Monday, June 6, 2011


As Casey Anthony's murder trial resumed this morning, the first witness called to the stand was Dr. Arpad Vass, forensics expert specializing in human decomposition.  Dr. Vass works at Entiological Research facility in Tennessee, known as "The Body Farm", although Dr. Vass does not care for that acronym.

Dr. Vass talked about his education, how he got his Masters degree in Forensics Science and PhD in Forensics Anthropology.  Dr. Vass' PhD disertation study included looking at the biochemical parameters in human decomposition to determine how long someone's been dead.  The "Body Farm" is an outdoor facility, on about one acre, established in 1982.  There've been 1100 test subjects (donated human bodies) that have gone through this facility.  Some of these bodies have been left outside, some left in cars (in trunks, inside car), some were buried and some were left outside for testing purposes.

Dr. Vass testified, under direct questioning by Prosecuting attorney Jeff Ashton, about the science of how the human body decomposes.  Dr. Vass' initial research was to look at the chemical breakdown in human soft tissue as it decomposes.  Dr. Vass testified that as the human body decomposes, it begins to liquify.  He explained that there are four stages of human decomposition, which are: Fresh, Bloat, Active decay and Dry stage (aka mummified or skeletonized).  He continued saying that "If someone dies suddenly, the cells of the body don't yet realize that the body is dead, so the cells continue to do what they normally do, which is cellular metabolism. (Jose kept interrupting Dr. Vass's testimony, but was always overruled by the judge).

Dr. Vass continued his education of the jury, saying that the second major process is peutrification, where bacteria feed on nutrient rich fluid released by the body, and begin the process of liquifying the body, which is essentially the human decomposition process.  (As Dr. Vass ended this part of his testimony, Jeff Ashton said with a chuckle: "Lovely breakfast conversation", and then proceeded to ask Dr. Vass, about the "bloat stage" of human decomposition).  Dr. Vass testified to what is considered "the bloat stage" of human decomposition, saying that how the body generates gas during this stage of decomposition (Jose interjected with another objection which was overruled by the judge).

Dr. Vass continued, saying : The four major parameters that affect the decomposition process are:  There are four processes that are important in the rate of decomposition.  Temperature is the most important factor. Second is the presence of water.  Third is PH, if something is acidic or basic, like whether someone's body is left on the ground versus buried underground, which causes the body to become more acidic.  Fourth is the presence of oxygen.

Jeff Ashton then asked if higher temperature accelerates decompositional process, Dr. Vass answered: "Correct".  Ashton then asked if lower temperature would slow down the process, and Dr. Vass answered again: "Correct".

Throughout Dr. Vass' testimony, Casey Anthony looked totally bored.

Dr. Vass continued the explanation of his findings of how the body decompose, how he found fat and muscle breaks down into acids, and his study ended in multiple publications.  He explained how the "Body Farm" has multiple tools to analyze how bodies decompose because no two homicides occur the same way.

Dr. Vass testified that he and his team developed a model to see how tissue breaks down in early decomposition. They looked at the ratio of amino acids, on an hourly basis, which became the cutting edge method of viewing time since death.

In 2000, early 2001, Dr. Vass became interested the detection of clandestine graves.  He testified that it can be difficult to locate these graves, so he looked at ways to identify where a body is buried.  Before Dr. Vass's research, people used dogs and radar, hand probes looking for soil density changes.  Dr. Vass said that none of these ways were very effective, so he developed a method to identify odor evolution of human decomposition.  Dr. Vass and his team went after the odor aspect because up to this point, cadaver dogs had been the most effective way to find dead bodies that were buried.   In his research, they buried a number of graves and put in piping systems with buried bodies, buried in various depths, and they monitored chemicals produced from the bodies as they decomposed.

From this research, he was able to identify how to make instrumentation of how to detect human decomposition.  During the research, they followed 50 individuals through the entire decomposition process.

Prosecutor Jeff Ashton asked if other than his research, had Dr. Vass noticed the smell of human decomposition. Dr. Vass' answer was 'Yes'.  Dr. Vass also testified as to how animal decomposition differ from human decomposition.  He said that in other countries, researchers do not have access to facilities that allow for research on human decomposition, so these researchers have to use animals in their research, and the animal of choice is usually pigs.  Normally when Dr. Vass and his team look at animals, it's usually road-kill, for which they analyze their decomposition.  Dr. Vass continued that animals have a more muskier scent in their decomposition, and pigs have a much sweeter scent than human remains.  Dr. Vass explained that the odor of human decomposition is different than animal decomposition. As he started to explain how they are different, Jose objected and was overruled by the judge.

Dr. Vass also explained that the ground is a living, breathing entity, saying "If a high pressure moves in, it pushes chemicals down into the ground, so you can't detect them at the surface. It doesn't mean that they're not being generated by the body, it just means that the high pressure is pushing them down...

(Jose objected, saying that Dr. Vass's testimony was "Narrative", but was overruled by the judge, and Dr. Vass continued).  ....pushing them down into the ground.  If a low pressure comes in, it seems to suck the chemicals up out of the ground. So it's a very complicated process.  Looking at rainfall for instance, in that initial first one to two year study, they saw 200-300 chemicals, some are water soluble, some are not water soluble, sometimes when rain comes, some are pushed into the ground, some are not pushed into the ground.  It's a very complicated process of how the environment interacts with the chemicals as they are liberated during the decomposition process." Jose called out another objection.

SIDEBAR CALLED  (During the sidebar, we see Jeff Ashton talking to the judge and Cheney Mason talking as well.  Jose Baez at one point started laughing, stepped away from the sidebar for a second and then came back. Jeff Ashton became animated as he spoke. Cheney Mason started shaking his finger at Jeff.  Cheney was referencing some paper he had in his hand. Then the sidebar concluded, with the judge coming back to the bench.  Jeff Ashton then asked the court reporter to read back the transcript to figure out where they last were.)

Dr. Vass continued his testimony, saying that after looking at how humans decomposed in clandestine graves, he and his team started looking at how humans decomposed on the surface of the ground, how they skeletonized.   Dr. Vass studied the above ground remains for two years.

Jeff Ashton then submitted that Dr. Vass become considered an expert in the area of Forensic Anthropology, specifically the Biochemistry of Human Decomposition, which Jose Baez objected to renewing all previous motions and objections.  Judge Perry accepted Dr. Vass as an Expert Witness.


Dr. Vass testified that in 2008, he was contacted by Detective Yuri Melich to assist in the Casey Anthony criminal case.  At some point, the Orlando Sheriff's department started sending Dr. Vass items relating to this case.  The first item he received was a metal evidence can.  (As Dr. Vass testified, Casey appeared to be interested as she watched from the defense table).  Prosecutor Jeff Ashton asked that the can be submitted into evidence.  Jose objected, referencing probable problems with chain of evidence.  Judge Perry then looked at the can, the box, and called a sidebar.

SIDEBAR about Dr. Vass' can evidence.

After sidebar, Jeff Ashton brought the box and evidence can back and submitted that the can be brought officially into evidence, for which Jose objected citing all previous motions and objections, but was overruled. When asked if he also received a plastic bag with air samples from Casey's trunk, Dr. Vass testified that he did from a Dr. Sigman  (he believed).  When asked if Dr. Vass actually utilized the plastic bag to examine the evidence, Dr. Vass said that he did not examine it personally, but that a Dr. Marcus Weiss did.  He also testified that the first sample taken by the Sheriff's department was not collected by a normal procedure, so he did not use it in this case.

He then asked the Orlando Sheriff's department to take various air samples the correct way and sent them some equipment to collect the samples. This equipment included an air pump and triple sorbent traps, which he previously used in his studies (the triple sorbent traps, but the pump was just a regular air pump, like what's used in fish aquariums).

Dr. Vass then received back from the Orlando Sheriff's department the triple sorbent traps that contained air samples from Casey's trunk.  The sorbent traps were placed into evidentiary envelopes.  The envelopes were entered into evidence by Jeff Ashton.  Jose Baez examined each of the envelopes.


After recess, Jeff Ashton asked Dr. Vass for the results from the air samples from the cans.  Jose Baez objected to Dr. Vass answering that question and asked for a sidebar, which the judge agreed to.  As the sidebar was going on, we saw George and Cindy Anthony sitting in the back of the courtroom, Cindy looking down at something, possibly taking notes, and George had his arm around her.  Casey watched the sidebar goings-on with interest from the defense table.

After sidebar, Dr. Vass testified about the chemical compounds found in the cans. He explained that there was a large peak, identified as chloroform, which he said is a decompositional product identified in human decomposition.  Jeff Ashton then asked about what his findings were about the levels of chloroform and Dr. Vass said that the CHLOROFORM WAS UNUSUALLY HIGH (Baez objected saying that what Dr. Vass was now testifying to was out of his scope of expertise, for which the judge overruled).  Dr. Vass continued, saying that because of that they tried to concentrate the air sample to figure out more about the evidence.

The next round of testing was being performed by Dr. Weiss.  They removed the carpet sample from the metal can (Jose objected, was overruled) because they weren't sure whether the air in the can represented what was coming from the carpet.  They placed the carpet inside a plastic bag called a tedlar bag.  Tedlar bags are specifically designed and sold to contain air samples for testing.  They incubated the carpet for two days at room temperature.  Tedlar bags are used because they do not change air samples.  They incubated the sample because the carpet came from a car trunk from Florida, and the temperature of the trunk, they suspected was quite warm.  Dr. Vass explained that as they incubate samples at room temperature, it accelerates the process to determine with absolute certainty what was coming from the carpet material.

From that bag, they extracted ten milliliters and injected that through the cryo trap and did analysis.  He was able to identify that ... (Jose objected and was overruled) ... 51 individual chemical components.  One of those components was chloroform. The chromatogram he used identified the largest peak, called the base peak, was chloroform. The choloform result SHOCKED Dr. Vass, saying that he's never seen that much chloroform, even though in human decomposition chloroform can be a by-product which is typically measured in parts per trillions, in other words in a very small amounts.  Dr. Vass attempted to quantify the amount of chloroform (Jose objected that the witness was testifying outside his expertise and was overruled).  When asked about what Dr. Vass had summarized as to the level of concentration of chloroform (Jose objected and was overruled), he said that the chloroform in that carpet sample was in the parts "per million" range.

Dr. Vass explained that chloroform has a high rate of evaporation.  He explained how chloroform evaporates over the course of time and they took that into consideration since it had evaporated over the course of time from Casey's car trunk.  Dr. Vass ran further tests on chloroform.

As Jeff Ashton asked to enter Dr. Vass' test results into evidence, Jose Baez objected, saying "This witness is not testifying as to where he obtained this, who conducted the test, and anything relating to its reliability".  Judge Perry asked Dr. Vass who conducted this test, to which Dr. Vass answered that both Dr. Weiss and he conducted the test.  When Judge Perry asked if that was the data was the same that he uses to formulate his opinion,  Dr. Vass answered Yes.  It was then entered into evidence.

A graph was shown to the jury, which showed the peak of chloroform on the kromatogram.   Dr. Vaas said that they analyzed carpet samples from two separate cars.  He showed another graph of analysis that came from another car, which didn't reflect such a high level of chloroform.    He did testify that they do see chloroform in environmental samples, very low amounts (aka trace amounts), which they found in the other car's carpet sample, unlike the high samples found in Casey's car.  They submitted the carpet sample for LIBS analysis, because it is another non-destructive technique.  LIBS was used (Jose objected, saying that Dr. Vass is not a physisist and is now testifying to an area of physics, and was overruled).  LIBS is a laser-based technique, where they use a YAG laser which is directed on the carpet (Jose objected that he was testifying outside his expertise, and was objected to by Jose, which was overruled).
Dr. Vass explained how the laser test is done and how molecules react during the test.  Dr. Vass got so excited during his explanation.  Although he was not present during this testing, he did use the results from this test for his research.  Dr. Vass said that, as decomposition progresses, he was looking for elevated inorganic components, such as calcium, potassium, to non-destructively analyze the carpet to compare Casey's carpet piece to the other car's sample.


The jury has been excused so that Jose Baez can question Dr. Vass about the LIBS testing.  Jose asked questions that Judge Perry found improper.  Then Judge Perry referred to Schwartz vs. State 695, a 1997 4th Center of Appeals decision, which says the purpose of the evidence code to allow experts to use information when rendering opinions in court, just as they would rely on the opinions from nurses, technicians, other physicians, hospital records when they are rendering opinions out of court.

Judge Perry said "Mr. Baez, I was under the impression that you were wanting to attack some methodology. That wasn't where you were going with your questions. So to be abundantly clear, expert witnesses are able to rely on reports of others in formulating opinions. Evidence code goes on to say even if the evidence may not be admissible, as long as it is something or the type that are reasonbly relied on by the expert in the subject to support their opinions.  What you may go into are things, that you were going to are proper subject for cross-examination, but not necessarily dealing with what you indicated that you wanted to do, so we have an idea of where you were going, so we can see the point you were trying to make, so you may proceed".


Jose then went back up to the podium and asked Dr. Vass, "The results of the LIBS examination, what results were they?"  Dr. Vaas answered that inorganic chemicals were higher in Casey's car than the other test car's carpet samples.  They looked at calcium, magniusm, carbon, iron.  Jose had Dr. Vass testify that he doesn't commonly do these LIBS examinations.  Jose then had Dr. Vass say that he cannot testify about LIBS with certainty, since he's not a physisist, but Dr. Vass felt comfortable, that this test was used to confirm what his other tests had already told him.  Jose then asked questions that Dr. Vass, stated were not clear.  Dr. Vass had to have Jose re-ask the question, at which Dr. Vass said that what Jose was incinuating was incorrect.  Jose's questions were such that Dr. Vass had to explain how testing is done, because Jose was asking questions that made no sense and were not credible.  When Jose asked Dr Vass if the only comparison he did was the comparitive analysis from a control sample from a junkyard in Tennessee and one from Casey's car, Dr. Vass said that "in terms of LIBS, yes".


Jose then objected to Dr. Vass testifying outside the scope of his area of expertise, and outside of the scope of the comparitive analysis that the witness claimed to have conducted.  Judge Perry OVERRULED Jose's objections.  He then instructed the defense and state to read page 745 of the 2010 edition of  Earhart (sp? Erhard or Erhart), the first two full paragraphs, dealing with the foundation being laid before witnesses begin regurgitated "so we can move more expeditiously through this testimony".

(Basically what happened, the defense objected to Arpad Vass's testfying outside of his scope of expertise, saying that he wasn't qualified with the LIBS testing.  Judge Perry overruled the defense's objection, saying that this expert is allowed to rely on the LIBS results in order to make his determination as long as he relies on his opinion.)


The jury came back and questioning of Dr. Vass resumed by Jeff Ashton/Prosecuting attorney.  He explained the techniques used to test the carpet samples found in Casey's car.  When he first obtained the can with Casey's car trunk carpet sample inside it, it was sealed.  When Dr. Vass first opened it, he jumped back a foot or two because the odor was really strong, especially since the can was so small.

We watched as Jeff Ashton opened up another box that had other evidence pieces in it, for which Jose objected to referencing previous motions and objections.  Another sidebar was called.


Dr. Vass was back on the stand and Jeff Ashton continued his questioning.  Dr. Vass testified that he was also sent paper towels and napkins from Casey's trunk and ran these through testing, which revealed that there were a number of fatty acids on the paper towels.  The significance of those fatty acids make up "grave wax" which is a by-product of the breakdown of fat, associated with decomposition.   Dr. Vass also requested air samples from the Anthony garage, to confirm that the carpet samples were the point source of the odor.  He also examined samples from the garbage that was found in Casey's car.  After analyzing all of that data, it was determined that the odor of decomposition came from Casey's car trunk, specifically the carpet of the trunk.  The significance of finding the compounds of the carpet trunk is that they found 51 chemical compounds, 41 of which were associated with human decomposition.  After separating other factors which were also found in Casey's car trunk, such as trash and gasoline, his opinion was rendered.

Dr. Vass said that they also examined components of decomposing pizza and squirrel animal parts.


Dr. Vass responded:  I do have an opinion.
Jeff Ashton: And what was that opinion?


(Note: As Jeff Ashton continued questioning Dr. Vass, there were times when both of them would get excited; Dr. Vass got excited because he absolutely loves his research and findings, and Jeff Ashton was excited to show how many science factors were found in Casey's car.)


Jose first said that Dr. Vass was not a chemist, stressing that Dr. Vass got his Phd in Anthropology.  Jose criticized Dr. Vass' reports, that Dr. Vass put his title as "Research Scientist" and not "Anthropologist" on one of his reports.  Jose asked Dr. Vass when he last took a chemistry course. Answer was during the 1980s.  Jose asked if Dr. Vass ever allowed people to think he was a chemist. Answer: no.  Jose asked if he ever posted Facebook account that he was a biochemist? Dr. Vass answered that he never did anything with Facebook.  Jose asked if Dr. Vass ever put that he was a biochemist in Wikipedia or authorized anyone from Oakridge Labs to "hold him out" that he was a biochemist. Answer:  "Not to my knowledge".  Jose then asked Dr. Vass if he is aware of anywhere that he might be labeled as a biochemist, for which Jeff Ashton objected and the judge sustained it.

As Jose continued, he asked Dr. Vass if he has a financial interest in this case, for which Dr. Vass stated: "Not in my opinion".

Jose suggested to Dr. Vass that the two papers for which the opinions that he relied on for conclusions in this case, that those conclusions were put into a database for which Dr. Vass also used to render his opinion in this case. (Did you follow that?  Exactly!  That's how a lot of Jose's questions went).

Jose then brought up a grant that Dr. Vass got which resulted in this database being a major deliverable for the grant.  Jose then said that part of Dr. Vass' job is to bring in a certain amount of money to fund the research lab.  Then Jose asked Dr. Vass: "You hold a patent for the Labrador, isn't that correct sir", for which Dr. Vass said "Incorrect".  Then Jose asked if he was an inventor or partner of the Labrador, for which Dr. Vass said that he is listed as one of the inventors in the patent of the Labrador.  Jose: And this Labrador utilizes this database, for which Dr. Vass answered "partially yes, but it doesn't utilize all of the compounds of this database".  Then Jose started accusing Dr. Vass, saying that the goal, with this Labrador, which looks like a metal detector, is to sell these units to police departments all across the country.  Dr. Vass answered that the grant, which was funded by the Department of Justice, an invention was developed, and they filed an invention disclosure based on that instrument. And it's the laboratory's decision whether or not to file a patent on that.  Dr. Vass stated that "I have NO say whatsoever whether the laboratory decides to file a patent or not. It's not my decision".  Jose then asked Dr. Vass "Did you understand my question?" for which Dr. Vass said that he believed that he did. Then Jose said "No you did not" for which the prosecution objected and Judge Perry sternly said "SUSTAINED".

Then Jose said "The goal of this is to sell this instrument to police departments all across the country" for which Dr. Vass answered "No, it's not to sell these at all.  My goal is to develop them.  If an investor can come in and license that patent then THEY could build things. But the goal of the project was to develop a technological tool that law enforcement can use to aid in locating clandenstine graves".

Jose: Before that device can be built, and processed and sold, you have to have validation of that database in a court of law.
Prosecutor: Objection
Judge Perry: Objection Sustained
Dr. Vass: I do not know that (Judge Perry then told Dr. Vass - the question was sustained.
Dr. Vass: Oops. (He obviously isn't trying to hold anything back, and was more than happy to answer but shouldn't have)

Jose:  You get royalties as a result if this device is sold to police departments.
Dr. Vass: I honestly do not understand the technology transfer process very well at the laboratory. I do understand that if a licensee comes in and licenses the patent, if it is ever gets awarded, then there is a royalty fee associated with that but it's relatively insignificant.
Jose: So your answer is that yes, you do get royalties if this is sold
Jeff: Objection
Judge: Sustained
Jose: It's insignificant depending on how many are sold, correct?
Dr. Vass: I'm sorry sir?
Jose: The amount of money you get sir, depends on how many of these are sold?
Dr. Vass: It depends on how much the licenses
Jose: You get 15% of the royalties
Dr. Vass: It's split between the inventors
Jose: And part of the validation of this device is to have it validated in a court of law
(Didn't we already go through that ???)

Jose: When you billed out for the work that you did in this case, you billed it to the Labrador project, did you not? The same funding source.
Dr. Vass: The work that I did in this case? No, I did this voluntraily on my own time.
Jose:  And this Labrador, you applied for this patent in 2006, did you not?
Dr. Vass:  That was the first patent disclosure for a prototype that did not become the final product.
Jose:  And in your curriculeum vitae, you have items that you had submitted patents subsequent to that, correct?
Dr. Vass:  Correct
Jose:  But you didn't disclose that...
Prosecution:  Objection!

SIDEBAR called

(Cross-examination is that Jose is going for the jugular, attacking Dr. Vass' credibility, which makes me shudder when Jose keeps stating that Dr. Vass is not a chemist, of which Dr. Vass agreed.  You don't need to keep at it showing all the different chemists that Dr. Vass is not.  He already admitted that he's not a chemist, for gosh sakes!  What Jose is doing is typical of defense attorneys.
It's known that the doctors who invent these things do not get rich off the patents;  He has to split the 15% with three other scientists.  It's the research lab that will profit the most from the patents that scientists develop.  What we did see is how much Dr. Vass loves the science, and going after him to try to show that he's money hungry is not the best way to go for the defense.)

Jose: Dr. Vass, you are required to explain if you have a financial interest on all of your reports?
Dr. Vass: It's not true for all of them?
Jose: Did you disclose in the report that you have a financial interest in this case?
Dr. Vass:  To the detective? No.
Jose:  You work in a research lab.
Dr. Vass: Correct
Jose:  And the differences between... (Jose changes question mid-sentence, which he does a lot), now, I know we touched on this briefly,... Now you work at a research lab, correct?
Dr. Vass: Correct.
Jose:  And the difference between a research lab and a forensics lab is that a research lab does experiments.
Dr. Vass:  Research data is our product
Jose:  And a research lab isn't required to have protocols.
Dr. Vass:  Usually the research labs are the ones that develop the protocols and procedures.

Jose: You research in this case was a qualitative analysis not a quantitative analysis.
Dr. Vass:  Correct.  We were looking to see plus or minus, are these compounds present or not present, are they big or trace...
Jose:  You issued a report in August as a preliminary report
Dr. Vass: Yes I typically do that
Jose:  And what that typically does, it tells you what you're looking at so far
Dr. Vass:  Correct
Jose:  It's not your final conclusion
Dr. Vass: Correct
Jose:  And you were aware that before you even had your conclusions in this case, that it was reported to the media that you had found human decomposition in the trunk of this car
Jeff Ashton:  OBJECTION!
Judge Perry: SUSTAINED!


Jose Baez came back up and started his cross-examination again, asking if Dr. Vass was aware that the information of his preliminary findings were released to the media. Dr. Vass said that he was made aware of that but he didn't release that information. In fact, he was upset with all of the media attention.

Jose: And this is because the media is already talking about your results before you've finished your experiments
Jeff: Objection
Judge Perry: Sustained, rephrase the question as we discussed at the bench.
Jose: Yes sir.

Jose: It's your understanding that your conclusions were already being discussed without you even finishing your work
Dr. Vass: I think that's correct, yes.

Jose then started going through Dr. Vass' findings, and the conclusions of his reports, saying that Dr. Vass has to go through all his prior reports and that his final report is the most accurate report.  Jose stated that in Dr. Vass' second report, he reported that they got three Pontiac Sunfires to compare them to Casey's car.  Dr. Vass testified that he already corrected himself earlier in depositions that he had made a mistake in that they only had two cars.  He initially thought that they had three, because he was initially given three carpet test samples, but then he found out that there were only two cars, and that two of the carpet samples came from the same car.  Dr. Vass also testified that he and his team got the closest cars to compare, instead of getting a new car to run comparative tests with.  Jose went on and found notes, ones that Dr. Weiss took about how many cars were selected.  He then started to question Dr. Vass about those bench notes, but was promptly ordered to stop.

Judge;  Are you using Dr. Weiss' bench notes to impeach him?
Jose: Not to impeach him sir, no.

Jose tried to ask Dr. Vass about a third car not in evidence. But that was objected to and sustained.

Jose tried to criticize the cars that were analyzed.  He also went after Dr. Vass, saying that he's never done analysis on carpet, and that he doesn't know the chemical compounds of garbage (cuz he's not a chemist, you see), and that he has no experience as to the chemical breakdown of items.  As Jose continued this barrage, Jeff Ashton objected and Judge Perry sustained.

Jose:  You do not know the chemical breakdown of each item in the garbage bag found in Casey's car.
Dr. Vass: From what I recall, they were empty plastic containers, like empty bottles of Coke or Sprite. Jose; You don't know the chemical breakdown of these items?
Dr. Vass:  No, but we did sample the air of the composite of all these.
Jose: And those samples were taken in August of 2008, were they not?
Dr. Vass: I do not recall the actual date, but that's possible.

Jose:  On August 30, 2008 is, and I'm referring to State's evidence, that was taken on August 30th.  This was not taken on July 15, 2008, were they?
Dr. Vass: No, you just said that it wasn't.
Jose: And you said that air is a free-flowing environment, did you not sir?
Dr. Vass: Absolutely.
Jose: And the chemical composition can change from moment to moment?
Dr. Vass: Absolutely.
Jose:  But yet you did your comparisons from air that was done a month and a half later.
Dr. Vass: Are we talking about GARAGE air samples?
Jose:  Yes.
Dr. Vass:  Yes.
Jose: And you don't know what was done to that GARBAGE between July 15 to Aug. 30th (NOTE:  JOSE HERE SAYS "GARBAGE", BUT DR. VASS ASKED HIM IF HE SAID "GARAGE" as to testing being gathered a month later)
Dr. Vass: I do not know that, no.
Jose:  And what you did, you broke down a comparison and you did a table in your final report, did you not sir?
Dr. Vass: Yes, it was very complicated unfortunately.
Jose:  And you used these samples to reach your conclusions, did you not?
Dr. Vass: That is correct
Jose:  And, do you have that table in front of you sir?
Dr. Vass:  I do indeed.
Jose: And you used sample, State's evidence 117, which is the air sample from the trash found inside the vehicle
Dr. Vass:  If you're referring to column three, that is correct.

And then Jose brought out a bunch of evidence envelopes, one by one, asking if Dr. Vass used various air samples from different areas of the car, and inside the trash, garage of the forensics bay, and then Jose said that Dr. Vass suspiciously did not use one of State's evidence to reach his conclusion. Dr. Vass stated that that was because the complete liner had been removed and said that it was not a valid comparison.
Realizing that things were getting confusing with Jose's questioning, Dr. Vass tried to explain things, saying: "When you collect an hour's worth of air, it converts into 30 liters of air, which was compared to 10 mills to the trunk liner.  I know it's complicated that the point source was the trunk. We did an analysis of the trunk that small amounts of chloroform, etc. but would not be considered a valid comparison".

Jose: Out of 17, you would find 7 to be relevant and because of some trace levels, you only considered 5.
Dr. Vass: Yes, we were being very very conservative.
Jose; There were some overlap, that could be considered overlap, which would make it only three, that did not overlap from your list of 30.
Dr. Vass: I would not completely agree with what you're saying. And from what I was saying before there are things that overlap, especially when you've collected 30 liters of air compared to 10 milliliters.
Jose: So 3 chemicals out of 30 that you consider in human decomposition.
Dr. Vass: I don't think that that is an accurate.  There are 30 chemicals that are associated with human decomposition.  Out of what we have here, excluding overlaps... (Jose interrupted, Jeff Ashton objected saying "can the witness be allowed to finish his answer", Judge Perry sustained and Dr. Vass continued).

Jose: Ok. Now I'd like to talk about the second area that you talked about.  You are not a physicist and the compounds that come up with this, can you identify the four compounds associated with this?
Dr. Vass: Can I refer to my report.  It was calcium, magnesium, sodium, carbon and iron.
Jose: And these items are found in numerous items in the environment, and they are also found in common trash, correct. (Then he accused Dr. Vass of not being a chemist again).
Dr. Vass: Ok, I'm not a chemist.

(To tell you the truth, I have no idea what Jose was trying to get across, other than saying that Dr. Vass was not a chemist, that he was trying to get rich off this case and that ... he's not a chemist.  Oh, and did he mention that Dr. Vass is not a chemist.  ARGH!)

At one point, Dr. Vass was clearly getting tired of Jose's questioning.  When Jose asked him about the junkyard car that they found to compare against Casey's, Jose said that that car (the junkyard car, not Casey's) could have been outside in the junkyard for years, saying: " It could have soaking up all the natural  environments", for which Dr. Vass said "Yeah, isn't that COOL that there was less than what was in the Florida car" (I don't know if Jose caught that or not cuz he just kept going on his line of questioning).

Jose: (The junkyard car) could have gone thru winter, snow, summers, and you don't know how many.  And you compared that, only two cars, to this car in Florida, for which you also have no history of that.
Dr. Vass: Correct.  We considered that the most worst case scenario, THAT in an urban environment, in a junkyard, you would have oils and greases and cleaning products perhaps, and maybe blood from car wrecks, all these things that could have contaminated the trunks of these cars.
Jose:  But you didn't even collect samples, did you sir?
Dr. Vass: The junkyard samples?  I did not collect those, no.
Jose: So you don't know if these are trunks that have trunk lids missing?
Dr. Vass: Oh, the trunk lid was not missing, but open. Because people want to take pieces off of cars in a junkyard, so you don't want to have cars locked up.
Jose: Is that an assumption sir, or is that a fact?
Dr. Vass: That's what I was told.
Jose: And you compared that to a car that had trash in the trunk three weeks in the hot Florida sun.
Jeff: Objection to something not being in evidence
Judge: Sustained.

Afternoon recess called.

Judge Perry: Ok, you may be seated.  Let's return the jury.

Jose: Dr. Vass, before I go further, it is your contention that the entire trunk was sprayed with Bluestar, which is used to detect blood with an alternate light source.
Jose: The spraying of Bluestar was never done.
(Jose then asked Dr. Vass if he researched what Bluestar's components/ingredients were)
Dr. Vass: I never did that, no.
Jose: Someone went to a website and got the list of ingredients. And that's all that was done.
Dr. Vass: Nothing else was done.
Jose: You are aware that the entire trunk was sprayed with Febreze.
(Jose then asked if Dr. Vass knew what Febreze was made of)
Dr. Vass: No, we looked up the ingredients and it was mainly fragrance and Ethanol.
Jose: You did not research its interactions. And you are not a chemist

Jose then went to fatty acids which are found in human decomposition: Palmitic acid, Stearic acid, Oleic acid and Myristic acid, and Dr. Vass said that also Palmeto acid should be added to that list.


Jose then referred to the paper towel that were found in the trash in Casey's car, and said that all of these fatty acids could also be found in hamburger meat, and chicken. Jose also mentioned that Dr. Vass' report indicated there were levels of THC along with the meat. When he asked Dr. Vass what the THC was associated with, the answer was marijuana.  Jose asked if instead of human decomposition, the paper towels indicated that it was a result of just "the munchies".  Dr. Vass said that he didn't think so.  Jose said that the reason that he didn't know was because he is not a chemist.

Dr. Vass responded that if you're focusing on paper towels, in order for these fatty acid chemicals to be found would have been from hamburger meat, the meat would have to be raw, loaded with bacteria, which would have to be in anarobic conditions (in other words, you'd have to be eating it with a bag over your head), and you'd have to have 2-3 pounds of it to simulate the stain found in the car.

Jose: Ok, how did the marijuana get there? Is it found in decomposition?
Dr. Vass: No, we try to be as thorough as possible in our analysis.

Jose: Do you recall attempting to find hidden graves at the Barker Ranch in California?


While the jury was out of the courtroom, Jose questioned Dr. Vass about Barker Ranch, where Charles Manson buried bodies.

Jose:  Dr. Vass, in March 2008, you were asked to analyze soil samples for the Barker Ranch?
Dr. Vass: Yes
Jose: You were sent these soil samples. They were analyzed with this gas chromatograph. Your initial findings was that they were consistent with human decomposition.
Dr. Vass: Correct
Jose: Subsequently, you went to the ranch and then an exploratory excavation was done.
Dr. Vass: True, at the depth we dug, we did not find anything, but at the depth we dug, we just got to the surface of where the earth was 40-50 years ago.   It was an exploratory excavation, not a dig.
Jose: Did you make that statement sir, to a member of the media, that you said that the science was in its infancy stage.
Jeff: Objection!
(Objection was sustained due to no time period being stated in Jose's question.)

Jose: The only time you used was at the Barker Ranch.
Dr. Vass: No
Jose: What are your error rate for finding bodies after using
Dr. Vass:  Error rates are not applied in this type of research.

Jose: The... I have no further questions.

(But like Casey, that was a lie, and he came back)...

Jose: Did you sir, on May 22, 2008, give a statement to the Associated Press?
Dr. Vass: I cannot verify.
Jose: Did you make the statement that "I have not been this frustrated in a very long time"
Dr. Vass: That sounds like something I could have said, it's very frustrating digging holes in the earth.

Judge Perry: The Barker Ranch is where Charles Manson murdered several people. The questions dealing with the Barker Ranch, the objection will be sustained.  You can question him about the odor of decomposition and what was found in the trunk of the car, but the Barker Ranch has no bearing to this case.


Jose:  Now, part of protocols would also include proper collection of these samples.
Dr. Vass: Yes, it could
Jose:  As part of your protocols, you have told individuals not to store items next to an area that contains gasoline.
Dr. Vass, Well yes, unless it's where the evidence was.
Jose:  Another part of your protocols, is that samples should be free of trash and debris that could result in false readings, which include airsol cans, gas cans or propane bottles responsible to, even a soft drinks to avoid being spilled into.  Those are your protocols in your collection in collection samples.

Dr. Vass: Yes, but you cannot take it out of context. It was in response to an investigator in a large, outdoor area.
Jose: You don't want samples collected next to trash
Dr. Vass: Unless the trash is part of the crime scene.  If I remember correctly, we were talking about a large outdoor area. These are conditions that make common sense.
Jose: Because you don't want these samples collecting next to gasoline and trash.
Dr. Vass: Sure, as part as it is not part of a crime scene.


Jose: I'd like to talk to you about what divining rods are.
Dr. Vass smiled. and Prosecuting attorney Jeff Ashton called SIDEBAR!
At sidebar, Jose is explaining why he's asking about divining rods.
Dr. Vass was called over to the sidebar.

Back from SIDEBAR

Jose: Do you know what divining rods are?
Dr. Vass: Yes. (He explained a bit about how they are antennas used to find things)
Jose: Can divining rod be made from a coathanger?
Dr. Vass: Sure, as long (he explains details about his findings)
Jose: Have you taught on this?
Dr. Vass: Sure, it's a hobby of mine.
Jose: Were you offered a million dollars to prove this theory of yours?
Jeff Ashton:  Objection!

Jose: Have you been challenged...
Jeff: Objection!
Jose: Now, you also have attempted to put electronic leashes on flies...

Jose: You know that your findings are not generally accepted in the scientific community...

(Jose then asked about Dr. Stafolopolis).
Dr. Vass: There is a paper by Dr. Stafolopolis, and of the five primary properties we found in our research of human decomposition, he found four. He did not find chloroform.
Jose: Dr. Stafolopolis is Greece.
Dr. Vass: Yes
Jose: So the only other study that you find are similar to your findings is in Greece?
Dr. Vass: He's the only one who uses entire bodies, others have used tissues, and he was looking at a single time point.  We were looking at a 4-5 year study.

Jose: Sir, you testified,under direct examination, that the smell of human decomposition is unique.
Dr. Vass: To me, yes.
Jose: This is where Mr. Ashton wanted to step away from ...Do you recall making a statement to the Knoxville News that the smell of human decomposition, that the smell is similar to that of a rotting potato?
Dr. Vass:  Yes, but when we looked at a decomposing potato, the chemical breakdown is completely different.

Then testimony centered around comparisons made between Casey's car trunk and of a car trunk in Montana where a three year old was wrapped in a blanket, and decomposed for three months.

Dr. Vass: I didn't collect the carpet, or the blanket, or the air.
Jose: And not only did you not collect the history and makeup of those items, you have no idea what chemicals they may have encountered...


Jose: You have no idea what was in the trunk of the car, or its 10 year history or what the chemical makeup was in the junkyard sample that you collected.
Dr. Vass: No, that's correct.
Jose: And you don't know the history of the Montana sample.
Dr. Vass: That's correct, I do not.
Jose: And you never collected a carpet sample from that car either.
Dr. Vass: No, the child in that case was wrapped in a blanket. And the blanket is what was stained. And again, granted it's not a positive control.  I MEAN THANK GOODNESS I DON'T FIND ALL THESE CHILDREN IN TRUNKS OF CARS!

Jose: Judge, I want to move to have this answer stricken from the record.
(Dr. Vass looks over at the judge)
Judge Perry: Overruled.

Jose (wanting to move away from his answer quickly):  Sir, you don't know the history of that car.
Dr. Vass: Correct.
Jose: And, you also never collected a carpet sample from that car.
Dr. Vass: No
Jose: And this is the very first time that you've ever conducted an experiment on a carpet sample.
That's what's wonderful about forensic science, is that every sample is unique.
Jose: So your answer is no.
Dr. Vass: That is correct.
Jose: If I can have just a moment Judge.


(Jose goes to defense table to consult Ms. Simms.  She's showing him things on some papers, pointing to specific items with her pencil. My question, why isn't she doing this questioning?)

Jose: Sir, you're not a member of the Academy of Forensics Sciences, are you sir?
Dr. Vass: No, not currently.
Jose:  In fact you are not a member of the American Board of Anthropology.
Dr. Vass: No.
Jose: You are not a member of any professional organizations that would govern its members, are you sir?
Dr. Vass: No, my background is so diverse, I'm wouldn't even know which one to possibly join.
Jose:  Because you are so creative.
Dr. Vass: I'm paid to be creative and to think outside the box. I don't even know what the box is.
Jose: Because you would consider yourself more of an explorer than a scientist, would you sir.
Jeff Ashton: Objection
Judge: Sustained
Jose: I have no more questions at this time

Judge Perry: REDIRECT

Jeff Ashton: Which would you say has governed your professional career more, scientific curiosity or financial benefit
Jose: Objection
Judge: Overruled
Dr. Vass: Obviously scientific curiosity, I'm a very curious person.
Jeff: Though you indicated you're not an analytic chemist, the past 20 years of your career in forensic anthropology, has that centered around the biochemistry and the chemistry around human decomposition?
Dr. Vass: Yes
Jeff Ashton: Do you feel you have a financial interest in this case?
Dr. Vass: Not at all
Jeff: Do you remember when the deposition was taken in this case by Mr. Baez?
Dr. Vass:  Do you mean the inquisition? ( He chuckles)
Jeff:  That was taken back on Sept. 22, 2010.
Jeff: Do you remember you were asked about patent issues and royalty issues, and all of those things?
Dr. Vass: Yes
Jeff: Do you remember that you had to refer to someone else.
Dr. Vass: It absolutely had no interest for me.
Jeff: So you didn't know how it even worked and had to refer someone else so you could answer the questions
Dr. Vass: Yes I did have to do that.

Jeff: Was getting a contaminated sample part of the reason you went to a junkyard?
Dr. Vass:  Absolutely
Jeff:  You talked a little bit about diffusion, odor diffusion.
Odor diffusion is when chemicals go from higher concentrations to lower concentrations.  If you have a piece of plastic over here that has parts per trillion levels of compound X, and a piece of plastic that has compound of X in it, but parts per millions of it. The first sample cannot contaminate the other.
Jeff: And in this case, what had the highest concentration of all of these important samples that we've discussed?
Dr. Vass: The carpet sample

Jeff: You were asked about Bluestar and Febreze.  Did you look up the material spec sheets on those items?
Dr. Vass: No, the MSDS was sent to me by Bluestar and I looked up the one for Febreze myself.
Jeff: Is the NDS a source of information of chemical composition?
Dr. Vass: Before we use any chemical in national laboratory, we must consult the data sheets
Jeff: Did either Bluestar or Febreze contain chloroform?
Dr. Vass: No
Jeff: Give us a scenario as to how those compounds could be found on those paper towels.

Dr. Vass: First of all the meat has to be from a mammal, and of a certain size that would have left a stain the size of what was found in the trunk. It would have to probably be decomposing in and loaded with bacteria normally found in the human body.

Jeff:  So you'd have to have a couple of pounds of raw hamburger, wrapped up in a bag, somehow sealed, left in a trunk of a car, and it would have to have high fat content, and it could not be gotten from someone eating a hamburger and wiping their face.
Dr. Vass: No.
Jeff:  Did you see any evidence of hamburger in anything you investigated?
Dr. Vass: No.
Jeff: You were asked about Dr. Steponopolis, and he examined two bodies who were floating in the sea.  Did the compounds that he found were among the 478 that you found?
Dr. Vass: I don't recall, but remember there was overlap.

Dr. Vass: Since we had never studied a person, or human decomposing in a trunk of a car before.  It's unfortunate but we were able to find another such case, in Montana, of three years of age, who was wrapped in a blanket and was in the trunk for three months.  It was to confirm that the compounds that we found in the car of the trunk (Casey's), the test of the carpet in this case and the ones from that case were four.  The fifth compound was chloroform.

Jeff: Do you have an opinion why those compounds were not found?
Dr. Vass: Adults we have studied over the years produce a number of fluorinated compounds, these are compounds that contain fluorine.  It is assumed that these fluid accumulate by a process of bioaccumulation.  It's like if you eat a piece of lead paint chips, you eat a little piece of lead paint chip, it collects over time.  If you drink of fluorinated water over your lifetime, a lot of water is fluorinated which collects in your tissues.  If you go to countries that do not fluorinate water, you do not see fluoride in the compounds.  In a child, there's not been enough time for the fluorides to accumulate.

No further questions.

Baez:  Dr. Vass, you actually addressed this issue with fluoride in your report. And you indicated that this hasn't been studied. But you're willing to come to this jury and give them information as an expert witness.

Baez: You have testified to the paper towels. these paper towels were found in the trash bags.
Dr. Vass: That's correct
Baez: Sir, you have no information that that paper towel and that stain have anything to do with one another.
Dr. Vass: I don't think that's completely true. Dr. Neil Haskell sent me those paper towels. On those paper towels, he identified he found pupils...
Jose: I withdraw the question
Jose: You don't have first hand knowledge that those paper towels have anything to do with that stain.
Dr. Vass: I do not.

Jose then asked questions about the paper towels again, how meat could have possibly made the fatty acids that Dr. Vass determined to be human decomposition.  And when Jose tried to bring up the marijuana that was reported in Dr. Vass' report, Jeff Ashton Objected and Judge Perry Sustained his objection.  Jose then tried again, saying "Judge, this witness answered in direct..." for which Judge Perry said, again, "SUSTAINED".


This witness may step down.


On the jury, we have a nursing student on this jury, a diabetic who used to be a nurse's assistant and an alternate who is a surgical tech and a teacher of health, who are going to get what he's talking about.


  1. Dr. Vass's anthropology dissertation has been archived @

  2. What is on Page 745 of Earhart, and exactly what is this reference manual? You and I seem to be the only people interested.