The Darwin Exception

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

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Pigs Not in a Blanket

Posted by thedarwinexception on June 20, 2011

This morning starts with the judge being funny again. Baez’s first witness is a Dr. Huntington, who apparently is a diabetic. Baez asks the judge if they can take frequent breaks and take lunch early for the doctor to check his sugar levels. The judge asks “How long are you planning to keep him up here, Mr. Baez?”

Dr. Tim Huntington, the diabetic, takes the stand. He has a cheat sheet for the court reporter. He is a professional forensic entomologist who advises law enforcement agencies. Another bug guy. He has a PhD in entomology. He talks fast. He is board certified as a forensic entomologists. There are only 15 members. Dr. Huntington is at the top level of the board. Probably because he was the second member to join. (Ha! Does this “board” sound like a “bug club” between this guy and his buggy buddies to anyone else – or is it just me….)He has consulted with law enforcement in deaths and homicides about 65 times. He likes to collect his own evidence from the scene when at all possible.

Linda Kenny Baden called Dr. Huntington in December of 2008 about the facts and evidence in this case. He flew to Florida from Nebraska that week and was given materials to review. He got the reports from Dr. Haskell and reviewed those, he collected evidence from the scene and from the medical examiners office, and he inspected the car. He was sent a box of insect material that Dr. Haskell had looked at to form his opinions.

Dr Huntington talks a little bit about entomology in general. Mostly entomology deals with insects that attack the food that we grow and eat. There are also the urban entomologists – who study cockroaches and bed bugs. Then there is his specialty – Forensic Entomology, that is a sub discipline dealing with medical/criminal insect examination, studying insects and their relation to dead bodies.

Forensic entomology deals primarily with estimating the time of death after bodies have sat undiscovered for some period of time. This is called the “Post Mortem Interval”. Insects discover dead bodies very, very quickly, and they colonize in dead human bodies the same way they will any animal, laying eggs and hatching larvae.

Baez invites Dr. Huntington over to his magic easel.

Dr. Huntington draw out the complete life cycle of a fly. (He says he is going to try and not bore the jury – but I think that ship has sailed.) The fly starts out as an egg, then hatches into a first stage maggot whose only function is to eat. Insects are arthropods (Arthropods are the things that if they are in the ocean you pay a lot of money to eat them – If they are on land, you want to step on them..) The phylum of Arthropods includes insects, spiders, ticks, and crustaceans like lobster, shrimp….

Arthropods have exoskeletons, which means they can’t grow bigger unless they break out of their exoskeleton. They will crawl out of this to grow. In the case of maggots – or butterfly’s and other complete metamorphoses insects – there is a second stage maggot, which is a little bigger than the fist stage maggot. The maggot will then molt out of it’s exoskeleton, which is left behind to dissolve or be eaten by the feeding maggots, and enter the third stage, the last maggot stage. When they finish eating, they need to turn into an adult. To do this they enter a pupae stage, which is like the cocoon stage of a butterfly. The adult fly will emerge from this puparium.

There are thousand of species of fly that go through this transformation from maggot to pupae to adult, so there are always exceptions, but generally the developing maggot will crawl away from the food source. Mostly as a self preservation method – there are lots of insects and other animals that will feed on maggots.
Insects are cold blooded and temperature determines their development rates.

For some reason, Ashton objects,there is a sidebar and the jury is excused for the arguing. When the jury leaves, Baez asks Dr. Huntington if he determined a post mortem interval in this case. The Dr. says no, he didn’t. Baez asks if Dr. Haskell estimated a post mortem interval. Dr. Huntington says, not really, but Haskell did say it was “consistent with” such and such a date.

Baez asks if it would have been possible, had the maggots been collected from the trunk of the car, to determine a post mortem interval. (And now I’m confused again, because I thought Baez was arguing that the body was never in the trunk of the car. If the body was never in the trunk of the car, and the maggots came from garbage, not human decomposition, then how would the maggots tell us anything about the PMI?)

The witness says yes if we assume that they were associated with a dead body, then a post mortem interval could have been estimated. But that wasn’t done in this case. The witness says that on the topic of Post mortem interval, this is all that he is planning on testifying to.

Ashton then asks the witness under what circumstances a post mortem interval could have been determined. The witness says that if you had the maggots from the trash bag and had assumed that they were form a dead body, then you could have determined when those eggs were laid to determine a time of death – or approximate time of death.

Ashton asks the witness why he wasn’t able to do that based on the evidence that was collected. And the witness says that he couldn’t do that because there was no reason to assume that those maggots came from a dead body. If one was to make that assumption, then they could have estimated a time of death from the evidence collected, but this witness says he was not able to make the assumption.

Ashton is fine with the witness now – as long as the witness is going to testify about the car and not the scene. And as long s the defense doesn’t discuss whether or not the witness had access to the scene.

Baez continues to question the witness about how this life cycle is related to PMI – and the witness says it is a simple mathematical equation. Since it is all dependent on temperature, and the life cycle is known, the variable of “time” can be solved for. One can take the average daily temperature, and add them up to reach the transitional stages of the life cycle of the insect.

There are three things a forensic entomologist needs in order to determine how old an insect is.

1. Stage and species of the sample. Species is important because every species has a different growth rate. The stage is important to determine at what point int heir life cycle the species is in.
2. Developmental rates: These are experimentally constructed, using known temperatures and known samples of insects, so we know how long they have been there and what stage they are at. The researchers then construct a growth chart. These charts are published throughout the entomological literature.
3. Temperatures:. These are the temperatures the insect experienced during development. Entomologists look for a data recording weather stations, like the ones maintained by the national weather service. Golf courses will also have these, as well as homeowners and universities. These data recorders will record the daily and hourly temperatures, sometime to the minute temperatures. Of course, the insects are usually found some distance away from the data station, so the entomologist will put a portable data recording device, called a therma-couple, at the site after the evidence is recovered, and record the temperature for three or four days, and then compare those temperatures to the data recording weather station, and adjust the temperature from the site to the weather station accordingly for the dates in question.

Dr. Huntington says that he doesn’t like to use human bodies in his studies – because he doesn’t know how long the body has been dead, and he doesn’t know where the body came from. He likes to use pigs. One reason he likes to use pigs is that they are readily available, and for the most part, people don’t have a problem with killing pigs for research. They are also cheap, and very similar to humans both morphologically and physically,they have the same digestive process, they are omnivores, and you can do a lot of things to a dead pig that you can’t do to a dead human.

Dr. Huntington says that he has done some research on decomposition in trunks of cars – and he drags out a couple of demonstrative aids to help explain his research to the jury.

Dr. Huntington explains that he got these cars from junkyards (which is kind of funny, since Baez chastised Dr. Haskell and his work when it involved junkyard cars…) Huntington was specifically researching the trunk of a car and what kind of barrier it served to colonizing insects when it came to human remains. Huntington placed pig cadavers in the trunks of cars and noted what kind of insect activity would occur. He didn’t use a Pontiac Sunfire, he used a Ford Probe – so I’m not really sure how relevant all of this is. I’m not sure any extrapolation can be made from one car manufacturer to another, or even one car to another, actually. I mean one car could have a rust hole in it or something, and some cars have access to the trunk from the back seat – and insects could presumably get in that way,if there were defects in the front of the car. I’m thinking this study is really useless for this case.

The Ford Focus is the most intact of the 6 vehicles he used in the study. He also inspected the Sunfire – but he inspected it after the liner and everything was removed.

So, for his study the doctor had 6 pigs killed, and placed one in each of the 6 junkyard cars. This was September in Nebraska. There were no flies on any of the pigs when he placed them in the trunks. He then waited, watched and observed for any signs of insect colonization in the trunk on the decomposing pigs. He would check the trunks daily – although the weather wasn’t really great – it was cool and rainy. Cold weather and rain really inhibit insect activity.

On day 10 of the study a number of dead and living blowfly’s were able to be seen along the back windshield of the car. Blowfly’s are the most important to forensic entomologists because they show up when something is dead – they can show up within seconds.

The fact that some of the flies seen on the windshield were dead is actually of some importance. A fly that gains access to a sealed environment generally won’t fight for a way out. The chemical attraction to leave is nowhere near as strong as the attraction to gain entrance. The flies will die in he sealed container because they can’t find their way out, and won’t actively search for an exit.

On day 11 Dr. Huntington opened the trunk and looked at the pig remains. He shows a picture of a decomposing pig covered in maggots with some of the maggots crawling away from the food source to go and pupate. There is a decompositional ring of bodily fluids under the pig. Some of the tissue of the pig has been lost due to maggot activity, and there is a lot of black dark fluid visible – this is maggot secretions bacteria, bodily fluids and bacterial waste.

Jeff Ashton objects to this witness testifying about the “extremely distinguishable” staining left on the carpet of the trunk. It looks nothing like the faint, barely distinguishable stain in the Sunfire trunk (but the pig isn’t in three Hefty bags, ether…) The judge lets the witness continue, but within one sentence, Ashton asks for a sidebar. And then the jury is sent out for more arguing by the attorneys.

Outside the presence of the jury, the witness testifies that anyone who has any experience with decomposing bodies will be able to look at a stain from decomposition, smell it, and know exactly what it is. The witness says that one can also do a presumptive test for blood and discover if it is a decompositional stain.

Baez asks the witness if he was asked about this study during his deposition. The witness says he was. Baez tries to ask about his memory of relaying his opinion regarding the staining and detection of decompositional fluids, but the Judge says there are only two methods of proving to the court that this was his opinion and that it was disclosed – either show the judge the report where he states this – or show the judge his deposition where he states this.

Baez shows the judge a passage from the deposition where the witness talks about the saturation o f the trunk line with bodily fluids and staining.

The judge asks for Mr. Ashton’s input – and Ashton gets up and asks if we are through listening to the witness’s opinion – and adds that the witness is not qualified to testify regarding phenolphthalein tests – and we’ve heard from a serologist about this. And that’s not in his deposition.

Ashton asks if there is any other point the witness is going to give his opinion on. And then he tries to rat Mr. Baez out for texting while Baez is t the podium. The judge says he doesn’t care if Baez is standing on his head – he tells the attorneys to stick to the facts and stop editorializing.

Baez asks the witness what the witness would expect to find in relation to bodily fluids 2 days after death.

Dr. Huntington answers that the decompositional fluids that leech from the body have a blackish, staining quality to them. If the body is in a car trunk, it will leech into the carpet and given enough time it will soak through the carpet into the line underneath. In a day or two in hot temperatures, when there is rapid bloating and lots of bacterial action and insect activity – the leeching will happen rather rapidly because of the rupturing of the skin on the body.

Baez tells the judge that this is a slightly expanded upon version of the answer he gave in his deposition.

Ashton says this is not even similar to any answer or opinion he has given before. Ashton says that now the witness wants to give his opinion on the color of decompositional fluid. That’s not in his deposition, his opinion on what happens to decompositional fluids after death – that’s not given anywhere in his deposition. And these opinions are way outside his area of expertise – this has nothing to do with forensic entomology. The only other time he even mentions trunk in his deposition is when he says he could still smell the odor 2 years later.

Baez reiterates the witness’s prior statement and says the witness wasn’t referring to bodily fluids as being black – that the staining would be black – which is what he said in his deposition. Baez also says that forensic entomologists study human decomposition. It is not outside this witnesses area of expertise to testify about it. In fact, Dr. Haskell testified regarding the different stages of human decomposition.

Ashton says that he has no problem with the witness testifying n generalities about the stages of decomposition – what he has a problem with is this witness identifying decompositional stains and what they look like – or don’t look like.

Baez says that Dr. Haskell took it a step further – Dr. Haskell testified that he thought the stain was decompositional fluid – in fact, he testified that the material on the paper towels in the trash was decompositional fluid. “So I don’t understand the distinction between allowing one entomologist to testify……” the judge cuts Baez off and tells both counselors to go to a page in the deposition. He tells them to read it then explain to him how similar or dissimilar this Dr’s testimony is to Dr. Haskell’s (although he says he expects a “tale of two cities”.)

the judge then reads the portion of the deposition that he finds relevant – the witness was asked about decomposition in the trunk and the paper towels. The witness had answered that in his experience, the trunk would not have been able to be cleaned with a couple of paper towels.

The judge says that the way he sees it – the witness was talking about trunks, decompositional fluids and adipocere. Baez (of course) agrees with the judge, that both experts had been asked about human decomposition.

The judge asks “So what is the surprise, Mr Ashton?” Ashton says that the surprise is that this witness is now claiming the ability to tell if a stain is or isn’t decomposition. Ashton says this is a fairly major change in his testimony. Ashton says there is nothing in his report or deposition that would have led him to believe that this witness was going to testify as to the identity of decompositional stains, or to testify to this jury that it has to be a particular color. In his deposition, when this witness talks about adipocere, he doesn’t claim to even know what it looks like, he just says “if we assume it to be adipocere..” This is completely outside his area of expertise. He’s an entomologist!

Ashton tells the judge that Haskell testified that the fly’s would be attracted to the paper towels if they were adipocere – Ashton says he can’t remember of f the top of his head if he ever even asked Haskell about the stain in the car – but he doesn’t believe he did. And he knows he never asked him to identify the stain.

Baez argues that Haskell testified extensively about the stain – and the judge says he is going to pull Haskell’s testimony.

He does so – and reads to the attorney the portions of Haskell’s testimony where he discusses the paper towels and how he thought it was decompositional fluid and he sent the samples off to Dr. Vass. The judge then brings the attorneys up to the bench to go over Dr. Haskell’s testimony.

Ashton says that the portion of Dr. Haskell’s testimony that he read had nothing to do with a stain or the color of a stain.

The judge then rules that the witness’s testimony does not violate the court’s order. He was questioned during his deposition about human decomposition. Dr. Haskell talked about human decomposition. While every opinion was not addressed in the deposition, but he was asked about the subject. So the court will allow him to express his opinion, it will be up to the jury as to whether or not he is credible.
The court says that Ashton can go ahead and ask him questions now in other areas if Ashton feels he will be surprised by any other testimony. Ashton says he is going to challenge this witnesses ability to testify regarding the phenolphthalein tests – this is outside this witness’s area of expertise.

The judge says that lots of folks know about certain tests – he doesn’t know this witness’s particular experience – and that this is something he can’t rule on until he knows that.

So the witness comes back to the stand and Ashton questions him about his experience with carpet stains and identifying them. The witness says that his experience with stain identification comes in the form of a paper he wrote regarding grave soil, and Ashton says no, he’s asking about carpet or fabric stains and human decompositional fluids. The witness says his experience in this area comes from watching animals and humans decompose on carpet or fabric – which he’s done 20 – 30 times. Ashton asks him what color carpet – the witness says he can’t remember

Ashton asks if the witness intends to testify regarding the color of human decompositional fluid. The witness says he doesn’t think he specified human decompositional fluid, but that yes, decompositional fluid does have a certain color quality to it. Ashton asks what color quality that would be,and the witness says it is a dark blackish stain, as he showed in the image of the stain surrounding the body of the pig. Ashton asks the witness if there is anything in the literature to support his contention that decompositional fluid has an identifiable color. The witness replies that if Mr. Ashton were to look in the taphonomic literature – particularly case studies and case histories, that he would find that it will refer to a blackish stain surrounding the body. Ashton asks for specific cites, which the witness can’t give him. He does mention Beinicke, who has done many case histories, and does mention the black staining. Ashton asks if this is the only color mentioned as far as staining on carpets – the witness says as far as he knows, yes.

Ashton asks if the witness examined the carpet in this case – the witness says no. Ashton asks if he is prepared to render an opinion on what the staining was on the carpet, and the witness says he doesn’t think he was going to be asked about that. The witness concedes he never examined the carpet.

Ashton asked if there was any other qualities of decompositional fluids he is going to testify about – the witness says he believes he mentioned the smell. The witness also mentions the texture – that it’s a greasy stain.

Ashton asks the witness how many times when he observed decomposing human bodies on carpets, was that body in a bag – specifically, two plastic bags. The witness says he doesn’t necessarily think that the bags would make a difference, because if the body is in a bag and there’s staining on the carpet – that would imply the bag is leaking. Ashton says that wasn’t his question, he wants to know how many of the bodies were in bags – and the witness says in his experience, zero.

The judge then wants to ask the witness a question – when did he arrive at this opinion, and if he is going to testify about the stain in the car. The witness says that really, all he was doing was testifying about what one would typically find in a trunk when there has been a dead body decomposing in it. He doesn’t think that he was going to be asked about this particular stain in this case.

The judge asks the witness what he would expect to see in a decomposing body in a trunk. The witness says what he would expect to see is exactly what he showed in the picture. You would expect to see an obvious decompositional stain from body fluid, lots of insect activity, adult insects, migrating or dead maggots, depending on the duration and temperatures, puerperal cases and case fragments, things of that nature.

The judge asks the witness if there is any variation in these stains – things that might affect what you would see obviously – because of cleaning or other processes. The witness answers that in his experience, and the experience of others who he has discussed these sorts of things with – if you only think it’s there, it’s not there. Decompositional staining is very obvious. When these kinds of scenes are cleaned – say when someone decomposes in a house, when the staining has stained the carpet or the floor, these are not cleaned, they are disposed of. The witness says he is unaware of any method you could use to remove that stain.

The judge asks if he has ever testified in court on these matters – and the witness says he has testified extensively regarding decomposition. With regards to decomposition in car trunks, only in his deposition in this case. When the judge asks him why not – he says no one has ever asked him to. The judge says “your field is insects, right?” And the witness says yes, specifically with regards to decomposing bodies. The judge says what he’s trying to understand is other than training and experience, what makes this witness qualified to testify regarding the stain and what he would expect to find,and how you would relate that to this case.

The witness explains that to be a forensic entomologist,one must gain a certain level of expertise in taphonomy, the study of decomposing bodies. Because insects are so closely tied to those stages of decomposition and the decompositional products, one can’t be an expert in one area and not the other.

The judge then asks the witness what, exactly, he would expect to testify to in this particular case, and why he thinks he is qualified to render such opinions The witness says that he had seen photographs of the carpet and liner from the trunk of the Sunfire, and it was his opinion that the carpet had been cleaned. The witness says that he had told the defense that he did not think there had been a decomposing body in the trunk of the car. The judge asks if he included that opinion in his report. The witness states that he included in his report his opinion that there was no body in the trunk, according to the insects that he found evidence of.

The judge says that he is looking at the doctor’s initial report – and he doesn’t see any opinions regarding this car in this case. The judge asks the witness if he is aware that the court expected all opinions that one would give would be memorialized in a report so that there wouldn’t be any surprises. The doctor says that he was told that, but he’s not sure if it was before or after he submitted his initial report. The doctor says he did say in his report that it was a preliminary report – and that he would prepare a final report after he looked at all the insect evidence that the expert for the state had looked at. He says he did not prepare a final report because he didn’t look at all the insect evidence the state’s expert looked at. But he did tell the defense back in 2009 his opinions on the carpet. He assumes he told Mr. Baez – but the judge tells him he doesn’t want him to assume. And the witness says “Mr. Baez.”.

The judge then asks the defense why he should permit that testimony when the defense knew his opinion back in 2008 and didn’t disclose it. Even after the court ordered disclosures. It’s one thing to allow him to testify regarding decomposition, but it’s another thing to allow him to testify about carpet stains and his opinion that there wasn’t a dead body on this particular carpet when he told the defense that and the defense didn’t disclose this opinion to the state.

Baez questions the witness again – and asks if he had asked the doctor to submit a report. The witness says yes. And yes, this was because the court had ordered such reports with all opinions stated in the reports. Baez asks the witness if Baez had any input in the reporting. The witness says no – and the witness was not aware that he would be asked about the carpet in this trunk. Only what one would expect to find in any car trunk if there was a body in the trunk.

Baez tells the court that this is and always has been their position – that the witness would testify in generalities about expectations – not what was found in this car.

Ashton says this witnesses testimony – even in generalities – is detrimental to the state. If they had known this witness was going to testify as to the color of decompositional staining, that he would have asked numerous other experts with more expertise than this witness what color staining is. He says he didn’t pursue that line of questioning with other witnesses because he was completely unaware this would ever be an issue.

The judge says he’s not too concerned about the staining, because all stains have a color to them. It’s a discoloration of the original color – that’s what a stain is. But what he won’t be permitted to testify to is the stain in this case. Because it was not disclosed.

Finally we get back to live testimony. I forgot where we left off. Oh yeah, I guess we were talking about the stain in the pig car.

The witness explains that the photograph shows a typical scenario involving insect movement and decompositional processes in a closed environment on day 11. In this picture one can see the maggots moving away from the decomposing remains. There are some pupae in the picture and the maggots are burrowing their way into and under the trunk liner. Many times you can see maggots pupate inside the pile of the carpet. They think they are hiding if they dig into the carpet. The witness also points out the decompositional ring that comes from the body. The witness points out that some portion of the decompositional fluid looks like it is trailing away from the body. He explains that this is because as the maggots move away they bring some of the fluid with them. In outdoor settings the decompositional fluid will kill the grass underneath it – and there is usually a small trail of grass leading away from the body that dies, as well.

Baez asks if you could just take some paper towels and wipe that off. And the witness laughs and says no – the decompositional fluid itself is very greasy. It is a sticky, greasy, disgusting material. The witness says that he is not sure that even professional cleaners could get it out. The witness says he has never seen a case where the carpet has been cleaned – it has always been disposed of.

The witness says that in this study he learned that the barrier of the car trunk posed very little barrier to the colonizing insects. The blowfly’s that show up very soon after death act very similar to a picky eater. If a person likes a rare steak, then one that is well done won’t be very attractive to them. Blowfly’s are the same way. The fly’s that are attracted to a body shortly after death aren’t attracted to it for very long The fly’s that colonized the pigs in this case were those early colonizers. They gained access very soon after the pig was in trunk. And this was in a colder temperature -where the decomposition occurs more slowly and the attractive nature is not as high and insect activity is lessened This witness says he found it interesting that given the rainy environment and the cooler temperatures that there were still as many insects as there were in the trunk in such a short period of time.

Baez then directs the witness to this case and the materials he was given to study in the way of insects The witness says that in this case, there were none of the early colonizers found in the trunk. Inside the trash bag there was a leg of a blowfly. To this witness one leg of a blowfly doesn’t mean anything -he’s sure that if they looked in this courtroom they could find a leg of a blowfly. A sealed container such as a car trunk, if we assume there is a dead body in it, there’s going to be many fly’s that show up – not one. An adult blowfly doesn’t enter a sealed trunk to lay eggs, then lose a leg and leave. They are in there, stuck there, and they die there. If there was a dead body in the trunk, then he would have expected to find hundreds, if not thousands, of fly’s in the trunk – as well as in the front of the car. As illustrated in the picture, many of the fly’s made their way to the front of the car, as well.

Most of the fly’s in this case were the humpback or scuttle fly’s. The small brown fly’s that eat just about everything. They are very, very common. We all have them in our homes They are generalist fly’s. Most of them that were recovered were in the bag of garbage, where you would expect to find them. In this witness’s opinion they mean nothing and have no forensic value. Since there was a bag of garbage in the trunk, they mean even less. As to quantity, because these insects are so small they don’t require a lot of food, so the numbers associated with the bag of garbage was not remarkable. When they show up to a dead body, they are typically not an early colonizer, they generally show up in late decomposition. They are one of the last fly’s to show up during decomposition.

They then recess for lunch. Hope the cafeteria isn’t serving rice.

After lunch, Baez has another minor issue. It seems Ashton is going to ask if this witness was a student of Dr. Haskell’s. The defense believes this is an improper bolstering of Dr. Haskell. The old “The teacher is smarter than the student” effect.

Ashton says sure you could argue that Huntington is the karate kid and my guy is Mr. Miyagi, but he doesn’t intend to do that, and who Dr. Huntington studied under is relevant.

The judge says that it depends – on what happens, and whether or not the defense intends to question the qualifications of Dr. Haskell. Baez says that these two experts may have, and are entitled to, differing opinions, but Baez is not going to question the qualifications of Haskell. The Judge says that it depends. And he would have to see at the end of the direct examination if that question is fair game.

Dr. Huntington is back on the stand, and Baez continues with the insect activity regarding the garbage bag. Baez asks if there was anything entomological outside of the garbage bag that was of evidentiary value. The witness says yes – there were some filters from vacuuming that contained two samples of evidence. There was a very low number of insect evidence outside of the bag.

Baez then asks the witness if there is a difference between trash and garbage. The witness chuckles and says he’s not sure if there is a Webster’s Dictionary difference. The witness says it is more of a regional or dialect phrase. The words don’t appear in the entomological dictionary. This witness uses the words interchangeably.

Baez asks about the paper towels that were found in the trash. The witness says that they contained humpback fly puerperal cases. There was no live activity associated with the paper towels. Given the articles that were in the trash bag, this was not surprising. When a maggot looks for a place to pupate, they look for hidden away, secreted locations. So a crumpled up paper towels has a lot of nooks and cranny’s, so this would be an ideal place for a maggot to pupate in. In his lab, the witness testifies, he often uses crumpled up paper towel material for his test subjects to pupate in.

The witness says that if a paper towel has a food source on it, he would not expect to find pupating maggots on it. Since the paper towel would then be used as a food source, and the maggots would crawl away from it when they were ready to pupate.

Baez then asks what exactly attracted these insects to this garbage. The witness says that there was a number of cans of tobacco spit. This is a body fluid that decomposes itself. And that is what he would attribute these fly’s to. There was also a dried up piece of meat in a bologna container. This would also attract these particular fly’s. But the primary attractor, he feels, is the tobacco spit.

Baez brings out his favorite garbage picture. He asks the witness what the entomological difference is between the “wet” and “dry” garbage. The witness says that the wet garbage would be more attractive to the insects. Because of the larval habits and the way the insects feed. The eggs dry up very quickly, so the eggs have to be in a moist environment. And the maggots don’t feed well on dry material. The insects recovered from the dry garbage is just what was left of the insects that initially fed on the wet material.

The witness says there were a number of pupal cases on many different items. There were a number of pupae attached to the Velveeta box, for instance, there were some on the dryer sheet, there were a number attached to a piece of paper. This lends credence to the theory that the maggots fed somewhere else, then crawled here to pupate. The witness says this is a normal bag of trash that sat somewhere. There is nothing remarkable about it.

Baez then shifts to the Suburban Drive site. The witness says that the insects found were ones that you would expect to find at that time of year on decomposed remains. The blowfly’s were missing, and there absence was unusual. A body, as in this case, that was readily accessible, the absence is notable because they should have been there There was no good reason at the scene that they shouldn’t have been there. This says that the body was moved from another location.

Baez then asks about the soil with the body – the witness says when a body decomposes, the fluids come out from the body and when it’s in an outdoor environment, the fluids leech into the soil. It changes the environment and the plant and animal community around the body. That change of the biotic and abiotic community around the body is now being studied. There is a “staining” of the ground around the body. If the body is in plastic bags and there is no breach, then the witness says he would not expect to find this ground staining, but if there were holes in the bags, then the fluids would leech out and the ground should show the remnants of the body being there.

There were three early colonizer blowfly’s in the plastic bags themselves. There were none found in “Area A”, this reinforces the hypothesis that the remains were moved after decomposition started.

Ashton now gets to cross the witness. He asks if this witness is saying that the body was fully skeletonized and then moved. The witness says no, he’s not saying that. When he says the body “decomposed” elsewhere, or began decomposition elsewhere, he means the early stages of decomposition. Personally, he breaks decomposition down into 5 stages. 1. The fresh stage 2. The Bloat Stage 3. The Early Decay Stage 4 The Advanced Decomposition Stage 5. The Remains Stage.

He would say that this body was moved sometimes after stages 1 and 2 – maybe into 3.

Ashton asks how many accumulated degree days it takes to go through the first 2 stages on a child. The witness says that he isn’t sure that this specific research has been done on a child’s body.

Ashton says – well can you just give us your opinion? How many accumulated degree days would it take to get through the first 2 stages on a child of 2 – 3 years of age? The witness says he doesn’t have that data available.

Ashton then asks about accumulated degree days. He says “Basically, an accumulated degree day is the average temperature per day, multiplied by the number of days.” The witness responds that that’s not quite right. He explains that an accumulated degree day is the average daily temperature minus the minimum base threshold temperature.

The average daily temperature is a fairly obvious concept. It’s the hourly temperature divided by 24 (hours in the day).

The minimum base threshold temperature is more complicated. (But this witness doesn’t seem to know what it is, or, he doesn’t know how to explain it..)

I’ll try to do that for you……

Insects develop at different temperatures, but there’s always a “lowest point” when they won’t develop at all. This is the “minimum base threshold development” for that insect. And different insects have different “minimum base thresholds”. Insects also have “maximum base thresholds”, or temperatures that are at the maximum for their growth development.

So, in this witness’s calculation, if the Xinsect had a “minimum base threshold” of 50 degrees, the lowest temperature at which it would develop, and the average daily temperature in Xcity was 70 degrees, then the number of accumulated degree days for that day would be 70 minus 50 or 20 DD (degree day) units. This is the “extra degrees” that, theoretically, the insect could “store up” for development and growth, assuming it’s going to minimally develop at it’s baseline of 50 degrees.

Got that? Good. Let’s get back to this witness, who doesn’t seem to know how to explain this simple concept……

Ashton asks the witness what 2 days at 90 degrees would be in DD units. (Which we know is not going to work unless we have the minimum base threshold) . The witness finally spits this out.”I need a baseline threshold”. Ashton asks if this varies from region to region, and the witness says no, it depends on the biological process, or what species you are looking at.

Ashton says he is just looking at it in terms of decomposition, because decomposition is also temperature dependent, and accumulated degree days can also be used in conjunction with determining decomposition. The witness says yes, sometimes it can. So, Ashton says, in terms of decomposition, what would 2 days of 90 degrees be in accumulated degree days. (Again, we need to know a baseline to figure this out, right?)

Finally, the witness pulls a baseline out of his ass – and says, OK, let’s assume a baseline of 0 degrees (well geesh…) He says that then the DD units would be 180. (90 times 2 (for both the days) minus 0. Which is 180 DD units.)

Ashton asks why 0 wouldn’t be an appropriate “minimum baseline threshold” to use? Not for insect growth, but in terms of decomposition. The witness just says that the “0” was only to make the math easy. It means nothing. He has to have a “model” (really he means species of insect) to work from.

Ashton then asks him to compare average daily temperatures. He asks him how a 90 degree day compares to a 60 degree day. The witness says that a 90 degree day is 1.5 60 degree days. Or, 2 days at 90 degrees equals 3 days at 60.

Ashton then gets back to Suburban drive. He wants to know from the witness how long he believes this body was at a different location before it was moved to this location.

The witness says it depends on the environmental conditions at that site – for instance, if it was in a refrigerator, it could have been months.

Ashton says let’s assume temperatures like they are outside right now – 95 degrees -– let’s call this day one – how many days was it before the body was moved to the Suburban Drive location.

The witness says anywhere from 2 to 3 to 4 days. Ashton says “OK – so you think the body was moved to it’s found location within 2 to 4 days after death – roughly.”

The witness says yes, if you assume those environmental conditions.

Ashton asks the witness then, if he would then agree that after that, the body stayed at it’s found location. It didn’t “move” again.

The witness takes a while to answer, and says yes, if you assume that the body was exposed to those environmental conditions, and wasn’t subject to intermediary conditions. And were placed directly at that scene. Then that scene would be consistent. Which I have no fucking idea what that means?

Ashton asks him if he would agree that the scene as he knows it is consistent with that scenario, That the body was placed there within 2-4 days after death and remained there consistently until it was found. There’s nothing at the scene that would refute that, correct?

The witness again takes a long time to answer, then says that he is hesitating, because it’s consistent with a lot of scenarios, but yes, the one Ashton puts forth is one of those scenarios the scene is consistent with.

Ashton then says that this means that the body was in another location for 2 – 3 days. The witness agrees, as long as Ashton imposes the environmental conditions that were assumed. And Ashton says yes, with those assumptions.

Ashton asks if that place was a place where early colonizers couldn’t get to it. The witness says no. The witness says there were early colonizers present on the body, just in very low numbers. So they had some access at some point.

The witness says that he testified that the early colonizers had access to the body at some point, because they were there, and then the body was moved at some point thereafter.

Ashton asks if the witness is saying that the early colonizers lose attraction at a specific point, and the witness says yes they can. Early colonizers are looking for the best place for their offspring. They are not going to lay eggs on a body that won’t be suitable for their children to thrive. At some point, depending on environmental conditions, those fly’s switch off and the remains are no longer attractive. It can be a very distinct line – where the fly’s will lay eggs one day,and not the next.

Ashton asks – so is what you are trying to tell us is that this body had a full complement of fly’s on it and someone washed it off?

The witness says he is not saying that. And Ashton asks him – well, why aren’t the early colonizers there then? If they had access to this body – what aren’t they there?

The witness says that the pupae are not at the scene in this case, in his opinion, because of post mortem movement. Ashton points out that the insects go with the body, though, because that’s their food source, isn’t it?

The witness says that this is dependent on where the body was and what it was contained in. The witness says there are a couple of different scenarios that would work in this example. The first is that the body was moved late in the feeding stage of the maggots. The early colonizers had left in large numbers with only a few remaining, to be found in the plastic bags. That would take much longer.

Another scenario would be that the maggots were washed off the body and then transported.

Another scenario would be that the body was placed into the bags as it was found, and then moved.

Ashton asks if there isn’t a fourth scenario – one where the body was inaccessible to the flies. The witness says that the body was accessible to the flies – because there were flies present. The flies did have access – because they were there.

Ashton shows him the pig in the trunk picture and asks how long this took – for all these bugs to be there. He says they didn’t come all at once, did they? And the witness agrees they weren’t all there simultaneously. Ashton says so isn’t it possible that a few flies got on the body either before or after it was moved and then there was that time when the flies were no longer interested? And the witness says anything is possible.

Ashton asks the witness if he remembers giving a deposition. The witness says he gave two. Ashton asks if he remembers reading Dr. Haskell’s opinion, and the witness says he would have to look at it again. He does. He reads Dr. Haskell’s opinion that the reason there were no flies on the body was because the body was inaccessible to early colonizers. Ashton then reads this witnesses own deposition answer wherein he said that there was nothing in Haskell’s opinion that he disagreed with. He even said that the report contained nothing that wouldn’t be in his own report, given the same evidence.

Ashton asks if the witness is disagreeing with Dr. Haskell now, when he agreed with him before. The witness says that Dr. Haskell’s opinion is one possibility, he’s just expanding on other possibilities. It all depends on the environmental conditions that he body was maintained in. Ashton asks if there is something about the environmental conditions that the witness knows now that he didn’t know in January during his deposition. The witness says no. Ashton asks if the witness agrees with Dr. Haskell’s opinion that the body was placed there in June or July of 2008. The witness says it is consistent with those dates.

Ashton asks that if it were true that the body was kept in another place before it was moved to the final location – that the place it was kept at would stink. The witness says yes, that if it were allowed to decompose in the absence of those early colonizers, yes, it would stink. And you would not be able to get the stink out. This witness examined the car in July 2010. Two years after all these events. All of the trunk liner had been removed, all the garbage had been removed two years earlier, and there was still a smell in the trunk. It was weak, and couldn’t be really identified as human decomposition, but there was a smell. The witness says that knowing there was garbage in the trunk, it could have been that and Ashton asked him when, in his experience had garbage smell ever lingered for 2 years – and what was in that garbage?

Huntington says he never left a garbage bag in the trunk of the car in a Florida summer for a week, so he doesn’t know. Ashton says “Have you left one in Nebraska?”The witness says no, he doesn’t put garbage in his trunk. Ashton asks if he ever put it in a dumpster? And then just leaves the question and it’s implications hanging.

Ashton then moves on to the doctor’s experiment. The doctor was hired in this case in December of 2008. This experiment was begun n September of 2010. But it wasn’t created for this case. The witness says he has a longstanding work project with barrier effects on early colonization. Many bodies have been recovered from car trunks. There is a lot of research on what the results might be to early colonization. He told the defense he would be doing this experiment before he began it. He did do some side experimentation specific to this case, but the experiment wasn’t modeled after this case. Before this case he has never worked on a case regarding a body in a trunk. Ashton asks if all his testimony then regarding what he would expect to see regarding a body in a trunk comes from this one experiment. And the witness says no, it also comes from literature he has read. And none of those were about small children. Or small children wrapped in blankets. Or small children wrapped in blankets in plastic bags.

Ashton then asks why he didn’t wrap his pigs in blankets. (He tells the judge that he promised he would say that…)

But seriously, why didn’t he wrap his pigs in blankets? The witness says that he wasn’t looking at that as an experimental criteria. He was focusing on the restriction of the trunk. He doesn’t know if the combination of pigs in blankets in bags has been the focus of any research.

Ashton asks if he admits that this is not a fair representation of the facts int his case, since the victim here was in a blanket, 2 plastic bags and a laundry bag. The witness says yes, that would be correct if you were looking at the final product of decomposition but he was looking at the ability of the early colonizers to access the vehicles trunk – and for that purpose this experiment was relevant. Ashton counters that he only included one of the many barriers between the flies and the body – he only included the trunk, he didn’t include the blanket or the plastic bags or the canvas laundry bag.

The witness says that he included the one most exterior barrier , and if he had wrapped the pigs in blankets and put them in bags, you would still see evidence of the flies in the trunk in the form of dead flies.

There was one study he read that had a wrapped head in a trash bag in a trunk.

Ashton asks why garbage bags can’t keep bugs out – isn’t that what we buy them for? The witness says that if you can smell something in a bag, that means it’s not airtight And the fly’s will have a way in. If you knot a bag and a smell is coming from it, the female will lay her eggs on that knotted handle and the maggots will crawl in – and they are every good at getting into small spaces.

Ashton asks the witness if he ever experimented with chloroform and how it affects attracting flies. The witness says no. Ashton asks if the witness, in his experiment, put chloroform in any of the trunks with the pigs to see how that affected the early colonizers. The witness says no. The witness is aware that air samples and carpet samples indicated that there was chloroform in the trunk. Chloroform can kill insects in high concentrations. Ashton asks what effects the presence of chloroform had on the early colonizers. The witness says he has no good answer- there has been no research done. The witness does offer that there has been research done with chemicals like pesticides – to measure their effect on early colonizers- the effect was short lived. Ashton says that the chemicals would disrupt the air quality, though, and could have an effect on those early colonizers. The witness says that blowfly’s for example, can detect parts per billion of the volatile chemicals they are attracted to. Were there anything other than a complete displacement of those chemical cues, they would still be attracted. But there’s never been a study done on chloroform, to see if changing the chemical content of the decompositional odors would be affected.

Ashton then asks about the paper towels – and asks if the witness knows what was on them. The witness says no – but he has read the report regarding this. That report said fatty acids related to decomposition, like grave wax. The witness says he assumes this is correct. The witness then explains what he knows of adipocere. And agrees that the flies would be attracted to that. Ashton says that the witness testified though,t hat the flies were more attracted to a little bit of tobacco spit in a can than they were to the adipocere. The witness says he wouldn’t characterize several cans of tobacco spit as a little bit. The witness then explains further that he wouldn’t expect to find feeding maggots pupating on their food source.

Using the picture of the dried garbage, the witness points out the cans that he felt had the tobacco spit. He says there were 4 or 5 such cans. Ashton says he has the items here- they can just look at them. He opens the big box with all the garbage, and pulls out a can, There was nothing on it. The next can he pulls out has some brown stuff on the rim. Ashton points out that the can is empty. Huntington says yeah, the can would evaporate over time, but at one point there was probably something in there that would attract flies. Ashton points out that on the inventory sheet all the cans are noted as being empty. The witness agrees. And Ashton says there were no entomological remnants found on the cans or on the rims of the cans, and the witness says that there were some noted. Ashton wants to know where he found that, and the witness again says he would have to see the pictures.

Ashton wants to know if the witness would agree that tobacco spit doesn’t smell like human decomposition – ever. The witness says that he doesn’t know if he would say “ever” – because as a bodily fluid, spit would decompose,too, and there would be a smell associated with that. Ashton asks the witness if he’s saying that decomposing spit can smell like a full decomposing body. The witness says no, that’s not what he said. He wouldn’t say the spit smelled like a dead person. Ashton asks the witness if he agrees that there was no food in the garbage bag – the witness says no, there wasn’t food that he would like to eat. Ashton says but let’s be specific – there’s nothing in that bag that you would eat even if fresh -there was no food in the bag. The witness says that the salami container had something in it. From the photo he couldn’t tell what was in it. Ashton wants to look in the salami container.

After the break, we come back to Ashton donning blue gloves and opening the salami container. There was nothing inside but a piece of paper. There’s no food in the garbage bag.

Ashton asks if it would be possible to take a couple of paper towels and soak up some decomp fluid that might be on a surface. The witness says you could – but it wouldn’t be very effective. Ashton says that you could even vacuum a car out of any bugs that were in it – any any gas station. The witness says yes, you could. Ashton says the only thing you couldn’t get rid of would be the smell. The witness says that he thinks the term “get rid of” is an overstatement. “Getting rid of” would involve removing the liner and vacuuming underneath the carpet to “get rid of” the insects.

Ashton asks what the accumulated degree days was in his pig experiment. The witness says he would have to reference his data. Ashton says to compare anything in his experiment to this case one would have to compare the degrees of decomposition, wouldn’t you? And the witness says yes – but he didn’t bring his research data with him. The degree days would be considerably less,though, depending on the time frame Ashton is proposing. The average daily temperature for the 10 days the pigs were in the trunk was approximately 60 degrees. Ashton asks what 10 days at 60 degrees would be when compared
to X number of days at 90 degrees. The witness says 6 days and change.

So the witness’s experiment does not compare to this scenario at all. Given the ambient temperature inside a trunk, it may even speed up decomposition. The witness agrees.

Baez the re-directs. He asks the witness if he agrees with Haskell’ assessment of the scene at Suburban Drive. The witness agrees with Dr. Haskell’s conclusions at the scene. The witness says that they both came to the same conclusion – that the body experienced early decomposition somewhere else, and that the body was in it’s found position for several months.

According to Dr. Haskell’s report, there were 75 blowfly empty pupae in the canvas bag. Which is very few. Baez asks if there were 75 empty pupae in the bag, wouldn’t the witness expect to find 75 flies in the trunk. The witness says he would actually expect to find many more. The witness says that he and Dr. Haskell actually agree on many points, the one thing they differ on is where the body actually was before it was placed where it was found. Haskell thinks it was in the trunk of the car in question, Huntington finds no reason to believe that there was ever a body in that trunk. The evidence doesn’t make any sense.

Baez asks the witness about the chloroform. He asks the witness if he thought the chloroform attracted those 75 flies that were in the bag? The witness says that this is why he doesn’t think chloroform had any effect on the early colonizers.

Baez then asks about the adipocere and the report of Dr. Vass. The witness says that the report doesn’t say adipocere was on the paper towels – it says like adipocere. These fatty acids can be found in other items, like meat products.

Baez asks how and when adipocere is formed, and Ashton asks to voir dire the witness.

Ashton asks how he comes about his knowledge on adipocere, and the witness says though his experiments and research. Ashton asks if he has ever tested samples to determine if it is adipocere. The witness says you don’t need to test for it if you know it’s there- so no. Ashton says “So if someone tells you it’s there, you assume that it is, Is that what you are saying?” The witness says yes. Ashton says he’s just trying to determine if he has ever actually studied it or if he’s just assumed what someone else has written about it.

The witness says he has extensive experience working with pathologists and forensic anthropologists pointing out to him what adipocerre is. Ashton asks then, if the witness things that it is in the forensic anthropologists realm to determine what is adipocere – the witness says it is in the realm of many different professions. For instance, Dr. Vass is not an anthropologist. Ashton gets pissed and moves to strike the answer – and Baez is noticeably laughing.

Ashton is through and Baez continues. He asks the witness to explain how and when adipocere forms. The witness explains that for adipocere to form you would expect to have reduced oxygen content, and more often than not the conditions will be cool and damp. This would be the case for properly buried bodies. Bodies that are disinterred months or years later will have adipocere. Adipocere shows up in late stage decomposition.

Baez then turns tot h garbage the witness saw photos of. This witness saw the garbage before and after drying. Baez tries to get this witness to say that the state altered the evidence by drying it. The witness does get out that the evidence isn’t the same now as it was when collected. (Of course it wouldn’t be the same now whether or not the state dried it.)

The witness testifies that maggots eat remnants of food and bacteria. Baez shows the witness photos of the garbage bag as it was collected. The drawstrings of the trash bag are knotted – but insects still found their way in. The knot still left a hole at the top of the bag.

Baez has the witness reexplain that his experiment was not done for this case. The witness says if he had done the study for this case he would have used the same kind of car and would have wrapped the pigs in blankets and bags and he probably wouldn’t have done it in Nebraska – he would have done it in the summertime in Florida.

Baez asks the witness if the stain in the pig car looks like it came from human decomposition. The witness says it looks like human decomposition stain he has seen. Baez then shows him the stain from the sunfire – the witness says that this does not look like human decompositional staining.

Ashton re-crosses: He asks what the condition of the garbage was when it was in the trunk. The witness says that based on the photographs…and Ashton says “no, not after it was retrieved – when it was in the trunk.” The witness says he has no knowledge of that – and Ashton points that then he doesn’t know if it was wet or dry. But Ashton asks the witness, that assuming no one took anything out or added to it, we do know that there was no food in the bag. The witness agrees. And Ashton asks – so whether it’s wet or dry,it’s still not food.

Ashton asks the witness about his identification of adipocere – and whether this witness is an anthropologist. The witness says he isn’t, and Ashton points out that this witness only got his PhD in 2008 – the same year this happened. And he got his master’s in 2005. Th witness says he didn’t study adipocere for his Bachelor’s degree – but he saw it. The witness testifies that he began working for the Coroner’s office in high school. He saw adipocere there.

Ashton asks if he has ever been qualified as an expert to render his opinion on stains. The witness says he doesn’t think such qualification exists – and no. Ashton says “So this would be the first time someone has shown you a photograph and asked you to identify a stain, correct?” Yeah, this is the first time.

Ashton then asks about the witnesses shoddy reporting and his lack of reporting all his opinions, even though he was supposed to. The witness acknowledges his shoddy reporting.

Baez questions the witness again – he bolsters his witness credibility by pointing out he is the youngest board certified entomologist in the country. He was certified before hs PhD. He has worked 75 death cases, and they have never had a problem with his age or when he got his PhD.

Baez also asks the witness if he anticipated questions about the stain, and the witness says no, that’s why he didn’t put it in his report. And it’s common for him to work strictly from photographs.

Ashton questions him again and says “I’m sorry, I thought you said a moment ago thaty ou’ve never been shown a photo of a stain and been asked to render an opinion.” The witness clarifies by saying – I’ve never been asked in a court of law. Outside of a court of law, it’s done all the time.

Ashton then asks th witness if he discussed his ID of the stain in 2008 with Baez. And the witness says yes, and he still didn’t put it in his report because he didn’t think he was going to be asked about that.

Ashton asks if the Board of Forensic Entomologists has a subdivision for accrediting photo stain identifiers. The witness says no.

And he is finally excused.

The jury gets one of their special dinners tonight.


4 Responses to “Pigs Not in a Blanket”

  1. An amazingly detailed report… I think Jose Baez could learn something from you – that is, assuming he was receptive to learning anything from anyone. He hasn’t demonstrated that he wants to learn anything from the judge, that’s for sure.

    Anyhow, impressive and I like the humor sprinkled about – like rice… er… well, you know what I mean. Thanks.

  2. Skweekie said

    Please include lots of your subjective comments when you review Dr. Spitz.

  3. Amy said

    I’m going to regret googling “adipocere” for the rest of my life.

  4. Sean said

    I don’t get the feeling that this witness did a very good job of proving that there couldn’t have been a body in the trunk of that car for a couple of days. It sure looks to me like the body was somewhere for 2-3 days, and a whole bunch of witnesses were talking about how it smelled like something died in the car. Regular garbage and trash doesn’t smell like rotting meat, and if it was just trash, they would have been saying something like “you should take the garbage out of the trunk”. The paper towels with pupae and adipocere sounds like someone tried to clean something up, and then threw the paper into the trash bag.

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