Judge Perry decided to make Saturday a half-day session for the latest “Trial of the Century”. It was anything but Soporific Saturday, as the both prosecution and defense tried Perry’s patience enough to threaten one side with contempt proceedings at the conclusion of the trial. More fireworks occurred during the questioning of the two expert witnesses who took the stand today for the defense, providing a more entertaining than usual session for this trial addict.
The first witness to testify was forensic anthropologist Dr. William Rodriguez, who is with the U.S. Department of Defense Armed Forces Medical Examiner’s Office. It appeared as if the defense was poised to score some points with Dr. Rodriguez until a question came up about the duct tape found on Caylee Anthony’s remains, a question pivotal to discrediting the prosecution’s theory that the duct tape was the cause of the toddler’s death. Rodriguez testified that he cannot tell exactly where the duct tape was applied to the head due to the decomposition of the body subsequent to that time. That answer immediately raised an objection from the prosecution, as this opinion had not been previously disclosed by the defense.
Judge Perry had set deadlines for disclosures by both sides to the other, deadlines that had long passed. Rodriguez stated that he had given his opinion to lead defense counsel Jose Baez in February. The visibly perturbed judge made some strong statements about both sides engaging in gamesmanship, but this failure to make a disclosure by Baez was in direct disobedience of a court order. He told Baez that he cannot choose which court orders to observe and which to ignore, and even though the disclosure would have been past the deadline, it was essential that if the associated testimony were to be heard by the jury, the prosecution should have been given the information well in advance. Thus, with the jury absent, Perry ordered the witness to step down to be deposed later Saturday by the prosecution and continue his testimony on Monday, while admonishing Baez that he would consider whether to initiate contempt proceedings at the conclusion of the trial. Pretty powerful stuff.
“It appears to me that this was quite intentional,” Perry noted. “This was not some inadvertent slip. The question is whether Ms. Anthony should be punished because of this.”
Baez pouted throughout — as one analyst stated “like a sulking schoolboy being scolded by a teacher.” His naivete and inexperience have been apparent throughout this trial, as this Turkey has frequently mentioned. At this point, though, his shenanigans have entered new territory. This being a death penalty case, a defendant’s life is hinging on a competent defense; she is getting anything but. Baez wanted to make a name for himself. He is sure as hell doing that!
This day should have been a big win for the defense. It would turn out to fall far short of that, possibly scoring big points for the prosecution, particularly during the cross-examination of the defense’s second expert witness, Dr. Werner Spitz, a world renowned forensic pathologist with tens of thousands of autopsies to his credit who had given testimony in many high-profile cases.
Cheney Mason took over the questioning of Spitz as Baez sat down to pout some more over his threatened contempt citation. Later, Baez would undoubtedly attend the prosecution’s deposition of Rodriguez, where he would be able to hone his pouting technique even more.
After going through the white haired, elderly, peripatetic Dr. Spitz’s lengthy list of credentials, accomplishments, and honors, Mason questioned Spitz about the second autopsy, which Spitz had conducted at the funeral home where the remains were transferred after the official autopsy by Orange-Osceola Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Jan Garavaglia. Spitz’s request to attend and participate in the original autopsy had been denied. He seemed to be torqued about it, to the extent that he called Dr. G’s work “shoddy” because she did not saw the skull to look inside. He declared her decision a “failure.” At his unofficial autopsy, Dr. Spitz opened the skull in order to determine in which position the body had been resting.
The duct tape question arose once again, but this time there would be a surprise answer that even Artificially Sweetened, who thinks this whole trial is a bore and says “OMG!” every time I turn it on, gasped when she heard it. Spitz concluded that the duct tape was placed on the body post-mortem, after decomposition.
“I think the duct tape was a later event, not an early event, after decomposition,” he said.
Whoa! Inasmuch as the prosecution had theorized that duct tape had been the murder weapon, this could blow its entire case to bits. Once again, it appeared that Baez and company held the upper hand. It wouldn’t last long.
Prosecutor Jeff Ashton, who had blown Friday’s blow fly expert off the stand with his cross-examination, was poised to get under Spitz’s skin.
Ashton first established that Spitz was attracted to high-profile cases, with the implication that he was what one local TV analyst would later call “a media whore.” Spitz glibly responded that for him, every case was a high-profile case. Then, Ashton got down to some specifics.
“Did you work on the Phil Spector murder case?”
“Did you work on the O. J. Simpson murder case?”
“Did you work on the Menendez Brothers murder case?”
“Oh, you didn’t get that one?” Ashton commented in a stage whisper loud enough to be heard throughout the courtroom.
Ashton asked Spitz to cite a protocol that specifies that the decedent’s skull must be opened to properly complete an autopsy. Spitz could not do so. “I don’t know where that is published,” he said at one point. “I’ve been out of the mainstream of administrative forensic pathology for some time now.” Another point for Ashton, who would move on to Spitz’s penchant for notoriety and media whoring.
Spitz couldn’t recollect what he had discussed during media interviews about the Anthony case even though he had appeared on TV discussing it as recently as last week. He was asked about several other interviews where he had discussed the case, including the Today Show, but he continued to deny any knowledge of the specifics of such interviews.
Spitz appeared annoyed that his credibility was being brought into question. Thus softened, Ashton went in for the kill.
The duct tape question was posed to Spitz, who stuck to his guns that the tape was applied to the skull long after the death of the child. Responding to another question, he agreed that the tape would have had to be applied with the jaw bone held in its anatomically correct position, which would have been next to impossible for one perpetrator to have done on the site. When asked why the tape was not adhering to the skull when it was discovered, Spitz responded, “Water intervention.” Ashton asked why the hair was stuck to the tape if someone applied it to the skull after decomposition. Spitz danced an arabesque worthy of Bill Clinton as his perjuring finest, “I don’t know how the term ‘stuck to tape’ is applicable here.” Were we about to hear that it depended on what the definition of “is” is?
Upon looking at the photos taken of the remains in the woods, Ashton asked Spitz why the hair had fallen off in a different location that Spitz’s analysis of the corpse’s positioning suggested it would. Spitz sank to a new low here, suggesting that someone had moved the hair.
Although Artificially Sweetened disagrees, I think that the prosecution hit a home run with its cross-examination. In this Turkey’s opinion, AS felt sympathetic toward the beleaguered elderly gentleman being peppered with probing question after question by Ashton. While I believe it is true that some members of the jury could feel similarly sympathetic toward Spitz and resentful of Ashton’s heavy handedness, it became quite obvious that Spitz was paid by the defense to provide testimony that would corroborate the defense’s case. This is what Ashton wanted the jury to see. Having discredited Spitz, the important issue of the duct tape remains up in the air.
Saturday was a major win for the prosecution. Not only did it nullify a major witness for the defense, but it was able to throw the entire defense off balance with the overhanging threat of a contempt citation by Judge Perry. Not bad for half a day’s work!