I hate flies. Dirty, buzzing flies and their disgusting offspring, maggots. Ugh. You do, too.
Tim Huntington, a Nebraskan who became a witness in the nationally watched Casey Anthony trial, loves them.
“I appreciate them more than most people,” he said. “If you understand their biology, how they work and how they live — how interesting they are anatomically and physiologically. ...
“People don't like maggots, and I don't really get that. They are baby flies. They're like puppies. If you look at them from that perspective, they're really interesting. They're little eating machines. They breathe out of their butts, basically. They are cool.”
If you're reading about maggots over your Sunday breakfast, I apologize. But pour another cup of coffee, and I'll tell you a fascinating story of a young professor who found himself in the middle of a national controversy — and who speaks frankly about it.
The prosecution, Tim says, badgered him during his honest testimony, even screaming at him. HLN cable network commentator Nancy Grace, he says, is “an idiot.” He received criticism — and some praise — from the public.
“I expected the negative feedback and the hate mail,” he said. “It probably just comes with this kind of case.”
As a result of his eight hours on the stand on June 17, he gets noticed in stores and airports. “But I'm sure I'll soon fade back into obscurity.”
Maybe not. Dr. Huntington, 31, an assistant professor at Concordia University in Seward, Neb., is one of only 13 board-certified forensic entomologists in the U.S. — and the youngest. He is a bug expert in death cases.
At the trial, he testified that the lack of hundreds of dead flies in the trunk of Anthony's car or elsewhere in the vehicle — there were very few — meant that there probably was never a body in the trunk. (The girl's remains were found elsewhere, but the prosecution argued the body had been hidden in the trunk.)
The stench in the trunk, Huntington testifed, came from a bag of trash, not from the decomposing body of the woman's 2½-year-old daughter.
Anthony was acquitted of a murder charge and convicted of lying. (Because of time served, she will be released from jail next Sunday.) Huntington said he doesn't know how much his testimony influenced jurors.
A point of contention for his critics was that, as a test in Nebraska, he had placed a pig carcass in a trunk to see how quickly flies could get in. Forensic entomologists, he said, often use pigs as surrogates for human bodies.
Said Huntington: “When Nancy Grace says the test is only valid if you use the body of a 2½-year-old girl, she's an idiot.”
How did interest in the Casey Anthony case become national, like the O.J. Simpson trial? Grace, apparently, first stirred up interest and then other TV networks and media sites joined in.
Eileen Wirth, chairwoman of Creighton University's department of journalism, media and computing, said she was surprised at the wide coverage. She concluded that for many viewers, it must have been like reading an intriguing mystery novel, “a good summer diversion.”
Wirth didn't follow the case closely. (Nor did I.) Interest in the 1995 Simpson trial was more understandable, she said, because he was already famous. Nancy Grace apparently helped make Casey Anthony famous — and then was outraged that Anthony, like Simpson, was acquitted of a murder charge.
The fact that a darling child had died, Wirth said, no doubt created interest. Cameras in the courtroom, websites, a 24/7 news cycle and the fact that everyone can comment daily on social-media sites, she said, also probably raised the profile of the case.
Huntington said that based purely on evidence presented, he agrees with the jury's acquittal of Anthony.
“It's hard to look at this case and not get emotional about it,” he said. “I have a little girl (now 2½) and a son. Every parent looks at this case and thinks, ‘How could this possibly happen? What was she thinking?' I don't know if she did it. It's obvious she did something, but there's nothing there that actually links it together.”
The professor grew up in Indianapolis, and from age 16 through college helped retrieve bodies for a mortuary. He likes to hunt and fish, and wanted to be a conservation officer.
His father was from Wymore, Neb., and so he went to college in Nebraska at Concordia. He earned his master's and Ph.D. from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Much of his forensics work has to do with determining time of death, and insects tell the story.
“When anything dies, it gets eaten,” he said. “That's what decomposition is — the process of being eaten.”
Because insects, especially flies, get to a body so quickly after death, he said, their age and development closely coincide with the time of death.
“The more you learn about it, the more fascinating it gets,” Huntington said. “It sounds weird to say, but it really is absolutely fascinating how insects interact with decomposition.”
Yes, he loves flies and their babies, but he's not fond of all insects. “I hate mosquitoes. I itch really bad.”
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