Exclusive: Dr. Joshua Perper Flunks Casey Anthony Trial Experts! ME’s Autopsy: A Stampede of ‘Zebras’ in the Courtroom!
If Casey testifies, can she explain it all away? No way, says lawyer Ray Giudice
High profile and highly respected, Dr. Joshua Perper, Broward County Medical Examiner, has faced intense scrutiny in court and under a media microscope for the autopsy he did on Anna Nicole Smith. In dissecting the late Playboy centerfold’s cause of death, he had more to work with than Caylee Anthony experts; the body was fresh and witnesses provided information that helped rule his observations in or out.
In this exclusive article he wrote for The Bald Truth, aka artharris.com, Dr. Perper takes forensic experts to task in the Casey Anthony murder trial, and offers caveats that might have provided better, more easily understood facts and boost the odds that the jury could use to reach a just verdict. His trial autopsy: a stampede of “zebras” in the courtroom.
Zebras and the tragic death of Caylee Anthony
By Joshua A. Perper M.D., LL.B., M.Sc.
When young medical students and inexperienced interns or residents make a diagnosis that sounds rare or outlandish, you often hear their seniors admonish with the caveat: ” If you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not Zebras.”
What we’re trying to say is that horses are common, but Zebras–like that rare, exotic disease tucked deep in medical books and usually eradicated or non existent in the Western world — are not. The warning: don’t immediately jump to an unlikely medical diagnosis that what you see is a “Zebra.”
Unfortunately, the trial of Casey Anthony has conjured a stampede of “Zebras,” with both prosecution and defense forensic experts invoking the striped animals to buttress their positions. Those “Zebras” not only weakened their conclusions, but had to confuse the jury. To help them reach a decision and see justice done in the murder of two year old Caylee Anthony, Zebras have to be rounded up and separated from the horses.
The “Zebras” of the prosecution
The main “zebra” advanced by the prosecution was the charge of first degree, premeditated murder–a charge which the circumstances of the case do not warrant.
In a premeditated murder the criminal has selected in advance the victim and the killing modality and unless he or she is severely mentally ill, will try to get rid of the victim’s body as fast as possible, and promptly dispose of it in ways that will prevent its discovery. Often that’s done by burying, burning or sinking it in a the body of water or preventing its identification by mutilation and dismembering.
The very opposite happened in this case; the body was “given a ride” for more than 3-4 days after death in the trunk of car, long enough to generate a strong odor of decomposition that lingered for months; it was ultimately disposed by throwing it on the ground, close to the victim’s residence and easily discoverable.
This was hardly the work of a premeditated murderer.
The Zebras of the defense
The defense corralled a herd of “Zebras” for the jury, far more than the prosecution.
The allegations that Caylee’s death was a result of an accidental drowning and that the victim’s grandfather, George Anthony, a retired detective, was responsible for disposing the child’s body are clearly hallucinatory, unfounded delusions.
There is not a scintilla of evidence that this indeed happened and is totally unreasonable to assume that a trained former police officer would commit the crime of keeping and disposing illegally the body of a young child who died an accidental death, which at most would have raised an accusation of neglect against a custodial parent. Even the best parent is unable to monitor every day and every minute, the exploratory roving of a young child.
The explanation of the defense that Casey’s behavior after the child’s death was a result of psychological damage because of sexual abuse by her father is also clearly bogus.
Not only is there no evidence that such sexual abuse occurred, but Casey Anthony’s behavior before and particularly after Caylee’s death does not fit such a pattern.
Sexual abuse does not cause amnesia in a loving parent who loses a child, does not prompt blatant lying about the whereabouts of the missing child, does not lead to inventing fictitious persons accused of the child’s disappearance, and does not erase any desire to find or investigate the whereabouts of a missing child.
Past sexual abuse or failure to show grief for the loss of a child, cannot explain away Casey’s licentious, celebratory mode after her child’s death.
The Zebras of some expert witnesses
Dr. Spitz, a forensic pathologist who testified in the trial, pointed correctly to the fact that the skull cavity of Caylee’s skeletonized remains should have been surgically opened by the Medical Examiner in order to examine properly any still present tissue or any other intracranial evidence (skull fractures, brain tissue…). But it was clearly carried to extremes when he used the inaction to brand the whole autopsy as “shoddy.”
In fact, any examination of totally skeletonized human remains cannot be considered an autopsy, because the internal organs are gone and any conclusions require anthropological expertise and input.
Indeed in this case, both the forensic examination report signed by the Chief Medical Examiners’ Chief Deputy and the anthropological report done by an anthropologist from the University of Florida were very thorough and fully adequate, except for the failure to open the skull.
Some medical examiners have played the role of apologists for this omission by claiming that in some cases they also might have declined to open the skull. They claim the examination of the skull through its natural opening (like the foramen magnum â€“or the “big hole” at the base of the brain) is sufficient as it did not reveal any abnormalities.
However this is another “Zebra” explanation, because apparently after the skull was examined, it was flushed with water in order to recover possible evidence, and indeed they recovered some evidence including a tooth.
I have never heard of such a flushing procedure ever done by a Medical Examiner, as we always intend whenever possible to examine body evidence undisturbed and in situ and not by flushing body or cranial cavities.
However the central question is whether the failure to open the skull really went to the heart of the matter when in the fact the skull was eventually examined after opening by Dr. Spitz with largely negative results.
However one may still question whether important evidence, might not have been lost by the unusual flushing procedure. Although the answer is probably negative, one cannot totally exclude the possibility that some residual clotted blood could have remained and could have been tested for residual chloroform by-products or for other purposes.
In spite of the above reasonable criticism, Dr. Spitz felt compelled to lasso and present his own giant “Zebra.”
He claimed that the obstructive tape found on Caylee’s skull, attached to her hair and apparently covering her lower face, including the nose and mouth area, was placed on the child not before her death but after she died and became decomposed, in order to keep the lower jaw from detaching itself from the remainder of the skull.
This is a totally uncalled for, not backed by fact, and unreasonable speculation, for the following reasons:
– The environmental and anthropological evidence clearly indicated that the child’s skeletonized remains have remained in the recovery site for many months with local vegetation actually growing into the bones.
– Detachment or partial detachment of the lower jaw occurs only in later stages of decomposition, when skeletonization occurs and ligaments connecting the lower jaw to the upper one “melt”.
– It is unreasonable to expect that the murderer would return to the scene long after death when the body was skeletonized to perform such “repairing” action.
– The absence of any soft tissues under the facial tape is easily explainable by decomposition changes especially in a wet environment.
– The tape was not shed from the skull primarily because it was glued and entangled in the child’s hair.
The “Zebras” of the Medical Examiner
Apart from the outside apologists invoking “Zebras” to attack Dr. Jan Garavaglia, the Medical Examiner for Orange County, for failing to open the child’s cranial cavity, “Dr. G” herself, was too timid in declaring her findings and may have hurt the prosecution case. Her refusal to waver and avoid speculation may have undermined her message.
One should remember that Medical Examiners are not required to make their findings and conclusions “beyond a reasonable doubt” but only “within a reasonable degree of medical certainty.”
One may wonder therefore why the Medical Examiner while strongly defending her determination, largely based on circumstantial information, that Caylee’s manner of death was homicide, would shy away from recognizing the obstructive tape as a cause of asphyxia.
It is true that there might have been also additional injuries to soft tissues that might have contributed to death, and those cannot be determined because the soft tissues have vanished with decomposition. However exonerating in some way the occluding tape over mouth and nose area as a cause of asphyxia, and failing to recognize it as a highly probable and sufficient cause of death, appears to be clearly unreasonable.
The Medical Examiner’s conclusion that she cannot determine the cause of death in spite of the presence of an obstructing and very likely asphyxiating band on the child’s lower face, was clearly an omission failure, out of an excess of caution.
This hurt the prosecution case, and also undermined the Medical Examiner’s own circumstantial determination of the manner of death as homicide.
What are the salient facts in the case
Once we round up and identify the “zebras,” we can summarize available evidence related to Caylee’s unfortunate and untimely death:
– Casey Anthony, Caylee’s mother, a 22-year old, was clearly a brain-scattered young woman enjoying particularly wild partying and licentious behavior.
– Casey had a reputation among her friends of frequently lying and was reported of untruthfully stating that her parents divorced, that her father had a stroke and of claiming to work in places where she did not actually worked.
– Caylee, Casey’s young daughter, a charming, two year old, clearly interfered with her mother’s entertainment plans and activities. Casey at times complained to friends that she cannot “hung up” with them because her child “could not fall asleep.” However, at no time, anyone observed evidence of abuse or abusive behavior by Casey.
– Casey’s parents clearly did not provide sufficient babysitting time care for Caylee, at least according to Casey’s expectations.
– Caylee had lived in her grandparents’ home with her mother, Casey Anthony, until June 15, 2008. Casey left the family’s home on June 16, 2008, taking with her Caylee, who was almost 3 year old. For more than a month after Caylee;s disappearance, Casey stonewalled and lied to her mother claiming that Caylee was alive and was either with her in Tampa were she alleged was having a job (in truth imaginary) or that the child was safe and sound in the care of an (imaginary) nanny by the name of Zenaida Fernandez-Gonzalez or Zena as she was telling her friends.
– Sometime after mid- June 2008, Casey told one of her friends, Amy Huizenga, that she had smelled in her car an awfull smell “like something died”, blaming her father that he probably had run over some animal who perhaps got plastered to the car. In a later call on June 27, 2008 she told Amy that she found parts of an animal, perhaps a squirrel, plastered to her car and she got rid of it. In a later statement to the police, Amy stated that she did not believe that Amy’s father was the one who ran over an animal because “we know that everything Casey says is not true.”
– Casey’s mother, Cynthia “Cindy” Anthony, eventually called the Orange County Sheriff’s Office in Florida on July 15, 2008,to report Caylee missing, only after she got fed up with Casey’s lying and dilatory tactics in evading disclosure of Caylee’s whereabouts, and when a very strong odor of decomposition in Casey’s car apparently arising from the trunk, sparked suspicions of possible foul play. In the same call, Casey Anthony acknowledged to the operator that her daughter had been missing for 31 days.
– When interrogated by police, Casey claimed that she left the child with a nanny by the name of Zenaida Fernandez-Gonzalez, who had worked for her for more than a year, and the nanny abducted the tot . Although Casey mentioned the nanny’s name to her family and friends, prior to the disappearance, no one ever saw the alleged nanny, there was no documentation she even existed; initial efforts to locate her were unsuccessful. In short, she appeared to have been a fictitious person invented by Casey.
– Casey Anthony was first arrested on July 16, 2008, and was charged the following day with giving false statements, neglect of a child, and obstruction of a criminal investigation. The judge denied bail, saying Casey had shown “woeful disregard for the welfare of her child”. She was subsequently released, and had several subsequent arrests unrelated to Caylee’s death.
– On October 14, 2008, Casey Anthony was indicted by a Grand Jury on charges of first-degree murder, aggravated child abuse, aggravated manslaughter of a child and four counts of providing false information to police
– In spite of Casey’s later claims to the contrary, all Casey’s friends testified that she did not reveal to them that Caylee was missing, or that she undertook any search effort to find her and clearly did not show any evidence of grief. They were unanimously in agreement that Casey seemed very happy and was in a celebratory mood at various parties at the time when the child was already missing.
– Examination of Casey’s car reveal in the trunk compartment a strong odor of decomposition, acknowledged by a number of persons particularly familiar with the decomposition odor of human remains. Chemical tests revealed the presence of chemical compounds consistent with presence of decomposition remains, and they were also consistent with presence of chloroform residues. Apparently a syringe containing chloroform was also found, but for unknown reasons this evidence was not later introduced at the trial. A strand of hair found in the car’s trunk was consistent with Caylee’s hair and showed dark banding claimed to be indicative of decomposition changes.
– Analysis of computer files in Anthonys’ residents indicated multiple searches for chloroform. Cindy Anthony, Casey’s mother testified that she made such searches, although this obviously did not necessarily exclude Casey, which was accused of making such computerized searches.
– Caylee’s skeletonized body was found after five months following her disappearance. Virtually all of Caylee’s bones were found on a wet ground in a wooded area close to Casey’s and Caylee’s residence, some within two plastic bags and some scattered in the area by animals; some bones showed signs of gnawing by animals.
– Inside the bag were also a toy bear and the child’s blanket.
– The examination of the Casey skeletonized remains revealed total disappearance of soft tissues as a result of decomposition, no evidence of skeletal trauma, and a tape was attached to the victim’s hair and lower part of her skeletonized face, including mouth and nose areas. The sites of recovery of different bones were carefully mapped by the examining anthropologist.
– On December 19, 2008, Dr. Jan Garavaglia, the Medical Examiner for Orange County confirmed that the remains found were those of Caylee Anthony and ruled the manner of death as homicide, but listed the cause of death as undetermined.
– Casey was charged with first degree, premeditated, murder of her daughter Caylee when the case came to trial on May 24, 2011.
What is the scenario which the circumstantial, investigational and pathological evidence conjure:
Casey Anthony is an immature, irresponsible and brain-scattered young women with a clear propensity for lying; she was clearly hungry for unfettered access to a life of uninhibited partying. Unfortunately, she had a very young daughter, Caylee, who required a lot of care and attention, as all normal young kids do, and the grandparents were unwilling or unable to fulfill Casey’s expectations of support.
Greatly frustrated from failing to live her life exactly as she wanted, Casey decided to prevent he child from interfering with her plans by conveniently putting her to sleep with chloroform, most likely based on information gathered through her own computer mediated searches or through information obtained from the computerized search files of her mother.
At one time, this non-medical anesthesia procedure did not work very well, the child woke up, and a probably angry Casey, affixed her mouth closed with tape, which likely inadvertently also covered the child’s nose.
When Casey returned to the child later, she found that Caylee had stopped breathing. Casey got panicky, and put the child in a bag together with some toys and a blanket, in the trunk of her car. While ruminating what to do with the body she traveled with it for several days until the odor of decomposition became so strong, that she felt that she must get rid of the body and threw the bags containing it in a wooded area, close to her home where it was eventually found.
What will the jury in Casey Anthony’s case likely decide?
Juries are unpredictable as weather, if not more, so every outcome is obviously possible, from dismissal of charges (rather unlikely) to a first degree capital murder conviction.
It seems however to this writer, that confessing to the truth, in a scenario likely to be very similar to one described above, Casey Anthony would find a more sympathetic â€“ and lenient jury — which would likely lean to lesser charges than first degree murder.
Should she take the stand, and confess what really happened? How can the jury know this time she’s telling the truth?
We can be sure of one thing: had she done that early on, she’d be facing less risk now, and justice would still have been served.