“Have you held office in any of those associations?”

I listed them.

“Are you certified by any regulatory body?”

“I am certified by the American Board of Forensic Anthropology.”

“Please tell the court what that means.”

I described the process of application, the examination, the ethics review, and explained the importance of certifying boards in assessing the competence of those offering themselves as experts.

“In addition to the medicolegal labs in Quebec and North Carolina, is there any other context in which you practice your profession?”

“I have worked for the United Nations, for the United States Military Central Identification Laboratory in Honolulu, Hawaii, as an instructor at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia, and as an instructor at the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Training Academy in Ottawa, Ontario. I am a member of a United States National Disaster Mortuary Response Team. On occasion I consult for private clients.”

The jury sat motionless, either fascinated or comatose. Petit’s lawyer was taking no notes.

“Please tell us, Dr. Brennan. What does a forensic anthropologist do?”

I spoke directly to the jury.

“Forensic anthropologists are specialists in the human skeleton. We are brought into cases, usually, though not always, by pathologists. Our expertise is sought when a normal autopsy, focusing on organs and soft tissue, either is not possible or is severely limited and the bones must be examined for answers to crucial questions.”

“What types of questions?”

“The questions usually focus on identity, manner of death, and postmortem mutilation or other damage.”

“How do you help with questions of identity?”

“By examining skeletal remains I am able to provide a biological profile, including the age, sex, race, and height of the deceased. In certain cases I am able to compare anatomical landmarks observed on an unknown individual with similar landmarks visible on the ante-mortem X-rays of a known individual.”

“Aren’t most identifications accomplished using fingerprints, dental records, or DNA?”

“Yes. But to utilize dental or medical information it is first necessary to narrow the number of possibles to the smallest ascertainable sample. With the anthropological profile, an investigating officer can review missing persons reports, come up with names, and obtain individual records for comparison with the data associated with the discovered remains. We often provide the first level of analysis of a completely unknown set of remains.”

“How do you help with questions concerning manner of death?”

“By analyzing fracture patterns, forensic anthropologists are able to reconstruct events that caused particular traumas.”

“What types of trauma do you typically examine, Dr. Brennan?”

“Gunshot. Sharp instrument. Blunt instrument. Strangulation. But again, let me emphasize that this expertise would be requested only in situations in which the body was compromised to the point that those questions cannot be answered through soft tissue and organ examination solely.”

“What do you mean by compromised?”

“A body that is decomposed, burned, mummified, skeletal—”



“Thank you.”

The jury had definitely perked up. Three stared wide-eyed. A woman in the back row held a hand to her mouth.

“Have you previously been qualified by the courts of Quebec Province and elsewhere to serve as an expert witness in criminal trials?”

“Yes. Many times.”

Cloutier turned to the judge.

“Your Honor, we tender Dr. Temperance Brennan as an expert in the field of forensic anthropology.”

The defense raised no objection.

We were off.

By mid-afternoon Cloutier had finished with me. As opposing counsel rose, I felt my stomach tighten.

Here comes rough water, I thought. Mischaracterization, incredulity, and general nastiness.

Petit’s attorney was organized and civil.

And finished by five.

As things turned out, his cross-examination was nothing compared with the nastiness I would encounter in dealing with the pizza basement bones.

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