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Classical Vass

    You could tell from the moment he took the stand that Dr. Arpad Vass was going to be more than just your usual witness. A senior research scientist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, he tested air and carpet samples for the state of Florida in its case against Casey Anthony. Human decomposition odor analysis is a relatively new science, and by that, I mean it's never been used in a trial before. Before this one, that is, and it's also another notch in the resume of State Attorney Jeff Ashton. His first claim to fame was way back in 1987. While prosecuting a rape case, he was the first in the country to use DNA evidence successfully in a trial.
    Arpad Vass is a veritable who's who of -ologies, meaning he's got a ton of scientific studies under his belt. He's the somebody in Body Farm, located in Knoxville, Tennessee, where over 1,100 human remains and countless pigs have been used as test subjects. They are left outside in all sorts of conditions; hot, cold, wet, and dry weather, above ground, below ground and everywhere in between.
    While he described the work he does in scientific terms, for the most part, he skirted language most of us would consider urbane and undecipherable. Sure, there's 100 trillion cells in our bodies. Yes, he told us all about the chemical breakdown of soft tissue and how fluids leak out in different stages.
    Dr. Vass is the man who lives in a world of cellular metabolism, arterial degeneration, bloating from gas and active decay, and he thrives on it! Who better to teach you that inorganic compounds could determine how long a person has been dead? He's the guy who took a whiff inside the can containing a piece of trunk carpet from Casey's car – that made him push back so far away from it, he almost took out a wall. Is human decomposition odor unique? You bet, according to him. Dead pigs smell sweeter.
    Vass sent OCSO Crime Scene Unit assistant supervisor Michael Vincent the portable air pump and test tubes for collecting samples from the Pontiac Sunfire. Along with the hundreds of chemicals found, Vass found unusually high levels of chloroform in some of the samples. So high, he and his team were shocked by the level. One of the tests he performed on a junk car that held a body came in at a respectable 5,000 units of measure. Casey's car had a chloroform level that surpassed 16,000,000 units.
    As bad as that seems, Jose Baez did a very respectable job of cross-examining the good doctor. Vass is not a chemist, yet his Facebook page (that turned out not to be his) and Wikipedia profile call him one. While Baez is no chemist, either, he continued to pound away at the doctor and managed to get him a little unhinged at times. That may be a strong word to use, but in any event, Vass continued to rebound. On one occasion, the defense attorney asked the scientist about using divining rods to seek out hidden graves, and the response was remarkable. He thinks outside the box! Of course, Judge Perry wouldn't let the topic of electronic leashes for flies into the equation, but Baez did get him to admit to an olfactory observation that human decomposition is “amazingly similar to a decomposing potato.”
    No doubt, Dr. Vass has a great personality and a matching sense of humor. Clearly, he connected with the jury. Overall, he and Baez both did well, but Vass got his message across. There's no way the jury's going to strike the odor of death, the off-the-chart chloroform reading in the air samples, and the searches for "how to make chloroform" on the Anthony's home computer. Taken all together, these three pieces of evidence could be a recipe for conviction.






Please limit comments to the blog's subject matter. Comments containing profanity and/or personal attacks will not be published.

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Comments, page 1 of 3 1 2 3 Next »
Jun 6, 2011 11:06 pm
 Posted by  Dave Knechel

Tater Tot Mom is, in no way, intended to mock Caylee. It is purely meant to point out Vass's good sense of humor.

Jun 6, 2011 11:18 pm
 Posted by  Amber

Hi Dave

I loved your joking remark about Nancy Grace and the Tater Tot Mom!!!

How do you think that the jury reacted to Dr. Vas? How is Chaney Mason taking all of the testimony or does he show any reaction? How are George and Cindy and Lee holding up?

I hope that you are managing to hold up well with all of the extra stresses of attending trial and writing for Orlando Magazine. I think you are doing your usual outstanding job of analysis and of commenting fairly. I can not say the same for some of the talking heads on TV. I really enjoy reading what you have to say and I tend to have more faith in Bill Shaeffer than the national talking heads who are appearing on TV to give their versions of what is happening.

When this trial is over, I will miss you and Mainstream Fair and all of the people who comment on your blogs. I think of them as friends.

Jun 6, 2011 11:31 pm
 Posted by  KarenC

Actually, Vass' experience gives him not only the chemistry but a host of other things, he's quite beyond and above that. Like asking Judge Perry if he's ever trained as a paralegal!

Jun 7, 2011 12:08 am
 Posted by  Anonymous

Dave -

Great article. What kind of reaction are you seeing from the jury during this forensic testimony? Is there affect different than when they were viewing other testimony.

Watching it on TV, I felt that Dr. Vass came off as very credible today. He clearly knows his stuff and can break it down for they lay person. I felt Jose came off as bullying and to me it was off-putting. Attempting to discredit with the Facebook and Wikipedia comments came off really bad (as I thought the same tactic came off badly with Melich).

Is the feel the same in the court room as I am reading via TV?


Jun 7, 2011 01:55 am
 Posted by  Anonymous

All your "tater tot" comment succeeds in doing is showing your BAD taste in humor. I am appalled and amazed that you would think you should actually put that in an article. You should apologize and remove that from your article or this magazine should fire you.

How would you feel if someone said that about your child or relative. I don't know if you have children, but I do, and I would be devastated to read such a glib comment.

I am unsure of what other subjects you write about that would make you think cute titles and fun puns are appropriate. Maybe you are a humor writer. I wish you would keep your fun to your other musings and be more sensitive about this subject.

I have been reading your articles because it said in OM that you are in the courtroom. But, I will not read here again. Maybe you, or your editor, should take the time to read what you write prior to publishing it. You obviously had doubts that your comment was appropriate or you would not have posted the comment you did. Next time remember you are writing about the murder of a beautiful child, not grocery food !!!!!

Jun 7, 2011 06:13 am
 Posted by  Zak

Bad joke; not funny. Bad analogy; rotten potato and decomposing child. BTW I've smelled a very rotten potato and it was truly ghastly. I thought something had died! Dr. Vass was great; he made the science understandable and enlightening. Loved his testimony!

Jun 7, 2011 06:34 am
 Posted by  Dave Knechel

You know, after getting some sleep over it, the Tot Mom ending was in poor taste, and I'm sorry. I edited the ending, but the comments reflecting my error are going to be left intact.

Jun 7, 2011 06:41 am
 Posted by  Porky3100

Very classy, Dave.

Jun 7, 2011 07:25 am
 Posted by  Mary Jo

I think Dr. Vass did an excellent job on the stand. Yes, he did get a little rattled a couple of times, but he was able to hold his own. You can tell by how he was on the stand that he really, really loves his job. I think with his personality and his knowledge of his job will convince this jury that there was human decomposition in that car. I thought Baez did a decent job on questioning Dr. Vass today. I think it would be better for him if he didn't try and attack the witnesses. I think that would turn the jurors off. Even though Dr. Vass is not a chemist he does know his stuff and I think that is all that matters to this jury. IIRC you were right on the qualitative versus quantitative stuff. Thanks for another great article, Dave!

Jun 7, 2011 08:34 am
 Posted by  Anonymous

Dr. Vass's testamony yesterday was amazing... tedious and detailed - but it really drove home the whole reason why Casey is on trail. A child died and someone is responsible. He is the scientist - facts are is realm - black, white and grey. Ashton, George, and the lovely Drane-Burdict are the ones to prove that Casey is responsible for Caylee's death.
Sara Jane - IN Parent

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About This Blog

'Marinade Dave' Knechel

Dave Knechel has been blogging about the Casey Anthony case since late 2008, drawing readers from all over the world. Best known as “Marinade Dave,” a nickname he got when he made marinades and also blogged about marinade recipes, Knechel is on assignment to blog about the case exclusively for as Anthony goes to trial for first-degree murder. His posts will appear regularly on this site.

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