Thursday, January 24, 2008

Conclusion: Homicide

I returned to work after the holidays and was thrilled to find out that I have been made the assistant to the two laboratory directors. This means that I will be working directly under two very talented forensic anthropologists to assist them in analyzing cases and carry out research to increase the accuracy of our forensic findings.

A couple weeks ago, the FAFG received its first case from the new government agency, INACIF (the National Institute for Forensic Sciences). Human skeletal remains were found scattered in the woods of a small town about an hour’s drive from Guatemala City. There wasn’t much left of the body; only the skull, hip bones, and some arm and leg bones remained. They all had signs of severe animal chewing, most likely by dogs, but because the skull and hip bones were still well intact, it was easy for us to create a biological profile for this individual. (Thanks, dogs!). The bones had small maggots crawling throughout them, which we sent off to a lab to be tested by an entomologist. This will allow us to determine the minimum time since death based on the stage of life of the maggots.

The individual turned out to be a man in his 30s or early 40s who had been struck at least three times: once in the left side of his jaw, another time on the left side of his head, and once on his left forearm (radius). The latter was probably a defense wound, which meant that the man put up a fight. Regardless, we found enough evidence to conclude that this was indeed a homicide.

As interesting as this case was, it was a grave reminder for me of the violence that persists in Guatemala more than 11 years after the signing of the Peace Accords (December 1996). War powers that were never fully dismantled after the conflict – despite the recommendations of the Peace Accords – combined with a barely functional judicial system and police force, have left Guatemala violent and relatively unstable. It is sometimes easy to ignore this, especially for the hundreds of thousands of tourists that visit Guatemala each year, but a quick glimpse at a newspaper gives a stark view of what’s actually happening.

The level of violence in the country, especially here in Guatemala City, is felt by all who live here, including me. Fortunately I have had no problems to date, but I take many precautions with regards to when and where I go in the city. Three months of this has left me tired and feeling a bit trapped! I simply don’t have the freedom that I do in DC. But I just joined a women’s soccer team with a dedicated coach that practices three times a week, so that´s providing me with just the outlet I needed.

4 comments:

claire said...

Another excellent blog post! So the case that you were working on of the man, was his a recent death? What is this new commission that you were mentioning in your last e-mail?

Reza said...

Dear Jen,
You really put in print what I only dare to think. Brave woman!
Love Reza

D. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
D. said...

A question, or a few, if you don't mind.
1) All the bodies your arch team exhumes are completely skeletonized? (What is the time-since-death span of the graves you work on?)
2) If so, in the situation of mass graves, how do you ensure the individual's integrity?
3) What do you you use for final identification? DNA? Is final ID something you deal with, since you said some families express no interest (???) in IDing their relatives?

Anyway, just curious. I'm a forensic anthropologist in Bosnia, working mostly on secondary and terciary graves with a lot of commingling, so yeah, just wondering if you guys have it easier than us :)...