June 10, 2002



Marshall's having a lot of fun with the Chandra Levy remains story, where a leg bone turned up several days later. It's very reminiscent of the Christine Jessop murder investigation north of Toronto, where the victim's FAMILY actually found several bones at the murder scene five months after the Durham Regional Police forensics team had been through. That case, of course, resulted in the acquittal, second trial, wrongful conviction and subsequent second acquittal (once DNA testing had advanced enough to give a conclusive answer) of Guy Paul Morin.

The simple fact is that police forensics teams don't expect to find full skeletons of bodies long dead (Jessop had also been missing for some time when her remains were found), largely due to animal activity. It is also true that bones can "reappear" months or even years after an initial search. Forensic experts as a result don't automatically assume that a particular bone's absence or reappearance is necessarily a material fact related to how that person ended up a corpse. What seems to have happened in Washington is the police chief tried to answer the narrow question of why no alarm bells went off at the missing bone, and twisted it into what sounded like an excuse for an obvious and undeniable failure of the team doing the searching. Someone is not giving him good PR advice. Here's the talking point I would have written for him, if I was his handler:

Ladies and gentlemen, it is a sad fact of our business that sometimes after death important evidence or even human remains can go missing, if the body is not found quickly enough. This can be due to animal or human activity, weather, or other causes. Our forensic investigators learn in their training not to make too much of it when a particular bone or other piece of evidence that otherwise should be there is missing from a crime scene. To do so would be bad police procedure, and could easily lead to false conclusions. As a result, it's fair to say that the fact some of the Levy remains were initially missing would not and should not have necessarily raised any alarm bells. That does not excuse the strong ability of human error here, however. The best any investigator can do is make the most thorough and detailed search of a crime scene possible, and work with all the evidence that is collected. In this case, clearly the search may not have been as thorough as it should have been: we will be conducting an internal review of our procedures for crime scenes accordingly. Allow me to extend our apologies, to the Levy family and the people of Washington if that proves to be what happened. However, it is important to remember this we will not let this become a material setback to this important homicide case. We are continuing to gather evidence, and no one should have any doubt that we will catch the person or persons who committed this terrible crime.

Posted by BruceR at 01:26 PM



Layne was wrong. This is very, very funny.

Posted by BruceR at 11:12 AM

THE COBAIN EFFECT Christopher Caldwell


Christopher Caldwell asks in the Standard why he hasn't heard of rapper R. Kelly, and why the mainstream press is spending so much ink on a "niche celebrity." (Selena and Aaliyah being his other more morbid examples.)

Personally, I think it's the Kurt Cobain effect. Newspeople around the continent got pasted (and, I still believe, rightly so) for all but ignoring the Nirvana lead's suicide the day it happened. I actually watched the biggest Canadian national news program that night, and it was nowhere to be seen. I remember well the stark cognitive dissonance between what people of my generation were talking about that day, and what the news programs were. I know that one event confirmed for a lot of young people I know (now a few years either side of 30) that mainstream news had nothing to say to them. (One wonders if the cumulative impact of such instances won't deserve a note in the History of Blogging, when that book is finally written by Columbia University's Drudge School of Journalism co-deans Ken Layne and Matt Welch.)

The big news organizations, meanwhile, have been overcompensating ever since, afraid they'll miss the next big youthful thing. That's not all the reason R.Kelly's getting the press he is, but it's part of it. (To be fair, I think the big press did an okay job on the Tupac in memoriams... trouble is, they still have a lot of trouble getting the modulation of the signal right, due to the age and power imbalances inherent in most news rooms.)

Posted by BruceR at 10:06 AM