Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Subject: Circumstantial Evidence

There's been a great deal of debate on this blog and elsewhere about the evidence against Dr. Bruce Ivins in the anthrax letter case.  Anthrax Truthers endlessly argue that if an item of evidence by itself does not prove Ivins was the anthrax killer, then it's not admissible evidence. They'll examine item by item and say, "This doesn't prove Ivins was guilty."

No matter how many times I point out that it is not any single item of evidence, it is the mountain of evidence that says that Ivins made the anthrax powders and mailed the letters, the argument always returns to the Anthrax Truthers pointing to a single item of evidence and saying it doesn't Ivins was guilty.

Here's the definition of "circumstantial evidence" from one on-line legal dictionary.
"circumstantial evidence n. evidence in a trial which is not directly from an eyewitness or participant and requires some reasoning to prove a fact. There is a public perception that such evidence is weak ("all they have is circumstantial evidence"), but the probable conclusion from the circumstances may be so strong that there can be little doubt as to a vital fact ("beyond a reasonable doubt" in a criminal case...)
On my web site I have two lists of evidence.  Click HERE for a list of evidence against Dr. Ivins and the counter arguments from Anthrax Truthers who claim that none of it means anything.

Here are a few of the items of circumstantial evidence from the list at the top of my web site:
Dr. Ivins was in charge of the RMR-1029 flask containing the "mother" spores which produced the attack anthrax "daughter" spores.  He was in charge of "the murder weapon."
Dr. Ivins tried to destroy "smoking gun" evidence that he had encoded a hidden message inside the media letters, but the evidence was recovered and clearly points to Dr. Ivins as the anthrax mailer. 
Dr. Ivins had worked with Bacillus anthracis for over 20 years and had all the necessary expertise and equipment to prepare the spores in the anthrax letters.  He could routinely make a trillion spores a week.
Dr. Ivins worked alone and unsupervised in his lab for long hours at night and on weekends during the time the attack anthrax would have been prepared.

Dr. Ivins had no scientific reason or verifiable explanation for working those hours or at those times, and working such hours was not usual for him.

In December of 2001, Dr. Ivins secretly swabbed and bleached more than 20 areas in his lab, destroying possible evidence.   In April of 2002, he did it again.  Both cleanings were unauthorized and against protocol.  His explanations for doing it were contradictory to his actions.
Investigators examined another flask of Ames anthrax spores created by Dr. Ivins and found that a percentage of the spores in flask RMR-1030 contained silicon just like what was in the attack spores.
Dr. Ivins had multiple motives for sending the anthrax letters.

Dr. Ivins tried various ways to mislead investigators when they started to suspect him.
Dr. Ivins had no verifiable alibi for the times when he could have driven to New Jersey to mail the letters.
Here's more information about "Circumstantial Evidence":
Circumstantial evidence is evidence in which an inference is required to connect it to a conclusion of fact, like a fingerprint at the scene of a crime. By contrast, direct evidence supports the truth of an assertion directly—i.e., without need for any additional evidence or the intervening inference.
On its own, it is the nature of circumstantial evidence for more than one explanation to still be possible. Inference from one piece of circumstantial evidence may not guarantee accuracy. Circumstantial evidence usually accumulates into a collection, so that the pieces then become corroborating evidence. Together, they may more strongly support one particular inference over another. An explanation involving circumstantial evidence becomes more valid as proof of a fact when the alternative explanations have been ruled out.
Circumstantial evidence allows a trier of fact to deduce a fact exists.  In criminal law, the inference is made by the trier of facts in order to support the truth of assertion (of guilt or absence of guilt).
And a definition from another on-line dictionary:
Circumstantial Evidence: Evidence not bearing directly on the fact in dispute but on various attendant circumstances from which the judge or jury might infer the occurrence of the fact in dispute. 


  1. The uncontradicted direct evidence is that Dr. Ivins did not have access to any First Grader who he persuaded to write the Fall 2001 anthrax mailings. There is no circumstantial evidence supporting your claim that he did.

  2. Anonymous wrote: "The uncontradicted direct evidence is that Dr. Ivins did not have access to any First Grader who he persuaded to write the Fall 2001 anthrax mailings. There is no circumstantial evidence supporting your claim that he did."

    The FACTS contradict any claim that Ivins did not have access to a first grader.

    The FACTS say Dr. Ivins was the anthrax killer.

    The FACTS say that a child wrote the anthrax letters and envelopes.

    Ergo, the FACTS say that Ivins used a child to write the letters and address the envelopes.

    A claim that someone was NOT AWARE of any way Ivins could have had access to a child is NOT EVIDENCE that can contradict the facts. The people making such claims were also totally unaware that Ivins was making long trips to commit burglaries; they were unaware that he had an obsession with the KKG sorority; they were even unaware of where he went when he left the house at night. So, Ivins was a doing lot of things that his friends and relatives were totally unaware of.


  3. I think it is big of you, Ed, to concede that Dr. Ivins did not write the Fall 2001 anthrax mailings. A smaller man would have sought to overlook the handwriting evidence.

  4. Anonymous wrote: "I think it is big of you, Ed, to concede that Dr. Ivins did not write the Fall 2001 anthrax mailings."

    The facts say that Ivins probably wrote the DATE on the media letter, and, of course, he composed the text and encoded the hidden message within the media letter. All the writer did was copy what Ivins had prepared for him to copy.


  5. I think we have established that the writer of the letter -- under your argument -- just learned to write. And we know that Dr. Ivins knew how to write and therefore did not write the letters.

    I think it is great everyone can agree on this important issue.

  6. Anonymous wrote: "I think it is great everyone can agree on this important issue."

    Not everyone agrees. Just you, me and probably Mr. Rowley.


  7. I agree that Ivins had no role in the printing.

  8. Okay, we've been over the material of the meaning of "circumstantial" before. It's best to come to the matter in concrete terms...

    I mentioned on the other thread that I had recently developed the habit of at least occasionally looking up serial murder cases on youtube. To my astonishment there is an array of decent TV shows/documentaries etc. with different cases on youtube.

    One that caught my attention in the past 2 or 3 weeks (only seen it the one time though!) has to do with a high-ranking Canadian Air Force officer who had a sort of parallel life as a serial offender (break-ins, rapes, eventually a couple of murders). His name is David Russell Williams and the youtube interview of him is here:

    Though it's a VERY long video (2 hrs. 39 minutes and change), it's a masterful performance by the investigator, ????? Smith.

    Anyway, the reason I bring it up here is: when the interview BEGINS (things are very different at the end), unless I missed something, there are only two skeins of evidence pointing toward Williams, both circumstantial.

    Those are: the night of one murder some motorist passing by the (isolated) house of the victim saw an SUV in a field on the opposite side of the road. Eventually, after the murder, this was reported. Investigators found very good SUV tire tracks and recorded them to try to make a match. Later they set up a roadblock to stop vehicles in order to take tire impressions from them. Williams, who lived in the area, was stopped, his SUV's tires examined to that end. Later this proved to be a match to the tires that left the tracks in the field. Circumstantial evidence #1.

    The other bit was the pattern of where all the break-ins (and related crimes) were occurring: they were clustered around the house that Williams and his wife lived in. But Williams' house was never broken into. Circumstantial evidence #2.

  9. Part II
    So, unless I missed something ONLY those two pieces of evidence connected Williams to the crime(s). Totally circumstantial. Perhaps explicable in other terms. (But as the interview wears on
    things change: the fool has worn the very same boots he was wearing on breaking into the house to the interview!)

    For instance, Williams could have been having an extramarital affair with the victim and could have been visiting her on a tryst when he parked in that field.
    The fact that his own house had never been broken into, while neighboring houses in all directions had, could have been purest coincidence. Or could have been because the physical security built into his house was better than most.

    The interviewer tries to make sure that bit #1 isn't due to some extramartal affair/other relationship Williams had with the victim. Williams denies any such relationship, denies ever parking in the field.
    So both pieces of evidence at the beginning of the interview are circumstantial. But they aren't any-old circumstantial, they are directly linked to the crime/crimes in question. The SUV parked in the field the night of the murder is tightly connected chronologically and spatially to the crime occurence/scene.
    The other piece of evidence is essentially just a sketch (shown on the video) of how so many crime scenes, of crimes believed done by the same perp, cluster, and cluster around Williams' house which remains untouched.

    Therefore the investigator's suspicions that Williams was the perp, though they are based only on those two things, are justified: these are circumstantial items that are tightly connected to the crime scene(s): chronologically and physically.
    I see no analogues to these things in the Amerithrax Case.

  10. R. Rowley wrote: "I see no analogues to these things in the Amerithrax Case."

    That's probably because the Amerithrax case was "A Crime Unlike Any Other." :-)


  11. That's probably because the Amerithrax case was "A Crime Unlike Any Other." :-)
    Hurrah! We agree! :-) (But I'm sure it's just a coincidence!)