- Jim Ferraro
The Defense Acts to Decimate an Expert’s Reputation
As Liz and I sat and listened to toxicology expert Dr. Vyvyan Howard, who after providing testimony on our behalf at the Castillo-DuPont trial and had been just subjected to grilling by the defense, I noticed her scribbling on her legal pad.
She often doodled when she got nervous. Liz leaned over and showed me a drawing that appeared to be Dr. Howard on the witness stand, slowly slumping in his chair as Glynn continued with his beat down. I didn’t want to smile at the image she had created, since Dr. Howard was our expert witness, but I couldn’t help myself.
Glynn’s next strategy was to take apart Dr. Howard’s CV or résumé. Actually, he wanted to decimate it. He went down the list organization by organization and credential by credential and did his best to discredit Dr. Howard.
Glwynn asked, “Are you a member of the Society of Toxicology?”
“Are you a member of the American College of Toxicology?”
“No, I am not,” Dr. Howard responded.
“Are you a member of the European Toxicology Society?”
“No, I am not.”
“Are you a member of the European Teratology Society?”
“No, I am not, but if I could just—”
“If the answer is no, just say no.”
Glynn went on, “In the American system, aren’t your teaching credentials really equal to those of an associate professor as opposed to a full professor?”
“It is actually a full faculty member, but yes, that is correct.” “Have you ever taught teratology?”
“I have a number of people who come through the lab who learn how we investigate developmental biology in our laboratory, but we do not have a formal course on teratology in our university, and therefore I have not taught a formal course, so, no.”
I looked back over at Liz, who had drawn yet another cartoon of our witness. This time, Dr. Howard had slumped down further in his seat. His curly hair and glasses were only slightly higher than the top of the microphone he was speaking into. At this point I felt sorry for the guy. I really did. As Glynn moved onto how the Benlate seeped into Donna Castillo’s skin, he delivered his final one-two punch. Dr. Howard had calculated that 50% of her skin had been exposed when she was sprayed. One simple question unraveled that theory.
“Did you ever attempt to measure that?”
“No. I haven’t examined Mrs. Castillo,” Dr. Howard said.
Clearly, if less than 50% of Donna’s skin was exposed, Dr. Howard would have to reduce his calculations, as they were based on the amount of exposed area in square centimeters. Pro rata, that would reduce the total dosage.
Glynn also pointed out that Dr. Howard assumed that Donna would not have showered until the next morning, but he hadn’t taken into consideration the fact that she might have washed her hands and face, which he agreed would also reduce his numbers.
Glynn drilled down on every last detail, even going as far as to ask whether a substance that could cause cell death at 20 parts per billion (PPB) in a petri dish in a laboratory was necessarily a human teratogen.
Dr. Howard’s response was that it depended on the substance and what sort of cell, and, of course, the situation. If it was an embryonic cell, which was likely to be killed during a period of vulnerability while the fetus was developing, then it has implications for teratogenicity.
Being a bit smug, Glynn asked if something like caffeine could cause cell death in human lung tissue in a petri dish.
“If you give enough caffeine, I’m sure it could interfere with the metabolism of a cell enough to kill it, just as sugar would,” said Dr. Howard.
“Does aspirin do that in a laboratory dish?” asked Glynn.
“I’ve never experienced that with aspirin, but it is an acid. I would expect if you put it on in sufficient quantity, you will kill cells, yes.”
“So the real question is in what dose does the human suffer harm, correct?”
“Yes. The difference between the questions you’ve been asking and the answer I’ve been giving is that this actually is known to be a teratogen. The way it works chemically, you would expect it to be a teratogen, and, indeed, in animals we know it is a teratogen.”
Glynn’s questioning and air of superiority went on for hours. Dr. Howard did what he could, but in the end, he wasn’t able to keep up with Glynn as we had hoped.
In my next post, I write about what I did on the redirect to ensure that Dr. Howard’s testimony withstood the onslaught from the defense.
You’ll find much more about the Castillo-DuPont trial, as well as information on my background and my thoughts on aspects of the judicial process, in my book, Blindsided.