Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The absence of the expected: Why didn't postmortem fetal extrusion occur?

Postmortem fetal extrusion, the academic name for coffin birth, "is the expulsion of a nonviable fetus through the vaginal opening of the decomposing body of a pregnant woman as a result of the increasing pressure of intraabdominal gases" (Wikipedia).  Because of modern-day embalming practices, postmortem fetal extrusion occurs only in forensic contexts.  Baby Conner was not a case of postmortem fetal extrusion, as he was not forced out of Laci's womb by the increasing pressure of intraabdominal gases as she decomposed and he just simply would not have survived in the Bay waters that long.  But why didn't postmortem fetal extrusion occur as Laci decomposed?  

The Wikipedia article explains the decomposition process and at which stage a postmortem fetal extrusion would occur (I added the underlining):
Typically, as a dead body decomposes, body tissues become depleted of oxygen and the body begins to putrefyanaerobic bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract proliferate and as a result of increased metabolic activity, release gases such as carbon dioxidemethane, and hydrogen sulfide.[6][7] Bacterial exoenzymes weaken tissues, and increasing pressure forces the diffusion of gases into other tissues where they enter the circulatory system and spread to other parts of the body, causing both torso and limbs to become bloated. These decompositional processes weaken the structural integrity of organs by separating necrotizing tissue layers.[7] Bloating usually begins from two to five days after death, depending on external temperature, humidity, and other environmental conditions.[8] As the volume of gas increases, the pressure begins to force various body fluids to exude from all natural orifices.[9]It is at this point during the decomposition of a pregnant body that amniotic membranes become stretched and separated, and intraabdominal gas pressure may force the prolapse of the uterus, which would result in the expulsion of the fetus through the vaginal canal.[10] The bodies of women who have experienced vaginal childbirth at least once in their lives are more likely to spontaneously expel the fetus during decomposition than those who died during their first pregnancy, due to the more elastic nature of the cervix.[11] 
What would have prevented Laci's body from decomposing exactly as described?  The State argued a "soft kill" as the explanation for lack of forensic evidence at the crime scenes.  Dr. Peterson said that the head and limbs were missing because of disarticulation through the process of decomposition, not dismemberment.  Dr. Peterson also declared that there was no injury to the uterus, except what occurred through the natural decomposition process.  Just exactly what prevented Laci from reaching this point . . . during her decomposition?

The December 1, 2005 issue of Forensic Science, Medicine, and Pathology, includes an article about a postmortem fetal extrusion, "Postmortem fetal extrusion in a case of maternal heroin intoxication."
A 34-year-old heroin addict in the eighth month of pregnancy was found dead in her apartment. The head of a fetus was partly protruding from underneath the woman’s slip. At the time of autopsy, the body was in a state of advanced putrefaction with greenish discoloration of almost the complete body surface showing pronounced marbling and, in addition, now not only the head but also the upper part of the chest of a dead fetus were extruding from the birth canal with head presentation. Autopsy showed no signs of external violence prior to death and, in particular, no indication of preceding manipulations in the region of the obstetrical canal and the uterus could be detected. The uterine cavity showed pronounced putrefactive alterations with the amniotic membranes being partially raised and bloated in a balloon-like fashion. Toxicological analyses revealed acute heroin intoxication of mother and child. The immature neonate showed no signs of live birth. Pathogenetically, the finding of not only the head but also the upper part of the chest of the fetus extruding from the birth canal at the time of autopsy (contrary to the observation made at the death scene that only part of the head of the fetus was protruding) is consistent with post-mortem fetal extrusion caused by putrefactive gas pressure against the pregnant uterus as reported in the earlier German forensic pathological literature.  (Abstract)
At autopsy, medical examiners found that both the head and shoulders of the fetus had emerged, and concluded that it was a case of postmortem fetal extrusion in progress. (Wikipedia)
Only part of the head was seen extruding at the crime scene, but by the time the autopsy was performed, both the head and the shoulders had emerged -- which shows that postmortem fetal extrusion is a process, just like birth, and not a single explosive burst expelling the baby.

The heroin addict had given birth twice before.  In this 2008 case, Wikipedia does not reveal whether the homicide victim had previously given birth.
In 2008, the body of a 38 year old woman, seven months’ pregnant, was discovered in an open field four days after she had disappeared from her residence in Panama.[1] A plastic bag had been left over the head, and she had been gagged; the case was ruled a homicide. The body had suffered from the tropical heat and high humidity, and was bloated and highly discolored. At autopsy, the remains of the fetus were discovered in the woman's undergarments. Although the fetus was in a similar state of decomposition, the umbilical cord was intact and still attached to the placenta inside the uterus.[1] This case demonstrates that clothing will not necessarily hinder the extrusion of the fetus due to decomposition.  (Wikipedia)
This 2008 case definitely shows that Laci's clothing would not have prevented a fetal extrusion.

The introduction to the article "Postmortem fetal extrusion in a case of maternal heroin intoxication." states that "according to the literature, only fetuses with cephalic presentation are expelled" (pg. 273).  Cephalic presentation is also known as vertex position, or head down, and is the normal position for a vaginal delivery.  Dr. Esther Tow-Der, one of Laci's OB-GYN doctors, testified that on December 23, 2002, Conner was head down.
TOW-DER: We did a weight measurement. She had adequate weight. Blood pressure was normal, her fundal height development was very normal for that time. The baby had good fetal heart tones. Baby was noted to be in vertex fetal position, meaning head down. Patient had very slight swelling. I put down trace. Considered a low-risk pregnancy. I told her follow-up in three weeks.
GERAGOS: Good. The -- you said there was a -- the baby was in a vertex presentation?
TOW-DER: Correct.
GERAGOS: That was the first -- you had seen -- or somebody, I guess, had seen Laci, what, a month before, approximately?
TOW-DER: I had seen her a month, approximately one month prior.
GERAGOS: Okay. What date was that?
TOW-DER: November 25th, 2002.
GERAGOS: And on November 25th, was the baby in a vertex position?
TOW-DER: At that point I could not determine that by Leopold's maneuver.
GERAGOS: Okay. Could you explain what the vertex -- vertex position is?
TOW-DER: Vertex means that the baby is now head-down inside the pelvis. Where we call it breach when it's anything other than that. It's just the buttocks is down or it's feet down. In a normal vaginal delivery we would ideally want the baby's head down so the head comes out first.
GERAGOS: Could you -- is there a way for you to describe if the baby is in a vertex position -- and that's how you saw the baby on the 23rd; is that correct?
TOW-DER: I determined that by doing what we call Leopold's maneuver. We actually palpate, to see if we can determine where the head position is at that time, on the abdomen.
GERAGOS: Okay. And does that mean that the head is facing down?
TOW-DER: It doesn't say which way the face is facing. The head is actually pointing downward.
GERAGOS: Okay. Were you able to determine on the 23rd which way the face was -- or which direction –
TOW-DER: That you cannot determine just by Leopold's maneuver.
GERAGOS: Okay. So on the 23rd, all you could determine is that the baby was in a vertex position?
TOW-DER: Head down.
GERAGOS: Head down, which would mean buttocks up?
TOW-DER: Correct.
There aren't many more ways to say that Conner was head down, but the fact that it was repeated so much ensures that it was not a misspeak on Dr. Tow-Der's part.

The State, by necessity, argued that Laci was killed by a soft kill.  The State also argued that Laci disarticulated through the normal decomposition processes, she was not dismembered.  On December 23, 2002, Conner was observed to be in the cephalic or head down position, necessary for a fetal extrusion to occur.  Two subsequent cases of postmortem fetal extrusion plainly show that in the advanced stages of pregnancy, such as Laci was, the normal decomposition processes will produce fetal extrusion long before the female reaches the state of decomposition in which Laci was found.  And the 2008 case clearly shows that clothing will not deter the fetal extrusion.

So why didn't postmortem fetal extrusion happen in Laci's case?

This is just one more absence of the expected that screams out for reasonable people to seriously question this conviction.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

July 15, 2006 Field Trip - CRS at 5.83 feet with gusty winds

On July 15, 2006 I made a field trip to the Conner Recovery Site for the purpose of observing whether an object the size of Conner could pass through the rocks, and if it did, to observe where it came to rest.

The Richmond 9414863 station reported a peak water level of 5.94 feet for July 15, compared to 5.88 feet for April 13, 2003.  This video from July 15, however, was taken between 4:37-4:44 p.m, when the water level was around 5.83 feet.  5.88 feet is 6/10 of an inch above 5.83 feet.  When the HH tide is nearing its peak, it doesn't vary much between each 6-minute interval.

9414863 20060715 16:36    5.90    5.80
9414863 20060715 16:42    5.91    5.83
9414863 20060715 16:48    5.92    5.86

9414863 20060715 16:54    5.92    5.88
9414863 20060715 17:00    5.92    5.91
9414863 20060715 17:06    5.91    5.94
9414863 20060715 17:12    5.89    5.92

The wind conditions on July 15, 2006 were not as gusty as on April 13, 2003, as reported by the BAAQMD UC Richmond station.

April 13, 2003 HH tide peaked at 10:06
9:00 a.m.:  speed 11 mph, gusts 18 mph, direction 186 degrees (South)
10:00 a.m.:  speed 14 mph, gusts 23 mph, direction 180 degrees (South)
11:00 a.m.:  speed 14 mph, gusts 23 mph, direction 169 degrees (South)

July 15, 2006 at time of this video, 4:37-4:44 p.m.
4:00 p.m.:  speed 10 mph, gusts 16 mph, direction 184 degrees (South)
5:00 p.m.:  speed 10 mph, gusts 17 mph, direction 181 degrees (South)

I mistakenly say on the video that the wind is from the West.  I truly am directionally impaired.  WARNING:  this video includes a stuffed bear trying to get through the rocks.  Do not watch if this will disturb you.   But those who watch will see that gusty wind combined with this low water level would not be a friend to a tender, decomposing baby trying to make its way through these rocks.  Even though there are spaces between the rocks large enough for bear to pass through, the breaking waves do not make for a smooth journey.

Monday, February 14, 2011

December 5, 2005 Field Trip - The CRS at 5.96 feet

On December 23, 2010, I made a field trip to the Conner Recovery Site and published photos of close-ups of the rock breakwater that Conner had to get across to land where he was found in my article entitled "A formidable barrier."  The section of breakwater that he had to cross was established by my December 5, 2005 field trip, documented on SII, for the sole purpose of determining if there was another water channel Conner could have traveled rather than coming over the massive south breakwater.  Not only those who believed Scott guilty but also some who believed Scott innocent thought it possible that he was washed onto the site at another location and drifted to his resting spot.  They all were laboring under the belief that the CRS fills with water at every high tide, and the December 5 field trip busted that myth.

The NOAA Richmond 9414863 was down on December 5, 2005, so I calculated the water levels by using the San Francisco 9414290 station and applying the corrections used to calculate the 2005 predictions:
2005 NOAA Tide Predictions: Chevron Oil Company Pier, Richmond
(Reference station: San Francisco, Corrections Applied: Times: High +0 hr. 24 min., Low +0 hr. 38 min., Heights: High *1.04, Low *0.98)

13:24 + 24 = 13:48; 5.73 * 1.04 = 5.96
13:30 + 24 = 13:54
9414290 20051205 13:18 6.08 5.69     13:42   5.92

9414290 20051205 13:24 6.08 5.73    13:48   5.96
9414290 20051205 13:30 6.09 5.73    13:54   5.96
The NOAA predicted that the Richmond station's HH would come in at 1:53 at a height of 6.3 feet
9414290 20051205 13:36 6.08 5.72    14:00    5.95
9414290 20051205 13:42 6.07 5.71    14:06    5.94

You can see from the above data that the water level came in lower than predicted and the water level doesn't drastically start to fall when the tide changes.  The difference for each 6 minutes is only .01 feet, which is a little more than a tenth of an inch.

BAAQMD Richmond Field Station reports the following wind conditions for December 5, 2005.

  • 12 Noon:  speed 7 mph, gusts 17 mph, direction 53 degrees (NE)
  • 1 p.m.:  speed 8 mph, gusts 16 mph, direction 36 degrees (NE)
  • 2 p.m.: speed 7 mph, gusts 13 mph, direction 19 degrees (NNE)
  • 3 p.m.: speed 6 mph, gusts 11 mph, direction 10 degrees (N)

My report on SII includes all the photographs and videos I took that day, but this one, started at 1:58 p.m., captured the site at peak high tide.  My comments are suited for the field trip's objective to show that no water channel existed from the SE, the East, the North, the West, or the SW to carry Conner to his resting place, but the panoramas of the whole site reveal that the site does not fill with water at each high tide.  The isolated puddles of water you see along the path are from the previous day's HH tide of 6.34 feet.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

December 13, 2005 Field Trip - The CRS at 5.94 feet

In a trial, experts are called to explain complicated issues to the jurors.  However, it doesn't take an expert to know that the Conner Recovery Site on April 13, 2003 didn't look anything like People's 100.  In these next few articles, I'll publish photos and videos of the CRS at various water levels at or very near to the 5.88 feet experienced on April 13, 2003.  Most of these have been on SII for years, but it is time to refresh the memories of those who have already seen them, and present them new for those who haven't.

Water Levels 
April 13, 2003
6-minute verified water levels for Richmond station 9414863 for April 13, 2003.

9414863 20030413 10:00    5.44    5.86
9414863 20030413 10:06    5.43    5.88
9414863 20030413 10:12    5.41    5.88
9414863 20030413 10:18    5.38    5.83

December 13, 2005
The field trip on December 13, 2005 is a good place to start because I arrived at the CRS (I refer to it in the video as "the jetty") at 7:42 a.m., when the water level had already exceeded the 5.88 ft recorded and verified on April 13, 2003.  As I approached the site from the same position that People's 100 was taken, I used my JVC camcorder to capture the entire site on a video.  

The Richmond 9414863 station was down on December 13, so I had to calculate water levels from the San Francisco 9414290 station using the formula NOAA used to calculate the 2005 predictions:

2005 NOAA Tide Predictions: Chevron Oil Company Pier, Richmond
(Reference station: San Francisco, Corrections Applied: Times: High +0 hr. 24 min., Low +0 hr. 38 min., Heights: High *1.04, Low *0.98)

Using San Francisco's verified 6-minute water level data, I added 24 minutes to San Francisco's times and multiplied by 1.04 to calculate the water level:  7:18 + 24 = 7:42; 5.71 * 1.04 = 5.94.

9414290 20051213 07:12    5.67    5.62         7:36  5.84   
9414290 20051213 07:18    5.76    5.71         7:42  5.94
                                                                        7:43  5.94
                                                                        7:47  5.94
9414290 20051213 07:24    5.83    5.71         7:48  5.94

The difference between 5.94 and 5.88 is about 3/4 of an inch.

January 10, 2004
On January 10, 2004, Distaso, Harris, and Grogan arrived at the CRS at 12:44 and left at 1:15. The 6-minute verified water level data for Richmond shows that the HH tide peaked at 1:00 at a water level of 6.39 feet.

9414863 20040110 12:42    6.20    6.37
9414863 20040110 12:48    6.20    6.37
9414863 20040110 12:54    6.20    6.37
9414863 20040110 13:00    6.20    6.39
9414863 20040110 13:06    6.19    6.38
9414863 20040110 13:12    6.17    6.36
9414863 20040110 13:18    6.15    6.35

April 13, 2003:  5.88 feet
Dec 13, 2005:   5.94 feet
Jan 10, 2004:    6.39 feet

It doesn't take an expert to know that the water level on December 13,2005 is representative of the water level on April 13,2003, NOT the water level on Jan 10, 2004.

Wind Conditions
The wind conditions on April 13, 2003 were quite gusty, but on both January 10, 2004 and December 13, 2005 the winds were calm.  I'm using the wind conditions as reported by the BAAQMD, which has a monitoring station at the UC Berkeley Richmond Field Station.  BAAQMD does not adjust for DST, so we have to remember to add one hour to the times for April. BAAQMD provides hourly readings, with maximum gusts and wind direction in degrees (convert to Cardinal directions).

April 13, 2003
High tide peaked at 10:06-10:12 a.m.
9:00 a.m.:  speed 11 mph; gusts 18 mph; direction 186 degrees (South)
10:00 a.m.:  speed 14 mph; gusts 23 mph; direction 180 degrees (South)
11:00 a.m.:  speed 14 mph; gusts 23 mph; direction 169 degrees (South)

January 10, 2003
High tide peaked at 1:00 p.m.
12:00 Noon: speed 7 mph; gusts 14 mph; direction 68 degrees (ENE)
1:00 p.m.: speed 7 mph; gusts 14 mph; direction 82 degrees (East)
2:00 p.m.: speed 6 mph; gusts 11 mph; direction 90 degrees (East)

December 13, 2005
Time of video 7:42 a.m.
7:00 a.m.:  speed 7 mph; gusts 10 mph; direction 346 degrees (NNW)
8:00 a.m.:  speed 5 mph; gusts 9 mph; direction 342 degrees (NNW)

December 13 and January 10 are nearly identical in wind speed and gusts.  Other field trips I've taken captured the site at wind conditions much nearer to April 13, 2003, and those will be reviewed in the upcoming days.

People's 100 compared to December 13, 2005
First, a look again at People's 100, with it's 6.39 feet verified water level.  The photograph was taken at the point where the beach leads onto the mudflat.

The video taken on December 13, 2005, beginning at 7:42 a.m., with a calculated water level of 5.94 feet, higher than the 5.88 feet water level verified for April 13, 2003.  The little puddles you see on the path are from the previous day's HH tide of 6.79 feet.  The HH tide on the 13th would peak out at 6.74 feet at 9:30 a.m.  It's quite apparent that the difference between a 5.94 water level and a 6.39 water level is very significant.  Using People's 100 to represent the CRS on the day Conner was found amounts to fraud.  

For more videos and pictures of this December 13, 2005 field trip, please visit SII at this link.