Maria Magdalena Rodriguez was found decapitated in 2010 about a month after she was reported missing. Her skull was found in a separate location 3 years later. Her husband Juan Carlos Rodriguez, 38, is facing the death penalty if convicted of her murder. One of the main issues in the trial is the time of death. Arpad Vass was supposed to be called by the prosecution as an expert witness. Vass had testified controversially in the Casey Anthony capital trial to what the defense called unvalidated scientific opinions or junk science.
Vass used a mathematical formula that he invented to determine Maria Rodriguez’s time of death. The defense said that Vass’ research is not accurate nor scientifically validated and are not meant to be used in a courtroom only in a lab. Rodriguez’s attorneys argue that he was in jail at the time of his wife’s death.
Judge Stuart Albright ruled that Vass’ testimony would be prejudicial, confusing, and potentially misleading and barred him from testifying before the jury. Albright also ordered that prosecutors cannot mention anything about Vass or his research during the trial.
In the Casey Anthony case, Vass had invented a new technique to detect dead bodies as part of a 5 year research endeavor to create a machine that could be sold to police to locate dead bodies. It had one field test prior to the Anthony case where it indicated a dead body where there was none. Vass and his lab assistant also testified to an estimated amount of chloroform, a key element in the prosecution’s case, but admitted that they never did a test that would tell them how much was actually there. Anthony was acquitted in 2011.
Vass’ new formula determined that Rodriguez was killed 18 days before she was found. His calculations are based upon crime scene photos and weather data. Ann Ross, a forensic anthropologist, refuted Vass’ methods and findings. She testified at the hearing that Vass’ methods are not accepted in the scientific community as the most accurate way to determine post-mortem interval, or the amount of time that has passed since death. She said his research lacks scientifically-sound methods and sufficient data. Vass, like in the Anthony case, had never before testified to the evidence.
Since the Anthony case, Florida changed its expert witness admissibility standards from Frye, the method used in the Anthony case, to Daubert. Many supporters of the change say that the new standards will help prevent junk science.