On the first day of direct questioning by the defense team in the trial for Mark Redwine, a forensic anthropologist presented a radically different assessment of Dylan Redwine’s remains than previous expert witnesses.
Contrary to past testimony brought forward by the prosecution, forensic anthropologist Bruce Anderson said a puncture mark on the zygomatic arch, which forms the cheek area of the skull, could have been caused by a wild animal close to the time of death or months after death.
Anderson also said the skull fracture previously deemed a result of blunt force trauma could have happened “days or weeks” after death. A coyote could have caused the damage, as well, Anderson told jurors.
The testimony comes after prosecutors presented nearly three weeks of testimony from family, expert witnesses and wildlife specialists.
Forensic anthropologist Diane France and forensic pathologist Robert Kurtzman previously said the mark on the zygomatic arch was most likely caused by a sharp tool, not from animal activity.
Previous experts told jurors that animal marks appear as U-shaped on bones, while tools or sharp objects appear as V-shaped. Anderson told the court that’s not always the case. For example, the sharp incisors of a coyote or a claw can create a V-shape on the bone, he said.
“There’s going to be some gray area,” Anderson testified. The marks on Dylan’s skull appeared blunt, not sharp, he said.
But Anderson said he couldn’t determine, without a doubt, that a tool didn’t cause the puncture mark on the zygomatic arch.
Redwine is charged with second-degree murder and child abuse resulting in the death of his son, Dylan.
Defense attorneys argue it’s possible Redwine’s 13-year-old son was attacked and killed by a bear or mountain lion in the mountains surrounding the father’s home north of Vallecito Reservoir, 21 miles northeast of Durango.
Redwine has pleaded not guilty.
In the cross-examination, Anderson said he used an eight-power magnifying glass to assess the remains. But usually, in his lab, he uses a 40-power magnifying glass or a 100-power dissection microscope. Anderson told jurors the magnification used was “enough.”
Some of Dylan’s finger and toe bones were found in animal feces, which suggests a coyote consumed the remains, Anderson said.
Some of Dylan’s remains and belongings were found in June 2013, months after the boy first went missing in November 2012. Dylan’s skull was later found in November 2015 by off-trail hikers more than 5 miles from the site of the initial remains.
Anderson testified the longer a body remains in the wilderness, the more likely it is for remains to become separated.
“The more likely critters will get to it, and the more likely different bones will be separated from one another,” he told the court.
But Anderson’s experience in forensic anthropology is in desert regions, not mountainous and rugged terrain. When asked by the prosecution if he is familiar with the area, Anderson replied: “I am not.”
When asked by the prosecution if Dylan’s shoe and sock were consistent with animal scavenging, Anderson refused to answer.
“I'm not gonna do that, counselor; I'm not an expert in this,” he said.
After a back-and-forth between the defense, prosecution and 6th Judicial District Judge Jeffrey Wilson, Anderson was told to answer the question. He told the court the sock appeared intact with no evidence of animal scavenging.
Jerry Apker, a now-retired carnivore biologist with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, told jurors that bears, mountain lions and coyotes don’t move food far from where it was initially found. This is because energy conservation is key, he said.
“You never know when you're going to get your next meal when you're a wild animal,” Apker testified.
Apker said “it’s possible” for a coyote to carry bones and skeletal remains over a mile, but it’s not typical behavior.
“Is it normal for coyotes to carry a bone a long distance? No, it’s not really normal. But is it possible? Certainly is possible, but I can’t give you probabilities or anything like that,” he said.
Before Anderson and Apker took the stand, the defense team hit a roadblock Friday morning when attempting to call a DNA expert witness to testify.
The defense planned to call Phillip Danielson, a previous consultant to National Medical Services, but faced resistance from the prosecution because of issues during a 2015 court hearing in Texas that deemed Danielson didn’t practice DNA analysis in accordance with accepted practices.
The hearing, which focused on inaccurate testing of DNA and misinterpretation of results, “significantly undermined” Danielson’s credibility, according to the report by the Texas Forensic Science Commission.
Danielson did not cite peer-reviewed journals or texts in the 2015 proceedings and inaccurately presented DNA concepts.
“I am not happy to have this just before he testifies, because it is unfair to the court,” Judge Wilson said. “It’s just inviting error; it’s something that should have been litigated beforehand.”
The defense faced more opposition when animal behaviorist James Ha with the University of Washington took the stand. The prosecution says reports and background on Ha’s expertise were never received.
Public Defender John Moran attempted to qualify Ha as an expert in zoology, animal behavior, animal sensing and human remains detection, which was objected to by the prosecution.
The central issue was Ha’s unclear background in dog handling, which prosecutor Fred Johnson says he was unaware of until Moran began questioning.
“All of these things that are coming up are new, and I asked in advance so Mr. Moran could be organized and could provide those materials so we weren’t in the situation we’re in right now,” Johnson told Wilson. “Instead, he chose a different path.”
Johnson questioned Ha about his experience related to dog handling and objected to Ha’s testimony as an expert witness in the field. Wilson allowed Ha to testify about animal behavior and the technicalities behind human remains detection, narcotics and trailing.
Ha has never been a dog handler, handled a dog in a search and rescue scenario, trained a human remains detection dog, certified a dog in detection or conducted research on dog handling. But Ha “trained the trainers,” or dog handlers themselves, in the underlying biology of dogs.
He also helps reduce the rates of “false-positive” responses from dogs, which is when dogs signify a smell of remains when there is no odor or presence of a body. This can happen as a result of subconscious cueing to the dog, Ha said.
Scent lineup, or comparing scents in a small location, is difficult, Ha said. On Thursday, dog handler Rae Randolph testified about an experiment with her dog, Sayla, in 2012 using a scent lineup on items belonging to Dylan.
At the time, some law-enforcement officials believed a pillowcase provided by Redwine didn’t have Dylan’s scent because several dogs had no luck picking up a trail of where the boy may have gone.
“The scent lineup is a very different cognitive test,” Ha said. “The scent lineup requires a very different kind of training.”
Randolph set up evidence in a grid-like fashion, and when Sayla was given Dylan’s scent from a separate, known object, she was able to pick up Dylan’s scent and identify additional known items. When Sayla was given just the pillowcase, she was unable to identify items with Dylan’s scent.
Kaela Roeder is an intern for The Durango Herald and The Journal in Cortez and a 2021 graduate of American University in Washington, D.C.