UT Scientist Says Forensics Crucial to Levy Case

(Please note: The accompanying audio is with Dr. Bill Bass, retired UT anthropology professor, not Dr. Murray Marks.)

KNOXVILLE — A University of Tennessee forensic anthropologist says forensic science will play a crucial role in the investigation of the death of Washington D.C. congressional intern Chandra Levy.

Dr. Murray Marks, associate director of the Forensic Anthropology Center and associate professor at the University of Tennessee, said forensic techniques used to identify human remains and investigate crimes could determine if Levy died where she was found or if her body was moved after her death.

“The forensic crime scene specialist can discern soil changes, arrangement of bones and entomological evidence to tell if a body decomposed in that location,” Marks said. “A search of the entire location will provide an idea of the relationship between bones and soil, leaf litter and other debris that will indicate the relation of the body to the surrounding area.

“The fact that the location was searched numerous times by humans and cadaver dogs hints that this may be a secondary deposit.”

Washington D.C. police announced Wednesday that skeletal remains found in the city’s Rock Creek Park are those of Levy, who had been reported missing for more than a year.

Marks said forensic investigators also can distinguish damage to Levy’s body caused after death from injuries that occurred before she died.

“Ante mortem, or before death, trauma and postmortem, or after death, trauma are readily distinguished from the skeleton,” Marks said. “The crime scene will help dictate what the remains have been exposed to.

“Also, the condition of the remains will tell us what has happened in the perimortem time frame, which is around the time of death.”

Marks said cut marks, gunshot wounds, blunt force trauma or other potential causes of death can be discerned from examining bones.

“It is possible to murder someone without leaving any skeletal evidence if death is from a soft tissue event, such as an overdose, slashed throat or stabbing between the ribs,” Marks said, “but it is difficult to kill someone without leaving a bullet hole, cut marks or caved-in bone.”

Marks cited a shortage of trained forensic anthropologists to investigate cases such as Levy’s. Only UT and the University of Florida offer Ph.D. programs with specific emphasis on forensic anthropology, he said.

“Criminals are becoming more astute in covering up and disposing of remains,” Marks said. “There are not enough board certified forensic anthropologists to go around. There is plenty of work and will continue to be. However, the job isn’t for the fragile.”

Marks said many of the current forensic investigative methods are taught at UT’s anthropology department and UT’s National Forensic Academy, a 10-week training program designed for law enforcement agencies.

The academy is a partnership of UT-s Law Enforcement Innovation Center, the Department of Anthropology, the State of Tennessee-s Office of Criminal Justice Programs, Knoxville Police Department, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. It is open to all law enforcement agencies in the United States.