July 26, 2011

Debt Crisis: It's Your Fault

So I couldn't help notice the results of a recent CNN poll:

Now, it's great that so many people took 5 seconds to click on the poll.  But if you're part of the 57% who isn't contacting your congresscritter and chewing them out, then you're part of the problem.  And if your congresscritter is already voting per your wishes, then contact his or her opponent and let them have it.

Our democracy only works if we're all participating. And if you're bitching about the results while not voting or contacting your elected representatives, you have only yourself to blame for our current woes.

July 15, 2011

Let's Settle This Fairly

There's a lot of talk going around about how unpopular Rick Scott, the governor of  Florida, has become since taking office.  His current approval rating is a record low 27%, which supposedly led The Orlando Sentinel to declare that only hemorrhoids where more unpopular.

I have to admit, this delights me no end.

So I thought I'd put it to the test and find out how unpopular he really is:

I figure there's nothing like a good poll to sort this out once and for all.  Remember, vote early - and often!

(poll closed)

Maybe after this, I'll see what we think of Frank Paruas, who is responsible for electing Rick Scott in the first place.

July 5, 2011

Casey Anthony: A Case Study in Failed Prosecution

This is the first of a pair of stories analyzing the Casey Anthony case from a layman's point of view.  Later this week, I'll address the defense.

I haven't talked much about the Casey Anthony case.  Frankly, I was disappointed at all the stories going around long before the case came to court.  It was obvious that the State Attorney had decided to start Anthony's trial in the media. And to me, that was a clear indication that they had no case.  After all, why release so much data that could taint the jury pool?  The answer; to pre-dispose the jury pool.  And once again, my earliest impressions were spot-on.

I did an earlier story about a defense offered  by Ms. Anthony's lawyers. 

But I digress.

Now that the Casey Anthony trial is over, and she's been found 'Not Guilty,' a lot of people are outraged, claiming that this is proof that the justice system is broken.

But no, the justice system is intact; this isn't a case of the system being broken, it's a case of a state attorney's office being broken.  Or at least, it shows a level of arrogance and incompetence that is unnacceptable.  But the justice system itself is intact.

Casey Anthony very likely killed her daughter.  Given the facts we have - which are too few - it's hard to place them in a meaningful context without assuming that Casey Anthony killed her daughter.

But the facts do not actually prove that; they only indicate it.  Our justice system demands that a prosecutor must prove his or her case beyond a reasonable doubt.  That means that if the conclusions drawn by the prosecutor or the evidence he presents can reasonably be explained away, the jury must find the defendant "not guilty."

And while I personally believe that Casey killed her daughter so she could party like a kid in her twenties, the fact is that the prosecutor did not and could not prove that.  It's a damned shame for Caylee and her grandparents, but it means that you and I are less likely to be convicted of a crime we did not commit.

Assistant State Attorney Jeff Ashton was apparently hoping that the jurors would be convinced by the narrative he could create with the available facts.  Instead, the jurors noticed that while he could demonstrate that the narrative was logical, and that out of all the available suspects, and that she fit that narrative best, Ashton couldn't actually prove that anyone killed little Caylee Anthony. 

Ashton can prove she's dead, and that someone dumped her body in the woods.  And that's about all he can prove.

We don't know what she actually died of. As far as I can tell from what's been released to date, the only causes of death not on the table are incineration or being run over by a steamroller.

I sense that you may not believe that the case against Casey was as weak as it was.  Let's take a look at it...

Cause of Death
The biggest hole in the prosecutor's case is the fact that we don't knowhow Caylee actually died.  You might assume that because the medical examiner declared the cause of death to be murder, there must be clear evidence to back this assertion.

But there isn't. 
...Orange County Medical Examiner Jan Garavaglia, told the jury that based on an examination of Caylee’s skeletal remains and all other available evidence that she had concluded that the case was a homicide – an intentional killing. But she added that she, as medical examiner, was unable to uncover enough evidence to identify the means used to kill Caylee. - CS Monitor
In short, Dr. Garavaglia assumed it was murder because Caylee's body had been stuffed in a garbage bag and dumped in the woods.  Which, I agree, is not an unreasonable assumption.  But it's still an assumption.  A

Conclusion: Our legal system requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt, and failed to prove how the victim died.

The Duct Tape as Murder Weapon
Caylee's remains had several pieces of duct tape where her face had been; it's consistent with tape across her mouth, and across her nose.  Tape in this location, had it been placed pre-mortem, would have sealed Caylee's airway.

Except that this isn't quite accurate.  There was tape with the body. It had some of the corpse's hair on it, and it was the right size to have been over the face.  The prosecution showed an adorable video of what the tape might have looked like on Caylee's face.  It did not provide a photograph or any other evidence showing that the the tape was ever actually on her face.

It was not possible to determine that the tape had been placed while she was still alive, and it was not even possible to prove that it was actually sealing her airway. 

One witness, forensic pathologist Dr. Wagner Spitz, testified that since DNA was not found on the tape, it must have been applied after she was dead - long after, in fact:
“They took a piece of duct tape in a roll – it comes in a roll – and tore off a number of sections, maybe this long, and stuck them on the skull,” Spitz said. He said it may have been done to hold the lower jaw in place and to keep the skull intact. - CS Monitor
Of course, this would indicate that the body had first rotted away, and then been placed in the bag and dumped, and no evidence was offered that indicated that this was the case.  But no evidence was offered that this was not the case, either.  Another question that remains unanswered.

Conclusion: while the tape could have been on her face, it was not conclusively on her face, and while it might have sealed her mouth and nose, it cannot be proven that it actually did so.

The Smell in the Trunk
Much has been made about the report that the trunk of Casey Anthony's car, after being recovered from an impound lot, smelled like "a dead body."  This lead to a detailed examination of the trunk, including samples of air that held chemical traces of odor.  But while the state of the art revealed the chemical markers that indicate a "decompositional event" could have had taken place in the trunk, the science  lacked the ability to determine that it was a human being that had decomposed.

Conclusion: while the smell of decay was distinctive, we can't prove that the smell came from any specific meat, let alone a human being.

Hair from a Dead Person
Much has been made about the discovery of Caylee's hair in the car.  As it turns out, they can't actually prove the hair was Caylee's.   But this single sample of hair, found in the trunk, displayed "hair banding."  This is a phenomena where the roots of hair form a dark band after death.  The argument is that this proves that a dead body was in the trunk.

Conclusion: since it can't be proven that the hair is actually Caylee's, the entire argument is moot.  It also ignores the fact that while the study showed that hair banding can occur after death, it did not state nor did it demonstrate that hair banding ONLY occurs after death.

Much has been made about the fact that someone at the Anthony household looked up "chloroform" on the internet, and that traces of chloroform were found in the trunk of Casey Anthony's car.
An expert in the field of human decomposition said the amount of chloroform found in the trunk of Casey's car was 10,000 times more than he would expect to see. - ABC News
First, let's note that this indicates that he would expect to see some amount of chloroform, just not as much as he believes was found.
The same testing done on a "control sample" of carpet from a similar make and model vehicle also showed chloroform, but the level was much lower, he testified. - WESH
The expert, Dr. Arpad Vass, scraped samples of acetic acid from the wheel wells of her car.  It is not only a by-product of chloroform, it's also a by-product of decomposition. 

Chloroform is made by mixing acetone, (a reduction of acetic acid), with bleach; both are common dark room chemicals, and Casey was a photographer. But did she every use a darkroom in the age of digital photography?  Highly doubtful.

But that's not the only way chloroform can appear:
Triclosan, widely used as an antibacterial ingredient in household hand sterilization products, breaks down rapidly when exposed to chlorinated water and produces toxic chemicals including chloroform... - NaturalNews.com
Conclusion; chloroform is a chemical one might expect to in the trunk of a car like Casey's, and its presences in high amounts may be explained by the presence of common household chemicals.

Casey's Constant Lying
The most compelling evidence against Casey Anthony is her own behavior during the period when Caylee first drops out of sight.  In the first month of Caylee's disappearance, Casey tells everyone - friends and family alike - that Caylee isn't missing.  She claimed that her daughter was with a nanny.  A nanny who took her daughter off to Disney World.  For days.

It's an absurd story from the start: Casey didn't have a full-time job.  Having failed to graduate high school, it's not surprising she didn't have a good job. 

When the police finally become involved, Anthony claims that she had lost the phone number for the nanny, and that the nanny had moved.  She identified the apartment she claimed the nanny had lived in; not only had the unit been empty for months, it was in a 55 or older community, and Anthony described her nanny as being in her thirties.
She even had a name for the nanny; and the only person who had that name didn't know Casey Anthony - and had alibis.

Casey then claimed that someone she worked with at Universal Studios had introduced her to the nanny.  So the police went to Universal with Anthony, who led them around the park for awhile before admitting that she did not work there.

Since we now know that Caylee Anthony was already dead at this point, the lies are particularly damning. 

Soon, new stories start coming from Casey Anthony; her defense lawyers claim that she was frantically searching for her daughter.  But these claims evaporate under photographs of Anthony partying at clubs every evening, and statements from friends that she never seemed outwardly concerned about her daughter, and that she dismissed inquiries with the lies about the nanny.

Conclusion: while a stunning indictment of Casey Anthony's lack of concern for her daughter, the absurd fairy tales she spun still do not constitute proof that she killed anyone.

Our justice system is designed to prevent innocent people from being sent to jail unjustly by allowing the defendant to have a counselor who makes sure that the state has met the burden of proof.  And in this case, it is apparent that the state really did fail to meet this standard.