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.
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: Casey Anthony