Thursday, October 01, 2015

The Marasca/Bruno Report, A Dissection In Four Parts: #1 The Strange “Dogmatic Assertions” Approach

Posted by catnip

General Garofano founded Carabinieri labs, has long argued DNA evidence in this case very strong

1. Overview Of This Post

These analyses will be interspersed with the final posts of the Marasca/Bruno report. 

A person holding themselves out to be a ‘creation scientist’ may easily make a statement (in the form of a short sentence in an article or of a soundbite on TV).

At which point, it may take a whole book of effort, to examine the background and field(s) of scientific learning and expertise that are involved and to follow the lines of reasoning used (if any), in order to come to a satisfactory assessment of the accuracy and reliability of that statement.

Likewise with the Fifth Criminal Chamber Cassation judgment penned by Bruno. It seems to be full of assertions. And that’s it.

Take, as one example, the international standards that the forensics personnel are supposed to have breached.

2. Example: ‘International standards’

Much has been made of what have been called ‘international forensic standards’, and whether they have been met and what significance the evidence would have had if they hadn’t.

There is also a subtext of what forensic procedure the Italian Scientific Police were actually following and why a breach of those guidelines did not ground a submission by the defence that there had been contamination and therefore that the evidence was unusable.

(Plus also, disposable gloves are called ‘monouso’, that is “single use”, in Italian, and that name seems to have sown some confusion in the minds of the defence lawyers about how such gloves are to be used in actual cases.)

In Italian, there’s a recent textbook, with international contributors:

Donatella Curtotti and Luigi Saravo (eds), Manuale delle investigazioni sulla scena del crimine: Norme, techniche, scienze, (2013) [Giappichelli, 2013] (Crime Scene Investigation Manual: Guidelines, techniques, science)

ISBN 9788834829004

A perusal of the contents shows that its coverage is extensive in terms of subject matter, and not superficial, at over a thousand pages:


D Curtotti, BAJ Fisher, MM Houck and G Spangher, “Diritto e sceinza: Un rapporto in continua evoluzione”,  pp 1-36 (Law and Science: A relationship in continuous evolution)

The legal picture

D Curtotti, “I rilievi e gli accertamenti sul locus commissi delicti nelle evoluzioni del codice di procedura penale”,  pp 37-118 (Collection and tests at the scene of the crime in the developments of the Criminal Procedure Code)

D Curtotti, “L’inadeguatezza delle norme al cospetto della nuova realta’ investigativa e le soluzioni giuridiche percorribili”,  pp 119-146 (Legal inadequacy in the face of the new investigative reality and feasible judicial solutions)

F Giunchedi, “Le consulenze techniche tra accertamenti irripetibili e incidente probatorio”,  pp 147-176 (Technical consultants between unrepeatable tests and preliminary hearing)

A Procaccino, “Le selezione del consulenti technici e la tracciabilita’ dell’expertise: Profili interni e comparatistici”,  pp 177-218 (The selection of technical consultants and the audit trail of expertise: Internal and comparative profiles)

D Curtotti, “Il sopralluogo della difesa”,  pp 219-234 (The defence crime scene search)

D Curtotti and L Saravo, “L’errore technico-scientifico sulla scena del crimine”,  pp 235-253 (Technical and scientific error at the scene of the crime)

E Cataldi, M Vaira and A Iasillo, “La scena del crimine vist dai protagonisti del processo”,  pp 255-300 (The scene of the crime as seen by the protagonists in the trial)

The technical-scientific picture: the new investigative paradigm

L Saravo, “Il nuovo paradigma investigativo sulla scena del crimine”,  pp 301-312 (The new investigative paradigm at the crime scene)

L Rockwell and L Saravo, “L’analisi logica della tracce”,  pp 313-342 (The logical analysis of traces)

L Garofano and L Saravo, “Il primo intervento”,  pp 343-364 (First intervention)

L Saravo, “CSI: Il metodo di ricerca e valutazione delle tracce”,  pp 365-414 (CSI: Trace search and evaluation method)

The technical-scientific picture: technique, technology and science on the traces of crime

R Gennari and L Saravo, “Le tracce”,  pp 415-466 (Traces)

A Galassi, D Gaudio, P Martini, L Saravo, M Sgrenaroli and G Vassena, “La rappresentazione della scena del crimine: Dalla descrizione narrative ai rilievi tridimenionali”,  pp 467-558 (Representation of the crime scene: From narrative to 3D)

R Gennari and L Saravo, “Rilievi edaccertamenti sulle tracce: Dalle impronte al DNA”,  pp 559-644 (Collection and tests on traces: From prints to DNA)

G Arcudi and GL Marella, “Il cadavere e la scena del crimine: Un binomio inscindibile”,  pp 645-671 (The body and the crime scene: An inseparable pairing)

The technical-scientific picture: new techniques

TP Sutton, “L’analisi della macchie di sangue (BPA)”,  pp 672-706 (Blood pattern analysis)

M Mattiucci, “Le indagini sui repertiinvisibili: High Tech Crime”,  pp 707-718 (Analysis of invisible evidence: High Tech Crime)

P Magni and E Di Luise, “Gli insetti nelle scienze forensi”,  pp 719-742 (Insects in the forensic sciences)

P Magni and E Di Luise, “Le tracce orfane: Botanica, micologia, zoologia, microbiologica, e geoscience nel mondo forense”,  pp 743-791 (Orphan traces: Botany, mycology, zoology, microbiology and geoscience in the world of forensics)

B F Carillo, U Fornari, G L Giovanni and L P Luini, “La scena del crimine vista con gli occhi della criminologia”,  pp 791-872 (Looking at the crime scene through the eyes of the criminologist)

The technical-scientific picture: complex investigations

D Gaudio, D Salsarola, P Poppa, A Galassi, R Sala, D Gibelli and C Cattaneo, “L’archeologia forense: Il corretti recupero dei resti umani”,  pp 873-896 (Forensic archaeology: The correct recovery of human remains)

S Scolaro, P Magni and E Di Luise, “La scena criminis in ambiente acquatico”,  pp 897-926 (The crime scene in aquatic environments)

B Cristini and F Notaro, “Lo scenario incendiario”,  pp 927-982 (The incendiary scenario)

A Boncio, Ecataldi, R Mugavero, G Peluso and L Saravo, “Lo scenario terroristico”,  pp 983-1062 (The terrorist scenario)

D O’Loughlin and L Saravo, “I disastri di massa”,  pp 1063-1086 (Mass disasters)

In all the above, the name of Garofano can be seen (a well-known and highly regarded forensics expert), and the Australian contribution (the last chapter) relates to learnings from the Black Saturday bushfires.

“fictional events can gain currency in the real world”  —  Jim Fraser, Forensic Science: A Very Short Introduction, (2010) [Oxford University Press, 2010], p 25 (talking about movie scenes showing the effect of an injection of adrenalin into a person’s heart).  [ISBN 9780199558056]

The defence aim was to reduce the significance of Raffaele’s DNA being found on the torn-off or cut-off clasp of Meredith’s bra, which clasp was collected on a second, later, occasion from a different location in Meredith’s room a pace or so distant from that in which it had been found originally (beneath a pillow under her body).

The video of the scene showed the clasp being handled by various gloved personnel before being bagged.

One strand of the defence attacked the gloves, arguing that they should have been changed.

What are the actual recommendations on gloves?

Disposable gloves should be ‘changed frequently’:

“The evidence collector must handle all body fluids and biologically stained materials with a minimum amount of personal contact. All body fluids must be assumed to be infectious; hence, wearing disposable latex gloves while handling the evidence is required. Latex gloves also significantly reduce the possibility that the evidence collector will contaminate the evidence. These gloves should be changed frequently during the evidence-collection phase of the investigation. Safety considerations and avoidance of contamination also call for the wearing of face masks, shoe covers, and possibly coveralls.”  —  Richard Saferstein, Criminalistics: An Introduction to Forensic Science, 10th edition, (2011) [Pearson, 2011], p 286, Collection of biological evidence. ISBN 9780132545792

Gloves should be changed for each new item of evidence:

“One key concern during the collection of a DNA-containing specimen is contamination. Contamination can occur by introducing foreign DNA through coughing or sneezing onto a stain during the collection process, or there can be a transfer of DNA when items of evidence are incorrectly placed in contact with each other during packaging. Fortunately, an examination of DNA band patterns in the laboratory readily reveals the presence of contamination. … Crime-scene investigators can take some relatively simple steps to minimize contamination of biological evidence: 1. Change gloves before handling each new piece of evidence. 2. … 3. … 4. …”  —  Richard Saferstein, p 288.

Myths about contamination

“There are many myths and misunderstandings about contamination… The first is that all scenes are examined using the highest standard of anti-contamination precautions (suits, overshoes, mob caps, gloves, etc.), which is not the case. … Secondly, the belief that contamination can be completely prevented by wearing the kinds of protection described above and by controlling a scene is unfounded. If you accept Locard’s principle, then you have to accept that any examination of a scene is likely to disturb it and to ‘contaminate’ it in some way. Finally, the assumption that because someone has failed (for whatever reason) to follow recommended operating procedures with regard to contamination does not mean that contamination will necessarily result and have an impact.”  —  Jim Fraser, Forensic Science: A Very Short Introduction, (2010) [Oxford University Press, 2010], pp 19-20.

ISBN 9780199558056

What does the Italian crime scene manual say?

Personal protective gear and single-use equipment mitigates the risk of contamination.  —  R Gennari and L Saravo, “Rilievi edaccertamenti sulle tracce: Dalle impronte al DNA”,  pp 559-644 (Collection and tests on traces: From prints to DNA), p 626.

The main references to contamination are in R Gennari and L Saravo, “Le tracce”,  pp 415-466 (Traces), where they say:

“In the strictest sense, the term ‘contamination’ refers to the introduction into the scene (and even onto an item of evidence originating there) of spurious information corrupting its original nature or state.”  (p 449).

“It must be noted, though, that the contaminated item of evidence is not necessarily unusable [emphasis in original]. It is only an item of evidence which has lost its original state: its own characteristics have undergone modification and it has been enriched with other, indeterminate, information. It is necessary to know how to evaluate the impact that this could have had in the question posed or on the information that will be needed to be revealed to reconstruct the crime.”  (p 450).

“It is not enough just to wear the personal protection gear to reduce the risk of contamination; it is necessary that this gear be employed in the correct manner [emphasis in the original].

Not changing gloves before touching a new surface is, for example, a source of contamination: DNA, once touched a first time, transfers itself to all the various surfaces touched successively by the same gloves.”  (p 451).

And, not to forget, protective gear is worn for the protection of forensic personnel against infection and chemicals (p 452).

So, in summary:

Gloves reduce and minimise the risk of contamination - they do not remove it altogether; contamination cannot be completely prevented. Searching a scene changes it from its original state.

Changing gloves “frequently”, or “each time” a new piece of evidence, or a new surface, is touched.

After putting on the gloves, what counts as a new piece of evidence or new surface in this list?:

bedcover, victim, pillow, bra-clasp, carpet/floor

Coughing or sneezing on the evidence: means the forensic officer’s DNA contaminates the item, not the accused’s DNA.

Following the procedure does not guarantee that the evidence is uncontaminated; following procedure just reduces the potential risk of contamination.

Likewise, not following procedure does not mean the evidence is automatically contaminated.

And even if the item were contaminated, that does not make it unusable.

In Raffaele’s case, if his DNA were transferred via the latex forensic gloves, how did his DNA get there on the glove when it was found definitively nowhere else in the room? Did he spit on his hand and then shake hands with the forensic officer? Now, that would indeed be a breach of protocols, anywhere in the world.

To say that, because it’s the accused’s DNA, therefore it’s contamination, is circular reasoning.

All of the above should have been (and was) examined at trial, and double-checked on appeal (eventually).

So why is Bruno taking up the invitation to rehash it all again?

3. Further Reading On DNA

See our previous 50 or so previous posts on DNA.


Excellent stuff Catnip.

I hope that in Italy there will be sufficient media pressure (or preferably political pressure) that, at some stage, Bruno/Marasca will be forced to address a list of these type of questions. Ideally on porta a porta or such like. I’m sure obfuscation would be the order of the day but it would be very interesting to hear actual words from Bruno/Marasca confirming just how strong their suspicion is that Knox/Sollecito did the crime. Something tells me that if they were put on trial for perverting the course of justice, this report in itself would be very damning evidence in front of any normal, impartial, jury.

I do recall Sollecito being made very uncomfortable by Bruno Vespa in one interview and you could see him struggle to keep a lid on his annoyance. I think Bruno knew he was in the presence of a killer.

There is a saying that sometimes something can be so wrong that it’s right. I think this is what the Knoxen are doing with this motivation report.

In actuality, this report is the antithesis of that saying. Indeed, this report is so wrong that an average child of around 14 could see that it’s just wrong.

Posted by davidmulhern on 09/26/15 at 06:32 AM | #

Also, this report is so wrong that a Bright child of around 9 could see that it’s just wrong.

Posted by Cardiol MD on 10/02/15 at 10:01 AM | #

How great to see the face of the erudite Garofano again. I wish he could once again enter his professional opinion about the DNA evidence in this case. Supreme Court has accepted the fact that Knox’s DNA was mixed with Meredith’s blood, and even suggested that since it was a diluted mixture with water added, it indicates Knox was cleaning off Meredith’s blood. How does that not implicate Knox in the crime, for at least covering up the crime?

It’s not a big leap to say that if she was cleaning off a murdered person’s blood from her hands but later denied even being anywhere near the death, she must be guilty of some part in the killing, a conspirator if not the wielder of fatal blow.

IMO if Cassation accepts the mixed DNA in blood of victim evidence, it means Knox figuratively still has blood on her hands and was part of the crime. To suggest a person is present at a crime scene and washing blood off their hands yet to find them innocent? It beggars imagination.

The Luminol footprints were strong evidence of bare feet walking in blood.

DNA evidence is always attacked by a defense when it proves their client guilty. Contamination is their first song and dance.

Posted by Hopeful on 10/02/15 at 07:49 PM | #

Just my two cents worth:

As far as DNA analysis is concerned, there is no such thing as “international forensic standards”. The reason is simple: the technology is new and the equipment maker recommends certain protocols for optimum results. I do not think that not even the US has any definite standard: but it issues recommendations. Recommendations are NOT standards.

Regarding disposable gloves: these are used to protect the user and the focus is NOT on preventing contamination. However, it automatically protects, inter alia, contamination from the user. It does not prevent cross contamination but the user is advised to change gloves frequently and notionally after collection of a sample. Loose fitting polythene gloves are preferred for sample collection. Latex surgical gloves are less comfortable but are useful in several lab setups.

I am not aware if there are any set (universal) protocols for sample collections; every country (it may be every department) frames its own guidelines and recommendations (and that depends on the actual purpose).

Posted by chami on 10/03/15 at 03:07 AM | #

There is a set of building codes known as the International Building Code. It is “international” only in a nominal sense, because it is used in the US and a couple of countries in the Caribbean. They have a wide membership, because members get discounts on released code (every 2-3 years), but in fact the actual group responsible for updating codes maybe comprises 40-50 people.

All this to say that even if there were a set of ‘international standards’ that is by no means guarantee that those standards are widely used or even any good. NFPA, another building code organization with a longer history in life safety and equipment safety, has a much better building life safety code than the International Building Code (and is used by more states in the US as the reigning life safety code, though counties and towns may choose alternate codes.)

So “international standards” is just a strawman and the fact that there isn’t one governing DNA forensics doesn’t mean a lab doesn’t have good practices.

What IS true is that DNA lab worth the name ought to have a laminar flow (exhaust) hood.

But guess which lab didn’t have one. Right, Conti and Vecchiotti didn’t have one, as noted by Dr. Stefanoni in her rebuttal to the C&V report. C&V didn’t even know how to properly prepare samples.

Posted by Olleosnep on 10/03/15 at 08:01 AM | #

Hi Olleosnep

That Stefanoni report is a must-read as it leaves none of the false accusations by Fischer etc of crimes commmitted or procedures bungled standing. Defense witnesses observed every single test and not once complained.

The Carabinieri labs (Garofano’s) was pretty withering over Hellmann consultants C&Vs methods or lack of them and their so-called lab, and included a shot of a common fridge which had been used to store a sample from the knife. Investigations into C&V are going on.

Interesting on building codes,

The UN agencies are the main standard-setting agencies in the world (telecomms, aviation, maritime, medical, industry quality control, and on and on) and the US and Italy are both greatly involved in those - government and institute people love them because they can meet peers from upward of 100 other countries and discussions get amazingly intense.

All our cellphones observe standards worked out by the ITU. All our airline flights are governed by rules developed by ICAO in Montreal. Our industries all strive for ISO certification. Et cetera. They push the envelope.

Some UN agencies go back over a century, while some had to be created in just the past few years (WIPO, World Intellectual Property, and ISO, International Standards Organization, both in Geneva, are two).

But there isnt a specific UN agency for justice and law, as is often noted here.

This means that all countries have difficulties in this one sector in making comparisons and finding the best systems and in general keeping up. There are few conferences and few working groups. As a direct result many justice systems around the world are in a mess.

This case which raises various issues of international codes and law seems to me to strongly point to a need for a new specialized agency for this stagnant sector to be built.

Posted by Peter Quennell on 10/04/15 at 10:59 AM | #

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