Skip to comments.Prosecution's Bug Expert Struggles On Stand:08/01/2002 Westefield Trial Nears Finish Lap!
Posted on 07/31/2002 9:20:15 PM PDT by FresnoDA
SAN DIEGO The insect expert prosecutors hoped would destroy David Westerfield's chances for acquittal stumbled badly during his turn on the witness stand Tuesday, capping confusing, overly technical testimony with the admission he made basic math errors in his findings.
Madison Lee Goff, one of the most experienced scientists in the small field of forensic entomology, blushed a deep red as a defense lawyer for the man accused of killing Danielle van Dam repeatedly confronted him with five separate errors in data he used to analyze bugs collected at the 7-year-old's autopsy.
"I made a mistake adding," said Goff, the chair of the forensic science department at Honolulu's Chaminade University and one of only nine certified forensic entomologists in North America.
Entomology has become a battleground as Westerfield's two-month long capital murder trial draws to a close. The strongest evidence for the defense comes from this field in which insect specialists use the age of maggots and flies decomposing a body to help determine a time of death. Danielle, abducted from her bedroom Feb. 1, was missing 26 days and when her body was finally found, the medical examiner was unable to pinpoint when she was killed. Two forensic entomologists hired by the defense said their analyses suggested her body was dumped along a roadside in mid-February, long after Westerfield was under constant police surveillance.
Prosecutors, who have a pile of other evidence against Westerfield, including hair, blood and fingerprint evidence, hired Goff soon after the first defense entomologist testified.
Goff said Tuesday he disagreed with the conclusions of both defense experts, but the time frame he offered, Feb. 9 to Feb. 14, was only slightly earlier than theirs and did not neatly fit the prosecution's theory that Danielle was killed between Feb. 2 and Feb. 4 while Westerfield claims he was on a solo camping trip. Prosecutor Jeff Dusek had to question his own expert in much the same way as he cross-examined the defense experts, hinting that variables in the weather and the disposal of Danielle's body cast doubt on the certainty of any entomological findings.
Goff agreed that very hot, very dry weather conditions in San Diego in February might have mummified Danielle's 58-pound body almost immediately and that flies may not have been attracted to the desiccated body. A forensic anthropologist, called by the prosecution last week to cast doubt on the bug evidence, said the insects may have arrived later and only after coyotes and other animals began scavenging her body and Goff said this scenario seemed possible.
He also said a covering, such as a blanket, might have kept flies at bay initially. No covering was found and Goff later said the longest delay by such a shroud was two and a half days.
Much of his testimony was a detailed view into the mathematical nuts and bolts of his conclusions. Goff did not look at the bugs himself. Instead, he reviewed photos and the reports of the defense experts. He told jurors he came up with four separate time lines based on two different temperatures at two separate locations, a golf course a mile and a half from the crime scene and National Weather Service station farther away.
Goff's testimony bounced between these four sets of findings and even after he said the lower temperature and the weather service station provided the most reliable, appropriate date, it was often unclear which findings he was referring to. He peppered his speech with entomological jargon like "accumulated degree hours" and referred to blowflies by their the Latin names. He talked about temperatures in Celsius degrees, frequently prompting Dusek to ask for a Fahrenheit translation. Much of his work seemed lost on jurors, who stopped taking notes early on in his testimony.
On cross-examination, defense lawyer Steven Feldman grilled him about the way he calculated the day-to-day temperatures which dictate how fast an insect grows. Goff explained the process, but then Feldman handed him a pocket calculator and asked him to review his findings. With the courtroom completely silent, Goff added rows of figures and discovered his errors. Feldman asked him if the mistakes effected the accuracy of his estimates and Goff said they did. Several jurors picked up their notebooks and began writing rapidly.
A few minutes later, under questioning by Dusek, Goff said the slip ups made little difference in the ultimate conclusions. And as he had earlier in his testimony, he emphasized to jurors that his was an extremely narrow study of bugs, not a "stopwatch" for determining time of death.
"We're establishing a minimum period of time the insects have been feeding on the body," said Goff.
"Are you establishing a time of death?" asked prosecutor Jeff Dusek.
"No, that's outside our area of expertise," said Goff.
Danielle's parents, Brenda and Damon van Dam, watched most of the testimony from the back row of the courtroom, occasionally flinching as Goff described the condition of their daughter's remains.
The prosecution rested its rebuttal case after Goff's testimony. There will be no witnesses Wednesday and the defense will put on its sur-rebuttal case Thursday. Closing arguments could happen as early as next Monday.
Also Tuesday, a lab technician testified that orange clothes some law enforcement officers wore when searching Westerfield's house were not the source of fibers found in both the defendant's home and in Danielle's necklace.
The trial is being broadcast live on Court TV.
I don't believe it................ they really have a K Mart in Simi Valley?
"However, mud in the sense of scandalous of defamatory charges goes back to a time well before the Civil War. In fact, this was an expression at least as long ago as 1846. So it seems most likely that the expression His name is mud was well established before Dr. Mudd met his unhappy fate."
"True. The OED lists a usage from early in the 19th century... and I wouldn't be surprised to find it had been used even earlier. The association of mud with worthlessness is obvious and natural."
This Q&A from an English professor is the best I can do, but he asserts it was current in USA as early as 1846, and that is when the German immigration was highest. No one has ever beaten me on these yet! Best, crystalk.
I would agree with you on this.
People's emotions being what they are and from the description we heard of the video clip and some of the jurors reactions I wonder.
I guess we don't have too much longer to go to find out what the answer will be though. I think the closing arguments are going to be rather colorful.
Which would have been a hot commodity in waterless Arabia! Where there's mud, there's water!
After all where there are Simians, there are K mart shoppers. You've heard of planet of the simians, haven't you, which proved that all that humans knew was of Seamyian origin.
You are correct.
If they are "his" and depict actual child porn --than he would be guilty. But I have doubts about your assumptions.
No doubt this incident would make a preexisting phrase popular. It would appear from a net search that the attribution to Dr. Samuel Mudd is universal, but that does not make it truth.
Your exercise in gematria that equates both to 98 is not convincing to me. How many letter combinations can produce the same result? If your answer is only two, your theory will gain great credence with me. I doubt this is the case.
My final feeling about this before I toddle off to a calling pillow:
If there is documentation that the phrase existed before 1865, then the phrase joins a long list of phrases that we use without knowing the true origin.
Play nice while I am gone :)
They could (not should) find him guilty, and sentence him to time already served.
As to your assumption that a majority on FR believe DAW is not guilty of the murder:
This is just one of several discussion forums about this, on the internet. The regulars on FR are a "self selected" group, and you are correct in your assumption that the majority believe him to be not guilty.
However the same is not so, on other discussion forums, where on some a majority think DAW is guilty. Few forums equal the attention to every detail, that one finds on FR, which is what all twelve jurors will need to be willing to trudge through, for a Not Guilty verdict.
It remains to be seen, how the jury will decide, and that is WHAT MATTERS MOST. A lot of the FR regulars are certain the verdict SHOULD BE Not Guilty.
My prediction is:
Acquittal, 10% (all twelve jurors with at least Reasonable Doubt)
Conviction, 30% (all twelve jurors with no Reasonable Doubt)
Hung jury, 60% (all twelve jurors cannot agree on either of the above)
FWIW, indicating a high probability for a lot of unhappy FR regulars. Unless Acquitted, Feldman (or the next attorney) will appeal all sorts of things. If a Hung jury, it is anybody's bet, but the odds are for another trial for DAW.
It could drag on for years, raising the (unlikely) discovery of the "real killer" or a plea bargain by DAW. Remember those pesky motions by Feldman, sealed until appeal ('...if I did it, I was drunk...')? Who knows? Reality can have a hard bite to it.
I believe DAW is probably guilty, but it has NOT been proven to me, beyond a reasonable doubt. (I could change my mind, based on remaining arguments and closing statements.)
So he "accidentally strayed into them" and they magically jumped onto CD's that he kept laying around? Maybe "space aliens" are responsible??
>>>Show me that he knew he had it, knew the people in it were underage, and knew it was illegal to have it.<<<
It was laying around but he knew nothing about it? Westerfield is too ignorant to know that images of kids described as young as Danielle being raped are not illegal? Are you claiming this?
>>>Show me that porn was a part of his life, that he made profits from porn which I assume DAMON DID DO...(!)<<<
What the hell are you blathering about?? I'll tell you what belongs on a trash heap, Your Post 30.
I would question that assumption. All we have is a reportette's overemotional description, which reporterette has consistently been biased against the defendant. (See 'orange fibers that covered Danielle', et al.)
Mot having seen the images in question, I will assume that the media description is incompetent, biased, or an outright lie (always a good assumption IMO). Ergo, no child porn and not guilty on that count also. :-)
Dr. Goff will take into account that some of these feas go home in the luggage of tourists, and the others are consumed by sand crabs and Sea Gulls..the math is definitely not going to be precise...(He gets a pass on this)..
He will, I predict, be called as an expert witness the next time a body in Hawaii washes up on shore.
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