Tuesday, June 14, 2011


(DRAFT #1)

On Saturday, June 10, 2011 we heard from a top bug expert, who testified that Caylee's body had probably been lying deceased in Casey's white Pontiac Sunfire for three to five days - tops.  He also testified that Caylee's body was most certainly thrown into the woods off of Suburban Drive in either late June or early July, 2008.


Dr. Haskell, a professor of entomology and forensics entomology has been researching bugs for the past 50 years.  As he testified, he spoke clearly and concisely to the jurors, and was a very likable expert witness.  He has actually been an expert witness all around the world for over 850 cases, 40 of which were in Florida.  He was easily submitted as an expert witness in the field of forensic entomologist (the study of insects, specifically flies that feed off of human remains, which is the study of insects with the purpose of testifying in court.

In his testimony today, he described his findings from bug remains in Casey's car, as well as Caylee's decomposed body, for the jurors.  Here are some partial transcripts of the most interesting points that Dr. Haskell spoke about today.

Dr. Haskell testified that he was contacted by Michael Vincent in August 2008, and asked to review evidence gathered from Casey's car.  Some samples were taken and sent to Dr. Haskell that contained larvae and pupae and that was what was in the two samples that were sent to him, in September, 2008.


Prosecutor Jeff Ashton:  Did you receive some evidence from Mr. (Michael) Vincent to examine at some point?
Dr. Haskell: Yes.  Initially I wanted to verify that we had forensically important evidence and he (Mr. Vincent) said, "Well, there were bugs in the car", and so he collected some samples and I wanted to see what we had to verify if in fact these were forensically important insects. So he sent me a couple of samples that contained larvae and, maggots' larvae, and pupae, the cocoons stages of the lifecycle of flies, the higher flies, and that, and that was what was in the two samples that he sent me at that time.
Ashton: And approximately, when did you receive the first to samples?
Again, I think it was sometime in September.
After you looked at those, did you have additional discussions with Mr. Vincent about the possibility of additional evidence being sent?
Right. The problem with the group, the group was Phorida, the humpbacked flies, or coffin flies, or scuttle flies,the common names of which aren't really too  important, but  it was the family Phorida, which contains a couple hundred species, or different kinds in North America.  Well the problem is that it's very difficult to identify the species unless we have an adult of the species.  So, I asked Michael if if there was any possibility that he might  have materials that would contain adults of these specimens. And he was thinking for a minute and he said that I remembered a lot of these specimens, larvae and pupae being on evidence that was on the trash bag in the car.  It had been sealed and stored, I think back in August or September, or August anyway, when they had done the initial inventory.  And I said well it's would be worth a shot, and he said that there was a lot of stuff in there, and my thought was that it had been sealed up, then the adults can't get out, so the adults should be in there.  So he sent them up and I did additional work, going through examining those materials.  There were some napkins, no not napkins, they were paper towels, and the trash bag itself and we found a number of adults, 15 or 20 adults, and we had a means to do a positive identification of those specimens.
Ashton: Re: Evidence 126, is this the  container in which you were sent the paper towels?
When you received this item, you said that you did find entomological items.
Yes I did.
What did you find?
Uh, literally hundreds of these very tiny, foreign flies.  I contacted an expert out in LA county, at the museum, Brian Brown, who's an expert in these particular flies.  I sent him some adults of this specimen and I retained larvae and puparia, puparia again being the cocoon stage of the lifecycle, and sent him the adults for positive identification and he sent me back identification, stating that ...
Baez: Objection
Ashton: I believe that it's part of his opinion in this case.
Judge: Overruled at this point.
Ashton: As I may, as a predicate, is this the kind of information that someone in your field would normally use in developing an opinion?
Ok go ahead.
It was a species of this group known as Megaselia scalaris, and in his report to me, he stated that it would be found regularly in decomposition, human cases, and other animal cases of mammalian decomposition, they're very very common in them.
Now,  from what you've just told us about where these particular variety of flies can be found, is that just from him or is that from your own knowledge as well?
Oh, well I've had some 30-some cases where we've had foreign flies, some of my most noted cases, high profile case from Las Vegas a few years ago, solely...
Ashton: Now, so I just wanted to establish that the knowledge you're giving us about a particular fly is from your own knowledge and not from some other expert's knowledge.
No, no, in addition, it supported my knowledge.
Ok. Now, the flies, you said, describe how you found them, how you opened up the paper towel, what the process was, where they were.
There were specimens in the bag itself, in the white plastic bag itself and then there was a bag containing these paper towels, and so I started going through a number of paper towels, I don't recall how many , but a number of them, and I started gently pulling them apart and obviously there were an abundance of puparia and larvae, all of them dried of course and dead.
What is a puparia?
Puparia is the cocoon stage of the lifecycle  of a, complete  metamorphosis, complete life cycle insect. It is the cocoon stage, we call it in the flies, the puparia.
Ok, thank you, but go ahead.
So, as I'm opening these paper towels, I'm noticing that there's an abundance of larvae and puparia and I even found a few adults on these paper towels as I shook them out, individually shook them out into a white porcelain pan, so we could see them because these are very small...
Court reporter: What?
Haskell: White porcelain pan.
Haskell continues:  and they're (larvae) very small.  Larvae are anywhere from 1 millimeter to 4 millimeters; a millimeter being, uh, a 1/6th to an 1/8th of an inch.  Very very small.
Now, the ah, when you opened up the towel and you found all of these, ah towel or napkin, whatever you want to call them, and you found all of these puparia, did there seem to be something on the towels that the flies were attracted to?
Yes, I associated the presence of the flies with the presence of a substance that was on the towel.
What did you recognize this substance on the towels to be?
Well I thought it was a good possibility because the flies were there, the larvae were there obviously feeding and completing their life cycle, it most likely was decomposition fluid.
Did you do anything in order to further that belief that it could be decompositional fluid?
Absolutely! We go to the next step and that was to suggest, or request this material be analyzed, that somebody could analyze this material.
And did you send these items to Dr. Arpad Vass at the Oakridge National Laboratory?
Yes I did.
And did you receive back, did you learn what his evaluation of those was and did you use that in your opinion?
Yes, he stated that the material was adipocere, the eventual breakdown of fluids that originate from decomposing material...
BAEZ: I'M GOING TO OBJECT. This witness is attempting to testify (he clicks his pen, click click) as to findings of Dr. Vass' and exactly what his findings are (click click).
Ashton: Are you familiar from your own work in what adipocere is.
Is that something that you frequently deal with in your forensic entomological evaluations of crime scenes?
Alright, so you have looked at the flies, you have looked at the report from Dr. Vass, what is the next thing that you do?
In this particular case, we had some timelines with regards to the whereabouts of these paper towels and this bag, and so I started to make the determination of the impact of decomposition, the impact of temperatures and impact of these insects given the different kinds. When would we have expected to see these given that we have decomposition present. So I put together a timeline based on what I had used entomologically in my analysis.
Ashton: Now, in addition to the Megaselia scalaris, that's the majority of the tiny flies that you found, did you find any other entomological evidence in your examination in the trunk?
Haskell: In these paper towels was a leg, only a leg, and I can't tell you which leg, cuz there are six of them on an insect, of a fly that we find, a species of, one of a group of species of flies which we find almost all of the time, in forensic cases,  that was the blowfly, a leg of the blowfly.  There are about 90 different blowflies  in North America, they're regionalized to some degree. And so it was a leg, of what I believe one of the southern species of blowfly found that time of year.

Ashton: Now, the flies that you found in the trunk, are any of them forensically specific to human decomposition?
Are these flies frequently found in cases of human decomposition?
Haskell:  YES!
Ashton: But also in cases of non-human decomposition.
Haskell: Right.
Are these particularly Megaselia scalaris, is that also a common fly for non-decomposition?
That's correct. Megaselia scalaris is that it likes to feed on about anything.

Now, you understand from the, let me rephrase that. Let me put it to you a hypothetical.  That the body of a young child, was stored in the trunk of that car for a period of time, and then removed and deposited to another location.  Does that fit with the entomological evidence that you found.
Can you tell the jury how it fits?
At the time of death, decomposition begins and it progresses through different stages, or, I don't like to specifically say this is stage oriented, but there's a progression as the tissues of the body go from one biochemical and change to another and to another, and to another throughout the whole progression of decomposition.  The interesting thing about this and the insects is different biochemicals changes and the biochemistry of the body decomposing, we have different insects coming in and feeding at that particular time. A term that we use is partitioning of the food resource. And it's a well known ecological survival mechanism for different organisms.  And so, the blow flies, they're the bright shiny green and iridescent blue flies that you find around trash cans and the dead dear that's laying out in the highway.  And uh, they're usually the first ones in.  They're there if the body is accessible and the conditions are favorable. They're there almost immediately, within seconds or minutes, especially when the temperatures are high and you have high temperatures down here in Florida.  As that body progresses in decomposition stages, the biochemistry changes, there's a point where mother blowfly isn't interested in that food resource.  Mother fly, whether you're a blowfly or a humpback fly, a phorid fly, mother fly is interested in getting her next generation started, laying eggs on a reasonable food source that thinks can support her next generation. So, they'll be a point where the blowfly says, 'hey, this has changed too much biochemically.  I'm going to find a fresh killed dear, roadkill dear, or I'm going to find a mouse that's out here, that's freshly dead and I'm going to put my eggs out here and that's where the next generation is going to come from.'.  And so as the blowfly drop out for instance, other groups will kick in.  The phorid flies come early, but not as early as the blowfly does, and they'll be some, and they'll be some decomposition to have progressed to for the phorid flies to really be interested in calling this home for the next generation.

Ashton: How advanced does decomposition have to be for the phorid flies to become the more dominant fly?
Well, with my experience with the phorids, we can see them, particularly with the heat of the summer, we can see them within just a few days, or they may come much later, weeks even months later. And the interesting thing about the phorid flies are that they're very tiny, as I related the size of the larvae. Mother fly is not very big. The group can be anywhere from one millimeter to maybe four to five millimeters in length, maybe it could be a little bit larger, but the species we're dealing with, we would call them gnat-sized flies. And they have this tremendous ability to get through cracks, to get through very small openings. I seen them go through cracks, recovered them in concrete that have just a few cracks in it.  It had gotten down and developed larvae or adults and it's amazing where they can get to and can get into things.  But they come in later in the decompositional process.
Ashton: So in this circumstance, you found a relative absence of the early decomp fly...
Ashton (looking annoyed): ... and a greater number of these later decomp flies, what does that tell us about what was decomposing in this trunk?
Haskell: It tells me that the body would have had to been deposited very quickly into the trunk, and the early, the first flies that come, would have had to been excluded and as decomposition progressed, these little tenacious phorid flies found a way to get in and colonized into the trunk of the car.
Ashton: Have you had experience in the past dealing with bodies that were in decomposing in trunks in cars?
Haskell: Yes.
And have you found in your experience that they do exclude the blowflies, the early flies?
The blowflies are pretty tenacious too and it depends on it depends if you've got a junky old car with rust  holes in it or whether you've got a a well-made car that can exclude, and I've seen access by the blowfly.  Obviously a delay in those blowflies getting in.
Ashton: What would the effect of wrapping the body in say, a plastic bag, or TWO, would that have the effect of lessening the amount of early flies?
Haskell: Oh, absolutely. I've done experiments where the question was whether this victim was in a plastic bag or not.  And we found out, if the plastic bag is totally closed at the mouth, or wrapped, it can delay several days.  It may delay to the point that the body, the pigs in our experiment, had decomposed to the point where again the blowflies were no longer interested and went someplace else.

Was there any other entomological evidence of significance sent to you from the trunk?
Ah, to my recollection, no.
Were you able, based upon the entomological evidence you found, able to render an opinion or an estimate as to the amount of time that the, if there was a body, decomposing material, would have been in the trunk of the car?


Haskell: Well, in my opinion the decomposing material, well the source of the decomposing fluids in my opinion that were in the trunk, could not have been in the trunk very long, because of the heat of Florida at that time of year.  And whatever had been in the trunk HAD to be out of the trunk by the time the vehicle was abandoned.  And in doing some calculations, based on energy units and decomposition, I was able to make an estimate that 3, 4 or 5 days in the trunk of that car with that heat would have certainly produced enough of that pungent fluid from the remains to have had the amount to be present to attract the phorid flies, these minute flies that we had on the paper towels in the trunk of the car.

(NOTE:  I will continue transcribing Dr. Haskell's testimony.  It was just so forensically and technical that it is one of the hardest to transcribe... BUT I will continue, just not tonight).


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