Blood From A Stone

What Robert Wone Still May Be Able To Tell Us

If forensics teaches anything it’s that human bodies have stories to tell, sometimes long after life has left.  We just have to know what questions to ask and be listening.

N.A.M.E. logoIn this case, barring exhumation, only three cc’s of blood is all that physically remains of Robert.  Many questions could be asked of this blood, but because the amount is small, only a few will make the cut and the blood will likely be used up.

Which leads to the question: just what might still be detectable in his blood, and what should be at the top of the testing priority list?   Perhaps there will be resolution on this by the time of the September 11 status hearing, the next date on the case’s calendar.

Judge Weisberg ordered testing on the remaining 3cc’s of Robert’s blood, telling the Government and defense teams to come to agreement on what drugs to test for.  “The ‘caines,” Weisberg suggested, which struck us as an “I Love the ’80’s” flashback.

This order was readily agreed upon by the Four Horse Men.  They appeared very confident nothing would show up and the test results would be negative.

Leading us to wonder: what does the defense team know that we, prosecutors and Weisberg do not?

Finding toxins in the human body isn’t as clear-cut as it might seem.  There are literally hundreds of agents that can make a person sick, debilitated, incapacitated or worse.  You can’t test for everything; instead M.E.’s try to focus in on the most likely candidates given the totality of evidence.

Are the lips discolored?  Perhaps hydrocholoric acid.  Does the hair fall out in clumps?  Thallium might be a candidate.  Is the body rigid or loose?  Any internal bleeding or organ damage?  Faint smell of almonds – cyanide might be to blame.  Strong smell of garlic?  Selenium is suspect.

Different methods are used to detect different types of toxins.  Metal-based poisons such as arsenic, mercury and thallium leave clear residues in the hair and nails behind that can be tested long after death.  In a classic cold case, an arctic explorer buried for 100 years in Greenland was tested, successfully, for arsenic in his hair and nails, yielding a positive result.  (His case also illustrates another forensic truth: sometimes a positive test result may not yield a definitive diagnosis.  Only when combined with other observed factors does the likely answer emerge.)

Plant-based alkaloide poisons like strychnine, atropine, fentanyl digitoxin and cyanide can be trickier to find, though not impossible.  Sometimes the poison itself breaks down or is metabolyzed, but leaves footprints in new compounds; for example succinlycholine (an agent that paralyzes muscles and can stop breathing in large doses) breaks down very quickly, but leaves detectable levels of succinlymoncholine in its place.

Carbon monoxide can be tricky to administer in open spaces; antifreeze (ethylene glycol) while certainly fatal, is hard to administer in large doses (people tend to vomit it up.)

Powerful tools such as chromatography and mass spectrometry greatly expand what might be found – but often with the most volatile compounds only within a limited period.  Cocaine can rapidly hydrolyze in unpreserved blood, and Ketamine dissipates even faster.

What will the 3 cc’s of Robert’s blood tell us in the coming weeks, or will it go the way of the missing BlackBerry – of little help to either the prosecution or defense, and of little help in explaining what happened that evening?

-posted by Doug

28 comments for “Blood From A Stone

  1. CDinDC
    08/12/2009 at 2:48 PM

    3 ccs. Wow. (that’s a little more than 1/2 a teaspoon)

    I’ve often thought that the small blood sample was due to a lack of available blood in Robert’s body. But I don’t recall reading in the autopsy notes in the affidavit whether there was any significant lack of blood in Robert’s body.

    3 ccs is an incredibly small amount considering 50-100 mL is the suggested amount saved from an autopsy (50 mL = about 10 teaspoons).

    I also don’t recall whether any other samples were taken. Urine. Organ tissue. Tissue from the injections sites.

    I find this rather astounding considering the M.E. noted the obvious injection sites on Robert’s body.

  2. Anonymous in DC
    08/12/2009 at 3:46 PM

    Wonder if they wanted him to bleed out, so there wasn’t much blood left to test? For some reason it seems like something Price might think of. It will be interesting to see what the testimony of the ME is on this point.

  3. Bea
    08/12/2009 at 4:39 PM

    I recall reference to the blood in the duodenum – don’t know if this renders it “unworthy” of testing, but it would appear that there must’ve been far more blood than this to “collect”. It blows the mind. WH, you’re the doc if I recall correctly – would the duodenum blood have been tainted or otherwise unsuitable?

    • CDinDC
      08/12/2009 at 6:23 PM

      Blood from the femoral artery or heart ventricals would typically be used for toxicology.

      Urine, bile, eye fluids are also body fluids collected for toxicology testing. And it’s not apparent from the autopsy notes in the affidavit if these were collected.

      Echoing Bea….what say you, WH, about the duodenum contents. What kind of testing would be done on that? Other than visual inspection for pills, food, etc.

    • Doug
      08/13/2009 at 10:09 AM

      Unfortunately Bea, standard procedure is that any fluids such as that are removed and replaced with formaldehyde or other embalming liquids, so if it wasn’t tested then, there’s nothing left to test now.
      -Doug, co-editor

      • CDinDC
        08/13/2009 at 11:04 AM

        Embalming would be done at the funeral home.

        However, the ME should have taken multiple samples such as urine, bile, etc. Not just blood. This WAS a murder. Not a natural death.

        Given the fact that there were injection marks present, I would hope she did that. But it seems as though she didn’t.

        What’s up with that, Medical Examiner?

        • Craig
          08/13/2009 at 12:01 PM

          CD – A call into the DC Medical Examiners office this morning confirms that Dr. Goslinoski remains the Deputy Chief.

          • CDinDC
            08/13/2009 at 12:56 PM

            Well, hopefully, the next time she sees INJECTION MARKS, she’ll take as many samples as possible.

            Let’s JUST HOPE that somewhere down the line, we hear that she did that in this case. (I’m not holding my breath though….you’d think something would have been said in one of the hearings by now.)

            • Clio
              08/13/2009 at 9:05 PM

              Editors, you said that 3cc of blood is all that remains to be tested, “barring exhumation?” Is exhumation off the table, or is it even worth the effort? Is there, as Doug has noted, nothing at all — nada — left to test because of the embalming process? (Forgive me, fellow commentators, if these questions are too dumb or insensitive: I am obviously not a scientist.)

              • CDinDC
                08/13/2009 at 10:23 PM

                Clio, I read on the internet that the embalming process slows the decomposition process. And, depending on how well the embalming process was, as well as the quality of the vault and casket, a corpse can still be viewable at this point.

                Apparently, according to an article I found, a body can be exhumed 3 years later and tested for drugs. In Nevada, after the death of the Nevada State Controller, Kathy Augustine, the police department had Augustine’s 2nd husband exhumed to be tested for drugs, believing that Augustine’s 3rd husband poisoned both Augustine and her 2nd husband (3 years apart). No drugs were found, but it shows that toxicology testing can be done on a body that has been interred for 3 years.

                • CDinDC
                  08/13/2009 at 10:30 PM

                  I might add that the reason no drugs were found was because they determined that he died of natural causes (i.e., heart disease and pneumonia.) No drugs were present.

  4. former crackho
    08/12/2009 at 6:10 PM

    I am truly starting to believe that the entire MPD is run by the gay mafia and Price is the Godfather, or Godmother, if you will.

    What kind of connections does this guy have? I’m not conspiracy theorist, but damn….its really getting hard not to be.

    But there is something…something that everyone is overlooking. And I truly believe that it will be discovered. Honestly, I got interested in this case in the beginning because of its salacious nature. I even thought for a bit that Robert may have been involved with the “activities” at first. But this isn’t true – I know that he was truly a victim and a good man, and he deserves more justice than this.

    I can’t even blame the drugs – I did a whole shitload of stuff and the thought of harming a friend never entered my mind. Anyway, its just really bothering me today. This is all just so wrong. But, as it always does, Karma will right the injustice in its own way, on its own time.

    • AnnaZed
      08/19/2009 at 1:28 AM

      I just read your post former crackho, I know, the whole thing is so sad and pointless. Still, I don’t think Joe Price has great pull or that anything is being concealed. Sadly, I think that if anyone has (or had) pull, it was Robert ~ who was well connected. the sad truth is that this is looking increasingly like a tale of incompetence on the part of the MPD more than anything else. I alas do not have your faith in Karma. I wish that I did.

      As to your own experiences while under the influence, I believe you when you say that you never considered harming anyone, but you don’t seem to be mentally unhinged either. Someone (or two someones) in that house certainly was mentally off of the bell curve or none of this would have happened. Drug and alcohol abuse does amplify mental instability and disinhibit behavior. Ergo; if you are already something of an evil bastard those habits will make you worse and make you more inclined to just go through with whatever stupid, ugly or homicidal plans are peculating in your mind. That is to say that not all (or even most) drug addicts and alcoholics are potential killers but that an overwhelming number of killers are substance abusers.

      • CDinDC
        08/19/2009 at 7:36 AM

        AnnaZed says: ” if you are already something of an evil bastard ”

        agree 100%

  5. WH
    08/13/2009 at 1:47 PM

    Thanks for the questions, guys. I don’t believe blood found in the duodenum would be suitable for testing, as it would be contaminated with gastrointestinal secretions and contents and possibly clotted.

    It’s not clear to me why so little blood is available for testing. The only explanation that makes sense to me is that very little unclotted blood was available when the specimens were obtained (i.e. they could not get any more), or that some blood specimens were lost/damaged. I cannot imagine the medical examiner in a forensic case like this preserving so little blood purposefully.

    Again to reiterate for those who may not follow this site closely–I am a physician but not a forensic pathologist or even a pathologist at all, so I’m poorly credentialed to answer these questions. (That won’t stop me from trying anyway though! What kind of doc would I be without an ego?) Why doesn’t anyone ever ask me about something I know about, like multi-drug resistant Acinetobacter wound infections???

    • Bea
      08/13/2009 at 2:05 PM

      I just hate it when I have a drug resistant Acinetobacter wound infection!

      • CDinDC
        08/13/2009 at 3:12 PM

        Oh my. “drug resistant”

        WH, could lack of blood in Robert’s body have been a reason for such a small sample? He was stabbed in the heart.

        • WH
          08/14/2009 at 1:44 PM

          It is possible, CD, that he could have bled so much that the examiner had difficulty obtaining additional specimens that were usable (i.e. not clotted nor contaminated). Seems unlikely though, given the other findings at the scene (lack of blood anywhere).

          I still think Robert’s heart had already stopped when the stabbing occurred, or else there would have been much more blood at the scene (I just don’t see how they could clean it up so quickly, even by using a bathtub or going outside, spiders notwithstanding. Tarps are still a possibility, I suppose, but where did they go and with whom?). If we assume that Robert’s heart stopped before the stabbing, then it would be impossible for them to exsanguinate him with the stab wounds.

          If I am incorrect, and Robert was stabbed while his heart still beat, then he could have bled out, but we have a VERY well cleaned crime scene and an impossible timeline. Again, even with tarps I find it hard to believe the scene could be that clean (thinking back to the amount of blood spatter found on the furniture, walls, floor and even ceiling when I was stabbed twice in the abdomen in my bedroom–I did not have the foresight to place tarps down before this inconsiderate surprise visitor arrived, but if I had they would not have contained all the mess). This case just refuses to make sense from all angles at once.

          • CDinDC
            08/14/2009 at 2:02 PM

            WH, I still support the theory that Robert may have bled out in the bathroom. That’s why there is no blood evidence in the bedroom. (In addition to the pristine state of the bed sheets he was laying on.)

            I do recall seeing a photograph in the Legal Times newspaper. A bathroom photo. It appears there had been blood on the side of the tub.

            • CDinDC
              08/14/2009 at 2:04 PM

              Oh, also, remember our conversation about blood in the duodenum? Two feet into the duodenum.. As we discussed, this would indicate that he was alive for a while after he was stabbed.

              • WH
                08/14/2009 at 2:15 PM

                Possibly, but recall my alternative theory that the blood could have drained into the duodenum by gravity during manipulation, clean-up, and repositioning of the body after death. No peristalsis necessary! Not implying that this is more likely, only possible.

                • CDinDC
                  08/14/2009 at 2:18 PM

                  Ahhh….that’s right. Forgot about that, WH!

  6. Clio
    08/13/2009 at 7:46 PM

    I’m afraid that most nonusers are still stuck in the 1980s, when it comes to the latest designer drugs. I know that I am. So Judge Weisberg may not be alone. I just hope that a future jury does not become hung because “she blinded me with science!,” as that catch phrase from an especially insipid teen movie of a generation ago put it.

  7. Laura
    08/14/2009 at 1:23 AM

    How about a plain old hair test? They’re pretty accurate — no speculation there. All addictive drugs boil down to about 5-6 categories in the end — hair analysis is way more accurate than blood or urine testing. Do it!

    Was RW using any category of drug? I doubt it. Hard to know, but easy to disprove if you have a bit of hair to work with….

    Good luck all.

  8. themis
    08/17/2009 at 6:35 PM

    Robert was autopsied less than 8 hourse after his death. If his body contained an unexpectedly low level of blood, the examiner should have noted that fact. Similarly, if the blood was too clotted to draw for sampling purposes, that fact should have been noted as well. I would not be surprised to find out that samples were lost or improperly consumed.

    Another issue that comes to mind is how long after the autopsy Robert’s body was released by the ME’s office. Sometimes, the original ME or verifying ME will go back afterward and notice additional information. Or they will notice things on photos or video from the autopsy not previously noted. Autopsies and cause of death determinations do not take place in a vacuum. ME’s opinions are often informed by extrinsic evidence, which is why an ME may change his or her mind when confronted with new or different evidence.

    Finally, remember that we only have the summary and not the full autopsy.

    • CDinDC
      08/17/2009 at 7:13 PM

      Themis, is it difficult to get a copy of an full autopsy report? Are they usually held as “confidential” or can they be obtained through “FOA”?

      • Nelly
        08/17/2009 at 11:39 PM

        They won’t release an autopsy report in a homicide case, even under FOIA.

        • CDinDC
          08/18/2009 at 8:52 AM

          Bummer.

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