)

One case the judge cited was from Massachusetts, I believe. He noted that it was not the law of Florida but was nonetheless illuminating or illustrative or some such word. He read the circumstances to the court:

A boy was found injured in the basement of an apartment building, naked and moaning. The boy was hospitalized and eventually released to the custody of someone in the building (a parent? I’m not sure. Why the cops did not arrest someone when the boy was first found—obviously the victim of abuse or neglect—is a complete mystery to me.) Anyway, eventually the boy was murdered and the last person he was seen alive with was convicted of his murder, based solely on the fact that he was the last person the boy was seen alive with.

This is a real puzzle. There is absolutely no similarity between the Massachusetts case and the Anthony case—unless the judge was saying that in his mind George Anthony’s highly questionable testimony about seeing Caylee last with Casey was sufficient evidence to convict Casey. The most critical difference is that there was a history of abuse in the Massachusetts case, but there was also a difference in that the victim was found murdered in the apartment building where he lived.

Of course, Caylee was last seen with her mother. Every witness including George and Cindy Anthony said that Casey was never seen without Caylee until she disappeared. And Casey admits that she was present when Casey died.

It’s issues like this that make me wonder what lawyers learn in law school. It sure isn’t logic.

Technorati Tags: