A forensic anthropologist working for the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History took the stand as a bone expert witness in the murder trial of a Virginia couple accused of killing their seven-month old son and burying his remains in their backyard. Prosecutors hope to use the disturbing testimony about the condition of the infant’s remains to put the parents behind bars for life as punishment for their extreme child neglect.
Virginia Couple Charged with Death of Infant Son
In 2011, police investigators responding to an alleged burglary found a severely neglected 6-year-old girl in a trailer belonging to Brian and Shannon Gore of Gloucester County, Virginia. The girl was found naked, emaciated, covered in her own feces, and trapped inside an upside-down crib that served as a makeshift cage. The trapped child was the Gore’s daughter, and both parents are currently serving 30-year jail sentences after pleading guilty in 2013 to aggravated malicious wounding and child abuse. While building a case against the Gores for the abuse and neglect of their daughter, investigators also found the remains of an infant buried underneath the shed outside of the couple’s home.
A medical examiner in Richmond determined that the baby was a boy at least 7 months old who had been born to the Gores in 2007 and dead by March of 2008. The medical examiner could not make a determination about cause of death, so prosecutors sent the remains to the Smithsonian team for a complete analysis. After receiving the autopsy results, prosecutors charged the Gores for killing the child by neglecting him, and called the lead researcher from the Smithsonian as a forensic expert witness to explain how the infant died.
Forensic Expert Witness Points to Evidence of Child Neglect
Dr. Douglas Owsley of the Smithsonian Institution took the stand in the Gore’s murder trial to speak for the seven-month infant who never had a chance at life because of the extreme neglect of his parents. Dr. Owsley examined the remains of the infant, and testified that it was his opinion that the baby suffered from extreme malnutrition because he was not getting enough to eat. Although Owsley did not offer a cause of death, his expert testimony suggested that the brittleness of the child’s bones pointed to malnutrition and neglect.
Owsley told jurors that the baby’s bones were thin, fragile, and showing signs of osteoporosis because the body had been forced to rob the skeleton of the nutrients necessary to support the infant’s vital organs. Owsley could not rule out an illness causing the death, but said that the extreme tooth decay and lack of a birth defect pointed towards malnutrition. Further, expert forensic analysis by the Smithsonian team revealed that the boy’s skull was flat in the back, which indicated the child had spent extensive time lying on his back without being cared for. Owsley also testified that the skull had a small fracture because the bone was eroding due to lack of nutrients from food.
Attorneys for the Gores argue that Owsley’s expert testimony is biased against the couple, and based on the treatment of the daughter who was found malnourished and in a cage in the couple’s home. The defense argued that the couple cared for the child, held the body for days after his death, and even fashioned him a coffin to be buried in. Arguing that Owsley relied on questionable evidence, the Gore’s lawyer attempted to discredit his expert opinion and convince jurors that there is insufficient evidence to connect the couple to neglect and child abuse.