Casey Anthony: Challenging the Duct Tape

I hate objections. I hate when testimony is cut short, especially when it is the opinion of a scientist. It’s not right. The truth should never be silenced. However, that is the way the judicial system works. If you do not like what is coming next, object and plead your case. Both sides were guilty of concealing the truth.

The Testimony Never Heard

After the trial, I wondered why the defense did not elicit testimony about the duct tape from Dr. Arpad Vass given his experience with decomposition. Then I remembered they called someone else. Dr. William Rodriguez, a forensic anthropologist, attempted to testify on June 18, but his testimony was cut short by the State (view testimony). They contended that the opinions he was going to render were not included in his written report. Personally, I couldn’t care less for the legal argument. Who cares if his opinions weren’t in a report? I wanted to hear what he had to say.

However, the prosecution didn’t. What was he going to say that had them scared?

Dr. William Rodriguez worked as a forensic anthropologist with the U.S. Department of Defense Armed Forces Medical Examiner’s Office. Without listing his entire history, his qualifications were as impressive as Dr. Vass’ in the area of decomposition and the State agreed. Much of the literature on decomposition cites the work of Dr. Rodriguez and his mentor, Dr. William Bass (see references below). He was accepted as an expert in the areas of forensic taphonomy, anthropology and entomology.

In his brief appearance, he indicated that he supervised recoveries where duct tape or other binding materials was used to bound a person in some manner, either on the face or elsewhere. He stated that in mummified remains, it’s easy to identify where the duct tape (or cloth, etc.) was placed because it’s usually still affixed (e.g. wrapped Egyptian mummies). However, in skeletonized remains, it’s very difficult to identify where the duct tape was – or if it was even there at all. The situation is exponentially complicated if the body decomposed on the surface because of the environmental interactions. At least in a burial the soil compactness would keep the bones articulated and hold in place anything attached to the remains (source).

In other words, if a person is buried with duct tape on their face, when they are disinterred the duct tape would still be in place because of the pressure exerted by the soil. Above ground, there is nothing to exert pressure on the remains to keep the duct tape in place. The duct tape cannot exert pressure on itself to keep itself in place.

Dr. Rodriguez was a scientist, with considerable relevant experience, who was brought on (and not paid) to challenge the State’s duct tape assertion. The prosecution objected and his testimony was stricken from the record. But its importance was not lost. I will attempt to continue where he left off with scientific analysis of the remains.

(Note: This is not his analysis. I have no idea what he was going to say, but it probably was going to involve the duct tape.)

Background

The skull was found upright in a swamp with the hair matted at the base and the mandible still attached according to the testimonies of Investigator Hanson (video), Dr. Utz (video), and Dr. Schultz (video).

The Position of the Duct Tape

There is too much speculation about how the duct tape was positioned in relation to the remains. Some blame this on the fact that the pictures haven’t been released without blurring. The State called the investigators who participated in the recovery of the skull to testify. They explained, in detail, how the remains were recovered. Their testimonies are linked in the previous paragraph. The duct tape was not attached or adhered to the mandible or cranium in any manner. It was not “holding” the mandible in place. In actuality, the roots and hair created an artificial hinge.

CSI Hanson and Dr. Schultz were actually on the scene. I have transcribed what they said regarding the duct tape to save you from rewatching hours of scientific testimony:

Q: Was there duct tape on or near the skull?
Hanson: (When the investigator first found the skull) I’m not sure I was able to appreciate the duct tape right at that point.

Q: After you had a chance to examine it more throrougly, was there duct tape on or near the skull?
A: It appeared to be duct tape. It’s not above the skull, it’s in front of the skull.

Q: From your observation of it (the skull) could you determine if it was more than one piece of duct tape?
A: No.

Q: Was the tape flat on the ground, or at an angle?
A: It was difficult to tell because of the hair matt and the undergrowth. It was difficult to tell exactly where it was.

Q: Is there a portion of the duct tape that is under the leaf debris?
A: We didn’t know that at the time.

Q: It appears that the debris was up to about the mid eye socket level. Is that accurate?
A: That is an accurate representation of what we saw. It (the leaf debris) was circumferential around the skull.

Q: Did you attempt, as best you could, to keep the tape in the same position in reference to the skull as it was on the ground?
A: The hair matt and the tape both, yes.

Q: Was it possible to keep it in exactly the same position?
A: I seriously doubt it.

Q: The duct tape looks like it’s laying [flat] on the ground?
A: There is a portion of it laying on the ground, yes.

Q: There is an edge that appears to be torn?
A: Yes

Q: And that’s like the end of the tape?
A: I’m not sure whether that was the end of the tape or the fact that the duct tape itself had started to break down and the silver had come away from the fibers.

Q: Is it unusual (for the mandible to be in place)?
Utz: By the time you reach the stage of decomposition of the skull, the mandible is not attached anymore and typically there are not even found together. If the skull is moved, which does happen because it is round and it will roll, the mandible is left behind. In this case it is still attached because of this hair mat which has these ingrown plant material which is giving it a level of consistency which is holding the bones together.

Q: Is the tape adhering to anything?
A: The tape itself was no longer adhesive. Part of the tape, which is partially a fabric, was attached to the hair and slightly to the mandible. The fabric was on the mandible rather than the tape itself.

Q: Was there any tape on the left side?
A: The tape itself was not attached to the skull.

Q: Was there tape on the back of the skull?
A: No.

Q: So there was no duct tape around the skull, was there?
A: Completely encircling it? No sir.

Q: There was no human tissue on the duct tape, was there?
A: Nothing that I could identify as human tissue.

Q: Was the mandible in anatomical position?
Schultz: It was close.

Q: Was that surprising?
A: To see a mandible still retained on the bottom of a skull from a surface recovery, yes, that was surprising.

Q: Why was that surprising?
A: Generally there needs to be something there to hold the mandible in place. Just through gravity the mandible will normally separate once the soft tissues are no longer present.

Q: What was holding the mandible in place?
A: It would have been the hair that had moved to the base of the skull.

Q: Was there anything else in the hair?
A: We can see there is some leaf litter and some roots.

Q: What about the tape? Did that have any involvement in holding the mandible in place?
A: No, because the tape was adhered to the hair but it wasn’t holding the mandible in place.

Q: Duct tape was not covering the nasal aperture, was it?
A: No.

The Mandible

Dr. Schultz rendered this opinion on the mandible and duct tape (report):

Opinion: Considering the dispersal of the skeletal remains, it would not be expected to find the mandible in this position unless something affixed the mandible in this position prior to decomposition and the hair matting forming.

In skeletal cases involving surface depositions, the mandible and cranium are normally found disarticulated because there is nothing to hold the mandible in place after the soft tissues decomposes.

Based on the position of the tape and mandible, it can be inferred that the mandible remained in this position because the tape held it in place prior to the hair forming into a matt on the base of the skull.

This was the only analysis done by the State to determine if the duct tape was affixed to the face prior to decomposition, and it was merely an inference. In colloquial terms, it was “good enough” for them. I went back and looked at Dr. Schultz’ testimony and he didn’t even render this opinion during the trial. In fact, no expert testified that the duct tape was responsible for holding the mandible in place during the decompositional process.

Nevertheless, the inference fails to take into consideration the position of the skull and the environment in which the remains were found.

The Environment

In another report, Dr. Schultz acknowledged the environment in relation to the bones (report):

Other than a number of bones that were located when the bags were removed, the majority of the bones were located under the leaf layer and many were in contact with the muck. In other words, the bones had to have been decomposed and scattered prior to the leaves falling and covering up the bones during the fall season of 2008. …The leaf fall would definitely occur by November and possibly as early as October…

Although the overgrown nature of the wooded area would most likely have inhibited water from transporting the remains throughout the site, there was most likely some minimal movement of the bones by the water associated with seasonal summer storms.

For example, the left unfused ilium of the os coxa … was mostly buried in the muck due to the movement of the water associated with seasonal summer storms.

It was mid-June in Florida when the child was deposited in the swamp. The seasonal storms were in full swing (4:00pm like clockwork) and the humidity was high. The site probably was not submerged when Casey Anthony deposited the child there – given how far in the remains were found – but it was probably wet (read report). We know the deposition site off Suburban Drive was wet during the summer of 2008 because of the interviews given by the Texas Eqqusearch volunteers (transcript). I also visited the site a few months ago (late June) and the ground was soft and the area was “mucky.” You don’t need hurricanes to make a swamp wet. Swamps are swamps because of the water from above and the water from below.

The site off Suburban Drive is not the Everglades, but it is a typical Florida swamp.

Skeletal Dispersal

The defense tried to assert that the body was moved and such, but it was just a smokescreen. The evidence clearly suggested that the body was placed there – and not moved – in June 2008 when it was in the early stages of decomposition as Dr. Schultz stated in his report:

Since the bones of the skeleton were found scattered throughout the site, interpretation of the pattern of dispersal can indicate if the skeleton was dispersed during the early stages of decomposition, prior to complete skeletonization. The pattern of dispersal and disarticulation of the skeletal remains is consistent with dumping the body into the woods prior to significant decay involving disarticulation of major anatomical units.

The body most likely was dumped in the woods during the initial stages of decomposition. Postmortem damage to multiple bones indicated that small animals scattered parts of the skeleton.

The association of clusters of anatomical units… is consistent with the body being dispersed when soft tissue was still present and holding articulated bones together at the joints.

To summarize, the body was placed in the swamp during the early stages of decomposition when soft tissue was still present – as indicated by the dispersal pattern. This means that the muscle tissue connecting the lower jaw and upper jaw did not yet decompose. The dispersal pattern also indicated that the body decomposed outside of the bag.

The body was partially buried in the swamp muck. This was evidenced by the fact that the majority of bones were found in the swamp muck under the leaf litter. The fact that the skull was found upright indicated it was also partially buried in swamp muck. As I stated in the previous analysis, gravity would cause the skull to lay on its side because of the larger contact area. The top and bottom of the skull have smaller contact areas, therefore something must prop up the skull for it remain upright. We know the skull was not moved because the mandible was attached in its anatomic position, the hair was found matted around the skull, and there was leaf litter up to the eye sockets.

It was suggested that duct tape held the mandible in place during the decompositional process based on how the remains were discovered. The duct tape was found attached to the hair which was matted around the skull. The hair, along with roots, held the mandible in place.

Decomposition

Everyone’s body rots after death whether it be in a swamp or grave or swampy grave (there are many of those in Florida).

In my opinion, Casey Anthony chose the third worst form of “burial” for her child. Cremation and burial at sea are worse. Some cultures put their deceased in a coffin. Others just wrap them in a simple white sheet before burial. But that is a whole other topic of conversation.

Most people do not know the intricate details of human decomposition. There is a very specific way in which the body goes from what we know to a skeleton.

Stages of Decomposition

There are three stages of decomposition (source):

During the early or “fresh” stage of soft tissue decomposition, three processes take place, which adhere to a relatively strict timeline. These processes are rigor mortis, livor mortis, and algor mortis. A body is considered “fresh” during the first twenty-four to forty-eight hours after death (Galloway et al., 1989).

After this time, a body moves into the “decomposed” stage, marked by signs such as distinct color changes and skin slippage (Galloway et al.1989).

The third and final stage, the “dry” stage, manifests itself through significant tissue loss and subsequent bone exposure (Galloway et al., 1989).

After the “fresh” stage, the body begins to visibly break down and autolysis, putrefaction and other processes commence (source, source):

Autolysis is the name given to the massive cell death that results in a complete loss of cellular integrity and widespread necrosis (Love and Marks, 2003).

The first visible sign of autolysis is skin slippage, which can first be seen at approximately 48 hours after death. Skin slippage occurs when the enzymes of the dermal-epidermal junction are released. The epidermis and dermis separate and cause the skin to slip, and the hair and nails will loosen (Clark et al., 1997).

The order of tissue decomposition begins with the intestines, stomach, accessory organs to digestion, heart, blood, circulation and heart muscles, air passages and lungs, kidneys and bladder, brain and nervous tissue, skeletal muscles, and the connective tissues and integument (skin). It is during autolysis of these organs that bacteria proliferate.

Autolysis then encourages the onset of putrefaction… During this stage of decomposition, internal bacteria begin to break down the surrounding tissue. By-products of this activity include large-scale production of hydrogen and other gases, which cause observable bloating of the abdominal cavity.

The body then enters the skeletalization stage (source):

Prior to the complete cessation of bloating, initial skeletalization begins (Love and Marks, 2003). This process typically begins in the face. Once the bloating has completely subsided, the soft tissue remaining on the body continues to deteriorate (Love and Marks, 2003). At this point, most of the head hair and body hair has loosened and come away from the body, and extensive skin slippage has occurred (Galloway et al., 1989). This process is also quite variable in its duration, depending upon environmental and internal conditions.

The internal tissue becomes increasingly exposed to the environment, which allows for oxygen to enter in. This then increases the aerobic bacterial activity, which accelerates tissue decomposition (Rodriguez and Bass, 1983). Any remaining head hair sloughs off from the body and forms a “hair mat,” a mass of matted hair which collects beneath the head. Bodily fluids leak out of the body, which allows for the exposure of bone, and the remains begin drying out. Once this process begins, more bone is exposed, leading to the dry stage.

Rate of Decomposition

There are many factors which affect the rate of decomposition including temperature, humidity, insect activity and animal activity (source):

Temperature always affects the rate of decomposition. The general trend observed is that warmer conditions will promote decay, and colder climates will delay the process (Smith, 1984). Warmer environments are more favorable for bacterial activity, which aids in decomposition.

The amount of moisture surrounding the body also factors into the duration of decomposition. Typically, a moister environment fosters decomposition, and more arid climates retard the process (Smith, 1984).

Insect activity is arguably one of the most important factors affecting decomposition. Insects accelerate the decomposition process (Gonzales et al., 1954). Ants, blowflies, beetles, and cockroaches all affect decomposing tissue.

Non-insect scavengers can also affect decomposition rates. Both mammalian carnivores and rodents can partake in dismemberment and disarticulation of a body during decomposition. Large carnivores such as wolves or dogs are usually primarily responsible for disarticulating limbs from the torso and for eating away at the face, neck, and abdominal areas (Willey and Snyder, 1989). Rodents typically gnaw at the long bones as opposed to eating the soft tissue (Haglund et al., 1989, Klippel and Synstelien, 2007). Both the carnivores and rodents also are known for scattering remains.

Dr. Schultz referenced the research done at the “Body Farm” in Tennessee regarding the effect of temperature on the rate of decomposition (report):

During the hot and rainy summer months in Florida (June, July and August), bodies will decompose rather quickly and can become skeletonized in less than a month. This estimate is supported through extensive human decomposition research at the Anthropology Research Facility that is located at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. According to Mann et al. (1990; 105) when referring to warm or hot weather, “it usually takes between two and four weeks for a body to become nearly or completely skeletonized,” Bass (1997; 181.-182) further stated that “a body in Tennessee in July and August can go from what you and I know to a complete skeleton in two weeks.”

Analysis

Autolysis occurs very early in decomposition – perhaps as early as four minutes after death (source). In autolysis, the dermis and epidermis (outer skin) separate and slip away from each other. Also, the hair becomes loose and begins to fall away. Dr. Vass describes autolysis: “It is first observed by the appearance of fluidfilled blisters on the skin and skin slippage where large sheets of skin slough off the body.

Ignoring the Environment

Let’s ignore the environmental evidence and assume it did not play a role. The State suggested two theories of how the duct tape was applied: Prosecutor Burdick said the duct tape was wrapped thrice around the child’s head and Prosecutor Ashton said it was applied thrice across the child’s face. Just to be clear, the duct tape was not found attached to the remains in any of these positions.

Ostensibly, Burdick’s theory would be more favorable to the inference rendered by Dr. Schultz because it involved wrapping. However, if autolysis did not begin before the child was placed in the swamp, it occurred very soon thereafter. In autolysis, the skin begins to slip (become elastic) and the hair begins to loosen (fall away). If the duct tape was around the head – adhered to both the face and hair – then it would have moved and eventually loosened during autolysis.

Ashton’s theory would be more problematic for Dr. Schultz’ inference because the duct tape was applied to the front of the face. It may or may not have been attached to the side where the jaw muscles were located. Regardless of position, autolysis would still have caused the duct tape to loosen and shift, if it were adhered to the skin, because the skin would be loosening and shifting.

So, could the duct tape have held the mandible in place during decomposition? The mandible is held in place by a group of muscles called the pterygoids and, as stated above, these muscles are among the last to decompose (source). The skin is also among the last to decompose, but it begins to slip and loosen early in the decompositional process. In this case, the slipping probably would have been excessive given the high temperatures. Therefore the skin, hair and duct tape would have loosened before the jaw muscles decomposed.

In other words, the duct tape would no longer have been exerting enough pressure on the face to hold the mandible in place. Once the skin decomposed, the duct tape was not bound to the face – if it were ever there in the first place – and the mandible should have fallen away unless it was stuck in something.

“Swamp Muck”

This is why the skull being found upright in dried swamp muck is important. The muck was responsible for holding the mandible in place until the hair mat and roots took over, not the duct tape.

Some may say the swamp muck holding the mandible in place does not preclude the theory that the duct tape was adhered to the face or wrapped around the head. But if the swamp muck held the mandible in place, then it should have held the duct tape in place which was supposedly in front of the mandible – unless the skull was moved in a significant manner.

Also, roots and such should have grown into the duct tape, as they eventually did around the mandible to keep it in place. But they would only grow after the body fully skeletonized, as was stated in Dr. Schultz’ report (report):

It is important to note that the bones would first need to be disarticulated, completely skeletonized, and then stabilized for roots to adhere to and grow into the bones.

What would be holding the mandible in its anatomical position after the skin completely decomposed and before the roots took root? It couldn’t be the duct tape because there was no skin left. This is further proof that the “swamp muck” was responsible for holding the skull upright and the mandible in place.

Conclusion

I admit that it is just easier to accept the inference that the duct tape held the mandible in place. Most people (potential jurors?) know nothing about decomposition so the inference sounds like it could be true. Even I believed the inference before I did more research. But the inference is not supported by the science of decomposition. Anything placed on the face prior to decomposition would be affected by autolysis and other decompositional processes.

The only way for the duct tape to hold the mandible in place is if it were placed after the skin began to slip and before the jaw muscles decomposed. However, skin slippage occurs until the skin and jaw muscles decompose in the later stages of decomposition. The body was placed in the woods during the early stages of decomposition.

I’m not saying the opinion was completely wrong. In fact, the opinion was scientifically sound if you go line-by-line.

Revisiting the opinion, the first sentences reads:

Considering the dispersal of the skeletal remains, it would not be expected to find the mandible in this position unless something affixed the mandible in this position prior to decomposition and the hair matting forming.

This statement is absolutely true. Something needs to support the mandible during the course of decomposition. The mandible is expected to disarticulate in a surface deposition as is stated in the second sentence:

In skeletal cases involving surface depositions, the mandible and cranium are normally found disarticulated because there is nothing to hold the mandible in place after the soft tissues decomposes.

The issues arise with the third sentence:

Based on the position of the tape and mandible, it can be inferred that the mandible remained in this position because the tape held it in place prior to the hair forming into a matt on the base of the skull.

This statement is actually hypothetically accurate, minus the duct tape inference. Recall that the head hair forms into a matt near the end of the “decomposition” stage before the “dry” stage. Also, the jaw muscles decompose near the end of the “decomposition” stage. Therefore at that late stage, the skin on the face would have loosened considerably and the duct tape would also have loosened. At that point, the duct tape would not have been exerting enough pressure to keep the mandible in place and it would have fallen off.

The last sentence should have read:

Based on the position of the skull and mandible, it can be inferred that the mandible remained in this position because the muck held it in place prior to the hair forming into a matt on the base of the skull.

The muck was not attached to the face. It could not have moved when the skin began to slip. The pressure it exerted was constant. The skull was embedded upright in the muck and that is what kept the mandible in place.

Personally, this was the kind of analysis I wanted to hear from the anthropologists. Give me some science to back up an opinion or hypothesis. Show me a computer animation of the autolysis process. Tell me how duct tape could stay attached to a melting face above ground. Eliminate the doubt. Instead they showed us a meaningless photo of how the duct tape could fit the face (see partial photo). Undoubtedly it was shown to provoke an emotional response because it did nothing to advance the science.

Now I know why I didn’t see or hear any of this. The opinion was not entirely correct. No State experts elaborated on the duct tape and the prosecution successfully dismantled the defense’s lone attempt. It seems that if the science invalidates your hypothesis then you don’t let anyone hear it.

Casey Anthony was already charged with first-degree murder and was facing the death penalty by the time the body was found. They came up with a far-fetched claim of “death by chloroform” (read “The Chloroform Theory”). When the remains were found, the detectives’ eyes lit up when they found duct tape. “Forget the science,” they said. “We have our new murder weapon. We’ll make it work.

Suffocation by duct tape was odd and Jeff Ashton knew it was a long shot to sell that story. He told Dr. Drew (transcript):

[M]y feeling was always, if you look at that photograph of how the body was found, where the tape was, the skull… And if it didn’t tell the jury the same story it told me, then so be it.

Prosecutors are salesmen who have to believe in their theory and sell it to the jury. But prosecutors can be wrong as witnessed by the number of people exonerated – after spending years in jail – due to new evidence.

Did he really think a picture taken 6 months after an outdoor deposition would suffice? Pictures are subject to interpretation and doubt. That is why forensic science exists. It eliminates doubt. I have tremendous respect for Jeff Ashton. But for a man who advanced science in the courtroom, as he did, he certainly took a less than scientific approach to the duct tape. Maybe we’ll know what he was thinking when his book is published. Maybe we’ll know why this piece of duct tape defied the science of decomposition as we know it. Maybe we’ll know why he left doubt on the table instead of “taping” up the loose ends with his speciality: science.

Where did the duct tape come from?

Let’s face it, the lengths of duct tape were too long to cover only the facial area of a child and not long enough to wrap around the head (source). If you were going to wrap tape around the head, you would use one long piece – not three separate pieces attached end on end. And if you were going to cover only the nose and mouth area of a child, you wouldn’t need to use 8-10″ pieces of tape.

I’m inclined to believe that the tape was placed over the ventilation hole of the bag in an overlapping manner in order to prevent more fluids from leaking out. She probably did this the day she tried to bury the child in the backyard – if that was true. The lengths and overlapping pattern of the tape (slightly askew and crimped in the middle) makes sense in this case. This would also tend to explain why there was no DNA or human tissue on the duct tape (without resorting to the environment excuse).

How did it attach to the hair?

Imagine seaweed meeting a barnacle encrusted buoy in the ocean. The seaweed would wrap itself around the buoy in the direction of the flowing current and get stuck on the barnacles.

The site was submerged in water around August, as was reported by a few people including volunteers with TES and Roy Kronk. By August, the body was probably nearly or completely skeletonized according to Dr. Schultz’ estimates. It would be interesting to know if the right side of the skull faced the roadway because the land sloped down from the road way according to the topographical map (map). The water would tend to flow from high ground to low ground. If the duct tape got caught in the water flow, then the fabric could certainly get caught up in the hair matt and wrap itself around the skull.

The duct tape was not adhesive anymore when it was found, but the fabric still gave it “clinginess.” Recall that Dr. Spitz said he placed the duct tape on his forearm and it “stuck” to his hair.

There’s also the case of the fourth piece of rare duct tape – roughly of the same length – which was found 6.27 feet southwest of the skull. Its importance cannot be overlooked. It can be reasoned that it was with the body in some way at the time of deposition, yet it was recovered quite far away. If nothing else, this proves there were external factors involving movement of the duct tape.

Heart-Shaped Sticker

Let’s talk about this magic sticker. Duct tape adhesive is pretty durable and lasts fairly long. In this case, the duct tape was exposed to the elements for a little less than 6 months. The adhesive completely deteriorated. However, one FBI analyst supposedly found residue in an outline of heart near the edge of the tape. Therefore, we are to believe that the adhesive from an ordinary arts and crafts sticker is longer-lasting than duct tape adhesive. I highly doubt it.

The duct tape was examined in the medical examiner’s officer and nothing was noted. It was examined at the trace evidence unit and nothing was noted. The latent print analyst observed the supposed outline halfway through her process but it disappeared. The duct tape went to the questioned documents unit and was examined under different wavelengths of light and nothing was noted (report).

There’s a reason why pilots keep their mouths shut when they see an unidentified flying object. People will start thinking they’re crazy. The same principle should apply here.

Reflection

In this post, I used the State anthropologist’s reports and technical papers on decomposition to come to a conclusion. Others can do the same. Other people can use this analysis as a springboard to do their own research. I encourage everyone to do their own research.

In the end, some people will “just believe” the duct tape was there even after the science disproves it. They will find some excuse. They will say there wasn’t any swamp muck in the swamp in June in Florida. They will say the State would have been upstanding and told us (84 times) that the duct tape couldn’t do this. They will say autolysis is just a myth. And that’s their right. But it doesn’t mean they’re right.

The name of the game is obfuscation: muddy the waters if you’re the defense and gloss over the details if you’re the prosecution. I hate trials. The truth always gets lost in the legalities.

All I care about is the truth.

References:

“The Effect of Various Coverings on the Rate of Human Decomposition” (Warning: Graphic pictures)

“Standardized Decomposition Rates of Human Remains in the West Texas Area”

“Differential decomposition patterns of human remains in variable environments of the Midwest”

“Beyond the grave – understanding human decomposition” Arpad A. Vass. (Warning: Graphic pictures)

“Taphonomy of Child-sized Remains in Shallow Grave and Surface Deposit Scenario” (Warning: Graphic pictures)

“Taphonomic Applications in Forensic Anthropology”

“The Order of Tissue Decomposition,” Forensic Taphonomy: The Postmortem Fate of Human Remains

20 thoughts on “Casey Anthony: Challenging the Duct Tape

  1. Very interesting. However, if the skull was submerged so tightly in the muck, I still don’t se how you can’t think the tape would be held in place by it as well. Furthermore, where did the duct tape come from? You didn’t even attempt to explain that!

    • If the skull was submerged tightly in the muck, then the duct tape should not have moved if it were adhered over the mouth before decomposition. It should have been found covering the face, unless the skull was moved. Also, I don’t know where the duct tape came from. I think it was used to compress the bag or cover the ventilation hole, but I’m not into conspiracy theories. I’m interested in the science.

  2. I am really enjoying your blog. I loathe Casey Anthony, and wish she would have been given a long, tough jail sentence for *something*, as it is obvious that Caylee was in her care and died somehow. However, i have found it very difficult to believe that though she is a magnificent liar, narcissist and thief- I still do not believe she posessed the intelligence or tenacity to go about making chloroform to kill her own child with premeditation. I have always thought Caylee’s death was most likely a drowning, and then a hasty cover-up by a fearful and immature woman who had never had to accept personal responsibility for any mistakes she had made in her life thus far. Absolutely she should be in jail for manslaughter. Although I am furious at her for the needless death of an innocent child and have bayed for blood with the rest of North America as an emotional response to what is unfair, your blog and the points you have made have made me re-examine my reaction. Nobody is more shocked at this than me. It is very evident that the prosecution made so e pretty big mistakes now, where previously I had found them to be faultless heroes. Certainly I still think Baez & company are a bunch of weasels, but everyone in this case is obligated to stretch their version of “the truth” to suit their purpose. Anyhow, thanks for giving me some more insights into a case I have lived & breathed for 3 years straight and was sure I already knew like the back of my hand. Your writing is very persuasive. And just a side note about the skull/tape/muck that you’ve mentioned a few times about it “not being moved”- in fact, we do know it was moved. Roy Kronk admitted that he moved the skull with his meter stick, after claiming initially he poked the bag and the skull just happened to roll out. So that’s a very good possibilty that the tape may have come loose there, rather than the muck keeping it pressed against the entire mandible & “face” for lack of a better word. It was picked up, and set back down.

    • Comments like yours are the reason why this blog exists. Thanks for taking the time to read my posts. I try to examine the evidence from a scientific standpoint and stay away from any defense explanations, unless they actually fit the evidence.

      As far as Roy Kronk… I don’t know what he did. He has a few versions and the defense put some words in his mouth. I guess the version he is sticking with is he put his meter stick in an eye socket and barely raised it. I don’t think he raised it high enough to dislodge anything because investigators found the skull buried in dry muck and leaf litter up to the eye sockets. If he lifted it up high and set it back down, then it would have rested on top of the leaves and muck – unless he reburied it. The other version where the skull rolls out of the bag is not supported by the evidence. If the skull decomposed in the bag, then the mandible would have fallen off. Also, roots wouldn’t have been able to grow into it.

  3. Respectfully I don’t buy your theory. You have left out pertinent points and injected others.

    Imo, the duct tape was placed over the mouth and nose area before time of death.

    If muck was a reason for finding a mandible fixed and in place in Florida then experts would be aware of those findings and at trial they testified that the only time they had ever experienced seeing a mandible in tact with the skull was when the victim’s skull/head was bound before death.

    Do you possess such links that ‘muck’ holds a mandible in place because we all know Caylee is not the first victim to be found in an mucky swamp area after they had skeletonized.

    • Easy there, I’m not selling anything. I’m just a person who questions everything and has an affinity for science. I hope no one “buys” my analysis without looking at the sources I’ve included in this post (and all my posts). Scientists don’t “buy” theories. They research them, then confirm or deny them.

      Here is what I did. I asked the hypothetical: Could duct tape stay on a decomposing face? I didn’t know anything about decomposition. And so, I read the scientific research and articles. I included 3 of them in my post. The study of decomposition is nothing new. The papers said, “The first visible sign of autolysis is skin slippage, which can first be seen at approximately 48 hours after death… The epidermis and dermis separate and cause the skin to slip, and the hair and nails will loosen.” That’s clear as day to me. The skin slips due to a separation of the dermis and epidermis; therefore, anything adhered to the epidermis (like tape) will slip too. Is that wrong? Would the epidermis somehow slip under the tape? Another book says, “Tissues whose ground substance contain the protein collagen are difficult to hydrolyze, and therefore among the last to decompose.” The muscles of mastication, the pterygoids, are connective tissues. So, if the skin begins to slip before soft tissue decomposition, and the jaw muscles decompose near the end of soft tissue decomposition, how the heck can the duct tape have any appreciable effect in holding the mandible in place? This is what I want to know. I’ve concluded that the tape does not have an effect. There needs to be an outside factor. In burials, the outside factor is soil. What is the outside factor above ground?

      Please question my logic. I want a good, scientific discussion. If your opinion is that the duct tape was adhered before death, then tell me why!

      Also, what “pertinent” points did I leave out? I tried to be thorough.

  4. Truthtron…why on EARTH would someone put duct tape on a corpse?? Are you seriously that thick?

    • I didn’t say the duct tape was on the corpse. And no one else said that during the trial either. They all assumed it based on the way things were found. If you read this post, you will see it is about why the duct tape was NOT on the corpse.

      Are you that ignorant to think that things stay the same way 6 months in the outdoors? Come on now. Be a little bit more logical and analytical, if you can…

    • Someone might put duct tape on a skull to keep the mandible together through decomposition if I remember right per the trial-transcripts.

  5. Tron, that is exactly what CE is. I don’t have to see it rain to presume it has rained. I look around me and weigh all the CE facts that shows it has rained even though I personally didn’t see it. That was the gross inadequacies with these clueless Pinellas 12. They were not critical thinkers. They refused to put it ALL together They weighed circumstantial pieces individually instead of in its TOTALITY.

    I have been keeping up with true crime cases for over 30 years and when the victim’s skeletal remains were found after many months or years the mandible IS NEVER IN TACT no matter what wooded environment area they were placed in UNLESS the tape was placed before death and the victim was bound when murdered. There is absolutely nothing to hold the mandible in place. It is the very first part of the skeleton to detach. Even the mouth can become agape shortly after death even if death is from natural causes. So it is obvious to me based on all the evidence entered that the duct tape was placed on Caylee before death occurred and it was placed so tight that it still adhered to her hair where it wrapped around the side over her hair. This supports the MEs testimony that she has never seen a mandible fixed and in place when the remains were skeletal. It also supports the testimony of the other anthropology expert who said he had never seen it before except overseas when mass victims of genocide had duct tape over their mouth and nose before they were murdered.

    Of course it had slipped down on the skull due to nothing being there to hold it in place anymore except where it was attached to her hair. Hair bonds to duct tape very easily and can remain for many years. Remember Caylee was triple bagged. The tape used was THE Hinkle duct tape FGS which came from the Anthony home were Casey had full access. It was not raining when she first went ‘missing’ so the muck would be there when the rains left when it was trying to dry out. By then with blistering heat and humidity the mandible would have already dropped off if it was not held in place by the duct tape. Heat and humidity is the number one factor in rapid decomposition then add that she was wrapped and triple bagged and that holds the heat and humidity in even more like a pressure cooker.

    There was no evidence this Hinkle duct tape had been used on any of the bags and forensic experts can still
    see tape residue pattern evidence and if the plastic bag had been taped then to get it off the plastic
    stretches a wide hole because duct tape will adhere for years to plastic and the only way to get it off is to rip it off ..tearing it the plastic.

    Sadly it doesn’t make a hill of beans now anyway since the jury has let a baby killer walk free but the duct tape
    was there on that child before she died and was later put there. That is why Casey never told anyone where Caylee’s remains were located. If she had done so then the duct tape would have still been around her nose and mouth.

    Caylee tried to tell the jury what her mother had done to her but no one listened. They were too busy listening to irrelevant things that wasnt even evidence but just defense smoke and mirrors
    .
    Mothers murder their children as OFTEN as fathers do. Mothers place their bodies close to home
    and fathers take the remains many miles away. Mothers, after killing their children will put them in
    containers like plastic bags or swaddle them in blankets. Fathers usually bury the child or take them hundreds of miles away and discard their bodies above ground in a very remote untraveled area.

    Casey Anthony murdered her little girl and used that duct tape to do it and now laughs behind everyone’s back. She certainly isn’t the first mother who has suffocated her child. One is on death row right now and she used duct tape to smother her little boy.

    • First, I’m not going to criticize the jury. They were presented with two weak theories and believed neither of them. The State had to prove their theory was true – not just plausible – and did not. The jury was given the Amazon forest and when they looked closer, they saw pine trees.

      Second, it does not seems as though you read the post objectively. True enough, when a person is buried – as in your mass grave example – the mandible and tape will stay in place because of the soil pressure. I didn’t want to “assume” what happens in decomposition, therefore I linked to a few decomposition articles which clearly indicate that the muscles holding the mandible are among the last to decompose, not the first as you stated. The skin is also among the last and, as you know, the mandible is surrounded by the skin. Therefore, it’s not going anywhere until the skin decomposes. The skull was found upright which is odd and was probably in that position for a very long while based on the leaf layer that accumulated around it.

      Also, you assert that the child decomposed in the bag which is inconsistent with the way the remains were found. As stated in Dr. Shultz’ report, parts of the child were moved while there was still connective tissue present (connective tissue, like the mandible muscles, are among the last to decompose). Therefore, she did not skeletize in the bag. Considering the entire decompositional process took around two weeks, it can be reasoned that the child was out of the bag within the first few days of being deposited there.

      As far as your tape residue assertions, there was no adhesive or residue anywhere – not even on the tape. To say where the tape was or wasn’t based on residue analysis would be complete speculation. Obviously, if you submerge tape adhered to bag in water, the tape will eventually unadhere. And the State needed the duct tape to be submerged in water for a long time to account for the total lack of DNA. Also, the bags were not found whole, but rather were torn in pieces. Accordingly, the fourth piece of Henkel duct tape was torn. That would actually support the assertion that the duct tape was on the bag. It’s very likely that animals tore the bag open and bit the fourth piece of tape (duct tape pieces).

      Taking all of that into consideration, it is not obvious that the tape was on the child before death.

      Also, you mentioned behavior. It’s speculation as to why she didn’t tell the truth. In my opinion, just putting the child there is shameful enough not to admit. The psychologists who examined her said it would be “out of character” for her to commit murder. I certainly hope it’s “out of character” for all of us to commit murder.

  6. And let me say this. You have a comment section attached yet you seem to be a very condescending individual. You want others to join in on the discussion and then you berate them as being ignorant? That seems a little narcissistic, imo, and totally unnecessary.

    Maybe that is why you haven’t had many who want to debate the issues with you since there are thousands of blogs that still go on night and day about the Anthony case. It really seems you just want those who only parrots your own beliefs.

    I have no doubt you will come back and reply with some stinging put down. That truly seems to be your MO.

    • Why would I issue a scathing come back? You did not insult me (in your previous comment). You presented an intellectual argument, which I respect. The other guy called me “thick,” which I don’t respect at all. That is not a discussion. That is an insult. I spent quite a few days to research this stuff and write an objective article so others can be enlightened to do their own research. Yet he has the audacity to call me thick! Is it not human nature to respond in kind? I have had plenty of civil discussions on other posts without resorting to name calling, etc.

      As far as your “analysis” in calling me narcissistic, it couldn’t be further from the truth. Anyone who knows me would attest I always let others share their beliefs before I share mine. Of course, you don’t know me. You extrapolated my behavior, erroneously, from an isolated comment. By understanding the circumstances surrounding the comment, perhaps you can understand why I reacted the way I did.

      It is ironic because that is exactly what the media did to Casey Anthony. They extrapolated what they thought was her personality based on a few hours of video. TV psychologists called her narcissistic and sociopathic based on their interpretation of her behavior. But the psychologists who examined her said this was not true based on their interactions with her and the psychometric testing.

      Such is the danger of assuming one’s behavior with limited exposure.

  7. Subcutaneous (under the skin) blisters containing a mixture of plasma, hemoglobin, and gases appear and a marbled-like pattern spreads through the skin. The outer layers of the skin (epidermis) begin to detach from inner layers of the skin (dermis) as the gaseous period progresses. The subsequent phase involves the process of liquid putrefaction, in which the soft tissues are gradually dissolved. The body loses its shape as tissue mass decreases and the separation of skin layers is completed. During this liquefaction period, gases are released and a putrefied creamy substance covers the skeleton. The next phase is known as SKELETONIZATION, with the environmental elements (e.g., larvae, worms, and sometimes insects) separating the skeleton from ligaments, which causes the detachment of the skull, the mandible, and long bones, with bones eventually collapsing apart. Bones become increasingly fragile and lighter over the years,
    and acidic soils eventually dissolve them.
    .http://www.enotes.com/forensic-science/decomposition
    I was referring to the skelton phase. It is one of the first things to detach.

    • Ok, then we do not disagree. In the post, I outlined the stages of decomp: fresh, decomposed, dry. The researchers do a very good job in their reports at outlining what they observed in these stages.

      Near the beginning of the decomposed stage, the dermis and epidermis separate. They call it “slippage.” This is way before skeletonization. If the duct tape was on the face, and the face was slipping, then the duct tape would move and lose the “grip” it had on the skull. When it’s time for the pterygoids to decompose later on, the duct tape would no longer be effective in holding the lower jaw and skull together.

      Is this how you interpret this?

  8. I really think we are beating a dead horse. The duct tape was found attached to Caylee’s hair in the area that would correspond with the area of the mouth and nasal area. Also minute tape fibers were found on the other side of the skull. She was in the bag at first until the bag began to deteriorate due to sun and rain conditions. Imo decomposition had already gone through the skeleton stage by that time and her skull toppled out of the bag.The literature says the skull and mandible is the first to detach. They separate from each other. Hair is quite strong and resilent and it brought the duct tape with the skull as it fell out onto the ground. Duct tape after so long will mold to the shape it has been applied to and when found it wasnt straight across but more rounding shape from side to side

    I give no credibility to a man who lies and embellishes his CV and says he was a co-founder of the Body Farm when that is an outright lie. Nor did he testify in this case because of that credibility issue. I know hired guns are paid to say whatever each side wants them to say. I saw that with the bug expert in the David Westerfield case and when Spitz testified that Lana Clarkson killed herself.
    While I respect your right to defend Casey Anthony’s innocence nothing will every convince me
    UNLESS someone can come up with ONE case where a small child has accidentally drowned in a
    swimming pool and the mother did as Anthony did. Until that time I will always believe she got
    away with cold blooded murder and will stand with the majority of Americans who believe the same.

    Thank you for your time..

    • Perhaps, we have reached an impasse. We have the same evidence and are using literature that says the same thing, but come to different conclusions. You believe that the child decomposed in the bag and I just can’t go in that direction. The fact that certain parts of the child were found together (e.g. the vertebrae) indicate to me that decomposition (before skeletonization) occurred out of the bag. This conclusion was reached by Dr. Shultz as well, as he said in his report: “The pattern of dispersal and disarticulation of the skeletal remains is consistent with dumping the body into the woods prior to significant decay involving disarticulation of major anatomical units. The association of clusters of anatomical units… is consistent with the body being dispersed when soft tissue was still present and holding articulated bones together at the joints.”

      If soft tissue was still present, then the mandible was still attached because the jaw muscles decompose near the end of soft tissue decomposition (source).

      I contemplated the skull skeletizing inside the bag and I don’t see how the mandible would still be attached in that scenario. Duct tape starts off on the face, shifts due to skin slippage, and falls off when the skin decomposes. I don’t see how it could somehow reposition itself and adhere to the actual bone to hold the lower and upper jaw together – considering that there might even have been skin left on it. The mandible should have fallen off along with the tape.

      It was the hair and roots which gave a consistency that held both skull and mandible together in anatomical position; therefore, it needed to be laying on the ground, upright, at some point before the jaw muscles decomposed.

      As far as the duct tape, I suppose interpretation is in the eyes of the beholder. Six months outdoors is a long time to be analyzing things as you find them. You talk about how the duct tape is curved. I look at the tape and see it pinched in the middle, which indicates to me it was hastily applied and not smoothed out. I look at the lengths of the pieces and they don’t make any sense if they were on the face. If you google “duct tape mouth” and look at the images (for comparison sake), none of those strips are 8-10 inches. Not even close.

      Dr. Bass founded the “Body Farm” and Rodriguez was his student at the time so that makes him co-something, I suppose. Perhaps he thinks he is co-founder. Despite that, however, his work is often cited in decomposition papers. I’m sure when you reviewed the literature you came across the citation “Rodriguez and Bass, 1985” hundreds of times. His contributions to decomp. are not challenged by those in his field.

      It’s not surprising that two scientists would have differing options. You don’t have to be a hired gun (which Rodriguez was not BTW) to disagree. I’m a physics researcher and I see it all the time. The problem with science is not the results, but the interpretation of results. Everybody has an opinion. This was evident in the odor analysis testimony at trial. One researcher said you could use chemical analysis to find decomp. and the other said there is no consensus on a characteristic set of chemicals. Neither is lying; they’re just stating their opinion.

      Obviously, I know what you and the majority of Americans believe regarding Casey Anthony. Not long ago the majority of Italians bought a prosecutor’s fantasy that Amanda Knox was a sexual deviant who killed her friend in a satanic ritual. The people who knew Knox said that was a complete mischaracterization. Now, the perception has changed over there since the truth has come out. That’s not going to happen to Anthony because, unlike Knox, she was involved.

      I don’t defend Casey Anthony’s innocence or guilt. I don’t defend her behavior or actions. My interest is in the truth. I hate when people or ideas are misrepresented. The people who knew Casey Anthony said the love between her and her child was genuine. She was not abusive to her child and there’s no evidence to say she was (e.g. bruises on child). She was not a physically violent person. And the psychologists who examined her said murder is out of her character. I can’t ignore any of that. Yeah, she’s a liar and that creates doubt. But when you put together all of the character evidence, the doubt is eliminated.

      I don’t find it surprising that she hid the body if it was an accident, considering the rest of her life. Cover-ups and lying to avoid the shame of reality was her method. However, I would find it surprising if she did commit murder, considering the rest of her life. After looking at her life objectively and not getting swayed by emotions, nothing of evidentiary value convinces me she’s a cold-blooded murderer. She’s a psychological mess, but not a murderer.

      Thanks for the comments. I appreciate your (mostly) civil discussion.

  9. TruthTron, I love your site and have commented many times here and I have always appreciated the smart-discussions your site offers. Right now, I have two different trolls ruining blog-sites by creating false-comments and attacking other sensible-bloggers like myself in their attempt to over-throw the blog-topic. The names they are going by today on WordPress are “John” who is a she and an identity thief, and “Janel” who stole my name several months ago. I love your sites and simply do not want to see them disrupted by their trolling. They are being tracked currently by a professional organization as well as one of the two is being monitored by the authorities for further possible criminal actions. Just to advise, hope things go well on your site, just a “head’s-up” for you. Thanks.

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