The Darwin Exception

because it's not always survival of the fittest – sometimes the idiots get through

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My Heart Belongs to Duct Tape – Residually

Posted by thedarwinexception on June 13, 2011

Today was a short day – and here I got all caught up over the weekend. Figures. That’s OK – this week I’ll be hit and miss watching , anyway. I’m going to my son’s house on Wednesday, and I’m staying there until Saturday or Sunday. I can still watch the trial from his house (streaming is awesome), but he has “stuff planned”. Like him paying for me to get my hair done and a mani/pedi, going out to dinner and stupid shit like that that I would never, ever do or spend money on. But, you know, I’ll humor him……

So today, the short day, the first witness is Stephen Shaw, who works for the FBI lab in the hair and fiber unit. He has one year of training in hair/fiber school. He has to take tests. He has been certified as an expert witness 12 times. He’s testified in places like Florida, New York, Montana, The Virgin Islands…..you know, I really need to become an expert in something. Because I want to travel all over the place testifying in cases. We learned Saturday that they get paid “research time”, “travel time” and they get paid for the time they are on the stand. Like 400 bucks an hour to testify – and $150 an hour travel time. And $200 an hour research time. And I’ll bet you can combine some of those times – like “research” on the plane – then you’re getting $350 an hour while you’re flying to the Virgin Islands on someone else’s dime. You know, I could live with that. Now I just need something I can be an expert in. And not something boring like hair or bugs, either. I want to be an expert in something awesome. Like yarn. If people start killing each other with Merino Wool, dude, I’m set! I wonder if there are like serial killer chat rooms where I can hang out and just subtly suggest things “You know, I’ve heard cashmere 4-ply is like perfect for choking someone to death….yeah, leaves no marks….and if you knit a nice cowl with it right after, it’s practically untraceable…..” You know, just plant the seed…..

Yeah, I know, I’m rambling again…..

Anyway, Mr. “I travel to the Virgin Islands to testify about hair…” who, for being an expert on hair, has a really, really bad haircut……he kind of looks like that one Baldwin Brother – the ugly one….gets certified as an expert.

He became involved in this case back in the summer of 2008. He was asked to do a confirmation on Q12, the root banded hair, which is a part of their quality assurance protocol, to see if a second person can find the same result. The second person already knows the conclusion the first person has reached. (Which is kind of stupid – they really shouldn’t know. Wish fulfillment, bias and all that…) In this case Shaw was looking for the appearance of decomposition in the root banded hair, as well as confirmation of the similarity to the known hair sample of Caylee Anthony. He confirmed both results.

Later in 2008 he also examined more items from this case. (Karen Lowe wasn’t available – so I guess this guy is “second best” to her.) He was given what is known to hair and fiber experts as a “hair mass”.(This was the mat of hair found with the skull). He examined the hairs microscopically and compared those hairs to the hair from the trunk with the root banding. He found banding on the hair mass hair, as well. But the banding on the hair mat hair wasn’t similar to the one in the trunk – the hair mass hair was more decomposed. The hair from the trunk still had the root – the hair mass hair had a “brush like appearance”.

He also compared the hairs from the hair mass hair as a purported known sample to the banded hair from the trunk and found they were consistent with being from the same source – but, of course, he can’t say that it’s a positive identification. Hair can never be used to prove conclusively someone’s identity. And the hair mass wasn’t really a “known sample”. He didn’t pluck the hairs from someone’s head himself.

Ashton then asks the witness about a research project that the witness has been involved in – studying root banded hair. The witness says this study is still ongoing, he is just now writing up the “manuscript” regarding the study, which consisted of 600 hairs collected from 15 living individuals (that’s 40 hairs per individual). stored in various locations, like indoors on a windowsill, indoors buried in potting soil fertilized weekly, indoors submerged in water, outdoors in a grassy area that received direct sunlight, in a wooded area that received no direct sunlight and in three different vehicles, including the trunk of a vehicle that was used during the research time period, beneath the seat of a second vehicle, and on the dash and in the trunk of a third vehicle.

The time these hairs were observed was from a week to seven months. And you know, seeing this guy testify about this “study” is kind of funny. I mean,I should start saying “Don’t mind these hairs everywhere – I’m doing a ‘study’”. Paul’s bathroom could have given this guy all the samples he needed – and they’ve been there in varying times, too, from a day to 6 years. Submerged in water, behind the toilet, in the shower, in the sink, on the windowsill…..yeah,we’ve got quite the study going in there.

At the end of the time period, he observed the hairs microscopically to observe changes at the root ends of the hairs. None of the hairs stored indoors or stored in vehicles exhibited decomposition. Some of the hairs stored outdoors and most of the hairs buried in potting soil or submerged in water exhibited some decomposition. Some of the characteristics seen were characteristics seen in hairs removed post mortem. But none of the hairs had post mortem banding. So they did exhibit some decomposition – but no post mortem banding.

Shaw then set up a test where he included all hairs that exhibited changes at the root end, and post mortem hairs – hairs that were from known post mortem bodies. The hairs were given to two examiners that were not involved in the initial testing. They were given three answer sheets total. They were each given an answer sheet to do their initial analysis. They were asked to identify the hairs given to them that had post mortem banding. They were also given a confirmed result answer sheet, where they were asked to come up with one confirmed result. In the confirmed results, the examiners correctly identified all the post mortem banded hairs, and excluded all the environmental study hairs as being banded.

In the initial analysis, each examiner correctly identified all the post mortem hairs as banded, but also included one of the environmental study hairs as banded. So in their initial analysis each one identified one of the ante-mortem hairs as banded, but upon further analysis, they both excluded those hairs as being banded in their confirmed results.

This was a blind test insomuch as the examiners did not know whether any post mortem hairs were in the samples – although they did know that Shaw was conducting a stud y of ante-mortem hairs in his environmental study.

Shaw has a PowerPoint presentation he created regarding his study. Of course, it’s objected to, there is a sidebar, the jury goes out……all of the photographs in the presentation have already been given to the defense, although the presentation itself was never given to the defense. But the defense was just given the photos as they walked into court. And they were given black and white photos – the pictures in the presentation are in color.

So Baez goes through the presentation with the witness – and yes, it’s as fucking boring as you think it is – it’s pictures of hair. A stand of hair before being put on a windowsill….a strand of hair after being on a windowsill……a strand of hair before being on the dash of a car……a strand of hair after being on the dash of a car…….
And they all look like a strand of hair. But, of course, these hairs are magnified – so they actually look like worms. Worms with little black shafts on the root end. And I’ll be damned if I can tell whether or not they have “banding” – he says they don’t and I’ll take his word for it. But all I can think is “Oh No – this means we’ll have to look at these fucking boring ass slides twice – now, and then again in front of the jury. Damn you, Jose Baez!!!!

And the long and short of all this is Shaw has no idea why some hairs showed some characteristics of apparent decomposition while other hairs didn’t, so, you know, there goes probably 2 million dollars he got from the government to study this crap. Studying those hairs in Paul’s bathroom would have been cheaper. And just as effective.

Baez then argues to the judge that this information is cumulative, and the hairs were subjected to different conditions than the hairs in this case, and therefore, this information is improper bolstering. Baez argues that an adult female hair from some lady that died in Tennessee in the wintertime has very little to do with a child in Florida in the Summertime. Baez also argues unfair prejudice because this was all at the 11th hour, they don’t have time to do their own study. And you can tell that the poor Baldwin Brother on the stand is really distressed about Baez dissing his study. I’m thinking he’s really emotionally invested with his little hairs. Wanna bet he has names for them?

Baez says that if the witness wants to show one or two photographs to illustrate hair banding and what he’s talking about – fine, they are good with that, but to sit there and show 30 slides in a Power Point presentation is goofy. And I agree!!! No More PowerPoint Worms!!!! Less is more. Showing one slide after another of these hairs that prove absolutely nothing is redundant.

The judge asks the witness when this study was provided to the state- the witness says in March of 2011. The witness says he told the state and the defense together that they had conducted a study. This witness wasn’t present, Karen Lowe told them. He doesn’t know what she said. The study was provided in a hard copy, written format with the color photographs. After the deposition in early May, the color photos were emailed to the state.

Dorothy Sims says she received the photos (black and white) last week, along with the written report. Ashton didn’t know the defense got the photos in black and white. Sims says she went to the FBI Field Office to view the photos and was not permitted to copy them in color. She also wanted to question the witness further about the nature of the study, since this is an experiment. Ashton says that the FBI won’t allow the release of unpublished material.

Ashton says that this is not improper bolstering, this is an example of original research by this particular witness to answer the question if this root banding can be created in some other way besides being in contact with a decomposing body. Baez says they bought this to the court’s attention back in March – that the state would have a witness on the stand and the defense hasn’t been able to have an independent study of their own done, because all of this science is original and novel and experimental.
“And here we are!” We are in front of a witness with limited exposure to this study. This is not peer reviewed – it’s a study that was done specifically for this case. This study was undertaken after this witnesses deposition.

Ashton denies the study was done for this case – they were contemplating doing this study and yeah, this case inspired them to go forward, but it wasn’t done “for this case…”

The judge then makes his ruling, saying that the defendant in this case is charged with first degree murder, aggravated child abuse, manslaughter, and 4 counts of providing false information to a law enforcement officer. The state has filed notice that they seek the ultimate penalty in this case – death by lethal injection if the defendant is convicted of the crime of murder in the first degree.

The rules of discovery provide that the state provide certain things to the defendant – it’s not the FBI’s responsibility to provide these items to the defense. The defendant has the right to confront those witnesses and evidence lodged against her – there was no objection to the witnesses testimony about the study, but the court finds it troubling, that the state at the 9th hour the state wants to present a PowerPoint presentation that was not provided to the defense. Therefore, no PowerPoint. WooHoo!!! Since there was no objection to his testimony lodged, and he has testified, the record will stay as it is, but the PowerPoint is out. Stupid Baez – he objects to every witness except the one he could have won on.

The Judge goes on to say that yeah, this is the FBI’s study, and yeah, they have the right to disseminate it when they want to -but this case is State of FLORIDA versus Casey Anthony, not FBI vs. Casey Anthony, and if you want to use an FBI study, The State of Florida has an obligation to provide it to the defense, or else don’t use the study.

Jose Baez then notes to the judge that at 9:06 am he did object to this witnesses testimony – as well as renewing all his previous motions and objections. In March he also objected to this witness and his testimony. He Just wants to note that for the record. The judge says that Baez prior objections were not on the basis of the 6th amendment issue that the judge ruled in his favor on. Baez has an opportunity to depose this witness – the witness isn’t saying anything Baez didn’t know he was going to say – only the exhibit is “new information” to the defense.

Finally we get back to live testimony: Ashton is still on direct. He asks Shaw how Shaw became inspired to do this study. Shaw answers that is was originally a thesis he saw on ante-mortem hairs being placed in soil and water and that the testers had gotten decomposition at the root end. It was suggested in that study that additional research should be done to study these hairs against post-motem hairs, so that’s what he did.

Shaw says he would have done the study, anyway, but because of this case the study seemed to be a larger priority. The purpose of the the study was to determine if this root banding – an artifact of post-mortem hairs – could be replicated in hairs that were from ante-mortem sources.

Shaw collected the ante-mortem hairs for this study from volunteers. He received samples from 18 people – he used 15. He actually pulled the hairs himself. The volunteers were male and female, from 3 to 50 years old.

The hairs that were placed in the cars were taped down with the roots exposed. Then the owners of the cars continued to drive the cars as normal. He periodically checked the hairs.

Shaw then identifies a photograph of Q12 – the hair found in the trunk of the Sunfire. He points out the hair banding on the hair. He says that this banding was not found on any of the hairs from live persons.

Cross By Baez – Baez asks about the hair mat from the crime scene that Shaw compared to the banded hair, Q12. Shaw says that he did not examine those hairs side by side. He was speaking of the actual roots – that they were not similar because the hair mat hairs were further decomposed than that of the trunk hair.

Baez asks about the study that precipitated the study Shaw did. Baez asks if that study concluded that banding did occur in ante-mortem hairs. Shaw says no, they didn’t conclude that. Some of the hairs they studied did have darkening and banding, but that this banding was farther down in the root shaft of the hair than the post mortem banding. It was closer to the hair mat sample. But this hair mat did not have much of the root remaining.

Baez has the witness testify as to the difference between “apparent decomposition” and “root banding”. Root banding is a subset of the broader term of “apparent decomposition”. The witness says the root banding is obvious – but Baez points out that it wasn’t so obvious to the two examiners who each got one miss in the analysis of the ante mortem hairs. The witness agrees. Baez suggests that this is all subjective. The witness agrees that it is – somewhat. But he is trained to notice the decomposition. Baez then notes that so are the examiners. The witness says that they have less training than he does.

There is still research being done in this area. It is pretty well established discipline – but it is based on examiners experience noticing the differences in ante-mortem and post-mortem hairs.

This is the very first time he is testifying about this subject. He gave a deposition in Washington, DC and subsequent to this deposition, the witness applied for approval for a validation study of root banding – and he requested that this approval be expedited so as to be complete for this trial. And this was after the deposition. So he wrote the report, gave a deposition, and only then did he apply for a validation study.

And at the end of the day, he still can’t say that post mortem root banding comes from a dead person. The witness agrees.

And in this case, he only got one hair. And humans shed hundreds of hairs per day. Most of those hairs have a club like appearance. Ad some of those hairs will stick on clothing. And hairs are found everywhere at crime scenes – and a lot of these hairs are transferred. Finding a single hair is usually as the result of transfer. The witness says that finding any hair is a transfer. One or many. Finding a hair off of someone’s head is as the result of transfer.

Baez then asks about his study and the environment. The study was done in Quantico between the months of August and April. And Baez points out that climate and heat speeds up decomposition. And it gets pretty cold in Virginia.

Re-Direct – Ashton has the witness repeat that the hair mat and the trunk hair showed different characteristics because the hair mat was further decomposed. And the 2 hairs that were mis-identified by the two examiners were submerged in water for 17 days – they were not from the trunk of a car. And the trunk hair was not a shed hair. It was a forced pulled hair – it was stretched.

The witness then testifies that over his career he has seen thousands of hairs. He has never seen a hair with root banding that did not come from a corpse.

Re-Cross – Baez reiterates that this is the first time the witness has testified about this phenomenon. Baez asks if environmental effects can confuse the identity of root banding. Shaw says yes, without proper training. Baez then asks about the “pulled” hair in the trunk. Baez says that doesn’t mean that someone pulled it out – it could have come from brushing. The witness says yes.

Ashton asks one more question – If the “pulling” could have come from moving a dead body. The witness says yes, it could.

The witness is excused.

The next witness is Elizabeth Fontaine. She is a Physical Scientist Forensic Examiner in the Latent Prints Operations Unit with the FBI. She’s been there4 ½ years. She has a Master’s Degree. And a BS in Chemistry. She’s also had training with the FBI. This woman talks like she’s a robot. You can tell she has testified hundreds of times. She has this Pedigree stuff memorized with all the key “buzzwords” dispersed in there to make her sound both credible and experienced. Actually it makes her sound like a Stepford Scientist. If she was prettier I’d say she sounded like a Miss America Contestant talking about how she’s going to “Make the world a better place for babies and puppies.” I’ll bet if you threw water on her she’d flail around like a fish until her circuits blew up.

In December of 2008 she became involved in this case when she was asked to examine three pieces of duct tape. When she initially received this piece of evidence, it was given a “Q Number” (a “Q” because it was a questioned item, if it was a “Known” item it would be given a “K” number.) The three pieces of tape were Q 62, 63 & 64. Q62 was a separate piece of tape, 63 and 64 were initially received stacked on top of each other, stuck together. An examiner in the trace evidence unit separated them. This witness examined the pieces both stuck together and separately.

All 3 pieces of tape were 6 to 8 inches in length. The glue was almost gone and the tape was no longer sticky. The glue had separated from the fibers and had migrated to one end of the tape, forming a glob. The tape was no longer tape, just a piece of plastic with fibers and glue hanging on. The strings had separated as well.

She examined the tape for finger prints. She was told that the tape was found on remains and she was told that the area it was found in was subjected to periodic flooding. Evidence that has been subjected to environmental conditions, she would not expect to find latent prints on. Latent prints are very fragile, and are comprised of oil, sweat and similar substances. However, she does not go into an examination any differently whether she thinks she will find evidence or not. (Robots are troopers.)

She found no fingerprints on any of the pieces of tape. But she did find something on Q63. She found an outline of a heart on one corner of the duct tape. When she saw this artifact, she was using an alternate light source called RUVIS (Reflective Ultra Violet Imaging System.) This process is used with super glue. It allows the examiner to see items in an almost 3-D way. It allows the examiner to see dirt, grooves, anything that isn’t lying flat on the surface of the items being examined. It also cuts down on the glare and helps the surface to become a flat, non-reflective image. Generally this system is used to help find latent prints.

The heart shape she found was approximately the size of a dime. The witness describes the appearance of the heart as being like that of a band-aid after it has been worn for a long time and then been removed. The glue and debris that is left on your skin is how the heart appeared. She didn’t think this heart was anything forensically important to the case. She noted it and notified the appropriate people about her findings. She showed the heart shape to her supervisor.

She did not photograph the heart. She says that her job is to examine evidence and process evidence for the detection of latent prints. To then take those latent prints and compare them to known prints, other latent prints or to search them in the FBI fingerprint database. When she observes something unexpected, she is to note it and continue on with her examination. The FBI does not require the photographing of unexpected items. In this case, when she observed the unexpected item, she continued on with her examination, and upon completion of examining and processing the duct tape, she did attempt to photograph the heart, but at that time it was no longer visible on the object.

In between seeing the heart and attempting to photograph it, she had done an alternate dye stain called RAM. This is a solvent that allows her to see objects under a laser. It dyes white super glue prints. Rather than glow white under a laser, the prints will look orange. She also used the typical black powder, she also used an alternate black powder – one mixed with a solution that brings out sticky or glue-like substances.

She doesn’t know what he saw other than that is was the size of a dime and heart shaped.

Cross: Baez asks who had the tape before her. She says that all of the evidence received in her office goes to an inventory person first. Then this piece of evidence went to the trace evidence unit.
She repeats several times to Baez, as he tries to trace the path of the evidence from the body to her that she doesn’t know the path of the evidence until it got to her laboratory. She got the items from trace evidence. When trace evidence first received it, they called her to come and inspect the items. This is done so that if there are any prints that can be seen visually, the latent print examiner can photograph them. She assumes that trace evidence is looking for hair and fibers.

She started with Q62, the separate piece of tape – first she inspected it visually, to see if anything could be found without chemical processing. Then she looked with a laser. A certain percentage of the population will have prints that naturally fluoresce – from lotions and the items they handle. Then she used UV to find natural fingerprints. Then in this case the items went back to trace evidence. This is when the tape was separated. She repeated the three steps. Then she used the super glue method in a humidity chamber. Then she used the RUVIS light. Then the RAM dye – and the final step was the black powder and the alternate black powder.

All of these process were done on the entirety of the object. (Except for the alternate black powder -that is only done on “sticky” things.)

On Q63 she saw the heart during the RUVIS system step. And this was done after she got it back from the trace evidence unit.

And she did a report and in the report she indicated that none of these three pieces of evidence had no fingerprints. Then Baez asks her if she was aware that this item was later contaminated….which, of course brings a sidebar.

Baez then has her reiterate that she found no fingerprints.

On Re-Direct Ashton asks which piece was on top of which – Q63 was on top of Q64.

And the witness is excused.

Ashton tells the court that no further witnesses are available until tomorrow. They will be here at 1:00 tomorrow.

The judge tells the jury that they are ahead of schedule. The state will wrap up tomorrow afternoon or Wednesday. The defense may start on Wednesday or Thursday. Depending on the defense’s presentation, sometime between the 25th and the 27th the jury should be getting the case.

The judge recesses for the day – fucking up the jury’s lunch plans. Court will convene tomorrow at 1 pm.

I hope it wasn’t raining as Stepford Scientist left the building.

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5 Responses to “My Heart Belongs to Duct Tape – Residually”

  1. Suzanne said

    “And at the end of the day, he still can’t say that post mortem root banding comes from a dead person.”

    I was thrown by Baez saying that. My understanding of the PP was that it showed that ante mortem hairs might show decomposition given the right environment but wouldn’t develop root banding, but that post mortem samples might show decomposition and root banding, therefore proving that Q12 did come from a corpse.

    The two scientists who each misidentified two different instances of root banding – I thought they checked against each other and confirmed that the two hairs did not show root banding before handing their results to Shaw. So in effect, they peer reviewed each other which sounds pretty sensible to me. And they ended up with accurate results .. what’s Baez’s problem with that ..

    I’m with you on the “getting expert status” thing. I’m thinking milk chocolate, seeing I’m not so fond of dark chocolate and my studies would of course necessitate quality control.

  2. Kathy said

    There would not have been another hair root banding witness if DT Clay-Sims had not kept pushing about this stupid FBI studies concerning environmental causes to hair root banding. It was JA that had to go to the FBI himself because the DT was to lazy to do their job. I wonder if it is true they the DT only received the photo’s in black and white. The photo’s were probably in color but they printed them in black and white. In the conclusion of the root banding you can only say that the post mortem root banding is consistant with a decomposing body. That is as close as you can get to actually saying it is from a dead person. The DT had an expert look at the hair and he agreed that Caylee’s hair root was consistent with post mortem root banding. Gee wonder why the DT didn’t have him testify. The fact that only one hair was found…big deal…NO HAIR root showing decomp should have been found.

  3. Thankfully every report on this witness avoids the comment of ‘splitting hairs,’ but it must have been exhausting to listen to live… about dead things. Yuck.

    However, I appreciated your report and commentary!!

  4. Suzanne said

    It seems unlikely to me that the prosecution wouldn’t have supplied the defence with colour pics. My thought is that maybe they emailed the colour pics to the defence but that they got printed out in b/w. Although, in my (very) limited legal experience in the UK, the practice is to do two sets of documents, each exactly the same, one for each team..

    All supposition of course, but maybe I’m just biased because Baez is floundering and clutching at straws when he can, and I can barely look at Casey’s smiling face behind her hands. Maybe I’m being unfair and it’s a nervous reaction … . or maybe she thinks it’s all a bit of a laugh until she feels personally threatened.

  5. hetherfly said

    waaahhhhh, you can’t go away – how will I survive without the blog?

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