Inconsistencies with “discovery” of bones in burn pit – Steven Avery case

After watching Making a Murderer as a wrongful conviction advocate, I felt compelled to research the case further. I was pleased when the transcripts and reports became publicly available. I’ve focused most of my attention on the credibility of the bonfire story and the discovery, handling, and reporting of the bone evidence. I did so because I found it so difficult to believe that a body was burned in the location alleged — the burn pit behind Steven Avery’s trailer. The photos do not support the claim. My disbelief has been confirmed in my mind by a combination of evolved witness statements and inconsistencies.

It was shocking that no one bothered to document the presence of this very important evidence allegedly found on the Avery property. (The word allegedly wouldn’t need to be stated if they had simply done their job, and photographed and filmed it.) Not a single photo of a bone on site exists, despite the fact that the state crime lab sent photographers to the property. Yet everyone, including the defense team, seemed to accept the word of the investigators, despite the lack of documentation. I will highlight inconsistencies observed as I reviewed the statements and testimony from those involved in the discovery of the bones in the burn pit.

Sergeant Jost, of the Manitowoc Sheriff’s Office was the first to discover the bones in and near the burn pit. This discovery was a huge break in the case, in fact Jost’s report describes the light bulb moment when he realized the burn pit behind Steven Avery’s trailer had been overlooked. His report will be highlighted, but first let’s examine the bonfire story.

Was there a bonfire on 10/31/05?

In an earlier blog article, I highlighted the fact that none of the many initial witnesses interviewed recalled a bonfire that night, but the statements evolved in subsequent interviews. This is one of the clearest examples of an organized effort to coerce the witnesses to offer statements consistent with the official story — that bones were found in the burn pit. Investigators needed the bonfire for their story to work. In later interviews, witnesses changed their statements to reflect observation of a fire in the burn pit, and the fire grew in size on third and fourth interviews. Ultimately everyone accepted that there was a bonfire that night. In fact, in Brendan Dassey’s first interrogation interview, the police told him there was a bonfire that night. It had become a “fact” by then. Please read more about the evolution of statements in this detailed summary here.

This is really important, because the absence of a bonfire that night changes everything. It goes a long way toward refuting the claim that Halbach’s body was burned behind Avery’s trailer, and the lie becomes circumstantial evidence that the discovery of remains on the property was manufactured evidence, just like the key. Many like to claim that the bones were planted, but I go one step further and suggest that they didn’t even need to be planted. Maybe they were never there at all. There is no proof. Someone simply supplied Dr. Eisenberg with a box of bones from who knows where. Done. There is a reason that courts require documentation of evidence and chain of custody. It is too easy for fraud to occur, but no one objected to the inclusion of the evidence, so all of the bonfire/bones testimonies were in.

Here are portions of Jost’s narrative from November 8, 2005:

“>11/08/05@ 1247 Hrs .: I, Sgt. Jost, drove Unit 70 down to that property. I allowed Officer Joanne Mignon to take a break. Officer Mignon gave me the log sheet, and she then drove Unit 70 back to the command post area. While I was waiting for B&M WASTE REMOVAL to return from Green Bay,I walked toward the south encl of the property, still keeping watch on the septic tank. While at the SW corner of the property, I noted the burn pit area which was located to the south of the garage for STEVEN AVERY’S residence.

While I was standing near the SW corner of the STEVEN AVERY property, I noted several items lying within close proximity to the burn pile. The items were as follows:

  • There were numerous rings of wire lying in and around the area of the burn pile. I recognized these as steel beltings from inside tires.
  • There was a tire which had not been burned. This was on the SE corner of the burn pit area.
  • There was a rubber mallet which was on the grass, SE of the pile.
  • There was a metal hammer, believed to be a claw hammer, lying on the ground, NE of the pile.
  • There was a gravel shovel which was tipped upside-down, located on the west side of the pile.
  • There was a burned/charred metal scraper with a wooden handle attached which was laying NE of the pile, on the grass area.

Earlier, when I had been in the command post area, I remembered someone mentioning that JOSHUA RANDANDT had checked on his hunting trailers on Monday evening. He saw there was a large fire burning near STEVEN AVERY’S property. The fire was described as being “larger than usual.”

Let’s examine Josh Radandt’s statements to police.

This information was included in Avery’s recent motion.

Similar to other witnesses, Radandt’s statements evolved. Initially there was only mention of a burn barrel fire, but investigators likely coerced him to modify his statements in a subsequent interview to “open burn pit, large fire.”

Update: Radandt signed a new affidavit in February, 2017 that describes the coercion. If it happened to him, and we know Brendan Dassey was coerced, why stop there? It’s likely ALL the witnesses were coerced about the bonfire.

It is interesting that Jost became suspicious that a body may have been burned in the burn pit based only on a described burn barrel fire. But statements would confirm that Jost’s intuition was right (absent documentation of the findings).

Jost’s statement, continued

I, Sgt. Jost, started to piece all of this information together. I felt this area, if not already looked at, should be checked for any type of evidence. When Officer Mignon returned, I spoke with her about my feelings of the burn pile. She stated she also felt that something was unusual with that area. Upon returning to the command post, I made contact with CASO Lt. Sippel. I explained to him that I felt the burn pit area specifically should be checked further. He responded to the property with me. Without disturbing the area, we walked close to the burn pit to take a further look. I mentioned to
him that due to the aggressiveness of the dog, it was very possible that the other K9 handlers may not have walked their dogs this close to the area. This also may have hindered officers from specifically going to this location.

As we were looking at the ashes lying in the area, it was evident that someone used some type of front end loader to remove ground from this particular location. The ashes were inside this area. As we looked at the ash pile, we observed that there was a bone lying near the south side of the pile, on the east side. Without disturbing the bone, I looked at it as closely as I could. It appeared as though it may have been a vertebrae bone. I could see another bone in the pile. At this time, we decided that someone from the Crime Lab or DCI needed to further investigate the area.

I, Sgt. Jost, remained at the burn pit area. A short time later, I believe it was TOM STURTEVANT from DCI who walked over to the burn pit with one of his female partners. Utilizing a small twig that was present, TOM moved the bone mentioned above. Without touching it, it still appeared to be some type of vertebrae bone. He moved some of the steel belting wires which were located on the east side of the burn pile and found there appeared to be several other items which appeared to be burns. One piece appeared to be in the shape of a part of a skull.

Based on this information, I returned to the command post to speak with the Crime Lab. Members of the Crime Lab responded to the scene. Using their sifting equipment, they sifted through the majority of the burn pile. They located numerous bones and teeth which were present among the ashes. These items were later given to the CASO for processing. No further details to add.

To summarize — Jost thought the burn pit seemed important, he discussed it with Sippel, the two of them walked over to the pit, discovered what appeared to be a vertebrae, Agent Sturdivant showed up, Jost went back to the command center to inform the crime lab of their findings.

Next, let’s look at Sippel’s report.

Lieutenant Sippel of the Calumet Sheriff’s office accompanied Jost to the fire pit. Here is his account of the discovery of bones.

It’s already obvious that their stories are inconsistent. In Sippel’s version, he went to the command post to inform them about the possible bones they’d discovered; Jost remained at the burn pit with Sturdivant.

Finally, let’s look at Sturdivant’s account. Keep in mind that neither Jost or Sippel testified at any of the preliminary hearings or the Avery and Dassey trials, therefore, these inconsistencies would not be brought to light.

Special Agent Sturdivant

Interestingly, Sturdivant describes how he was assigned to look at items of interest, but how was he assigned to look at Jost’s discovery of the bones, when both Jost and Sippel had just discovered them when Sturdivant walked up?

Sturdivant describes a red flag near the bone Jost had discovered. Interestingly, Jost never mentioned placing a red flag to mark the item. Maybe the inconsistent story is the red flag.

Sturdivant claims to have been the one to contact the crime lab unit, and John Ertl testified that he received a call from Sturdivant requesting the sifting equipment. If true, it means that Sippel and Jost did not notify the crime lab of their discovery as they described in their reports. These inconsistencies may seem inconsequential, but it is circumstantial evidence of deception and possible fabricated evidence. This aspect of the investigation should have been memorable to all involved, so why do their stories differ? How was Sturdivant summoned to the location?  Why weren’t Jost and Sippel called to testify?

Is it possible this “discovery” was made up? It’s interesting to note that Sippel described seeing the bones on top of crusted ash. This is circumstantial evidence that they were placed there OR there is also the possibility that the investigators were dishonest, and that no bones were actually found at all. That is the reason documentation is so important. The issues with the bones does not stop here. Please read more about the bone evidence here and here. Thus far, nothing about this case holds up to even a minimum amount of scrutiny.

 

 

 

 

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Scrutinizing the DNA Evidence – Teresa Halbach Investigation

Updated for clarity 8/30/16

My previous article addressed the issues with chain of custody and documentation of the bone evidence. The issues don’t stop there. The testimony and DNA reports contain even more serious concerns about the validity of the bone evidence. Recently Reddit contributor, Amber Lea pointed out major red flags with the way the DNA evidence was presented at trial. Her research indicates that the only bone fragment found with intact tissue was purportedly processed simultaneously in two separate locations at the same time.

Special Prosecutor Ken Kratz displayed this photo during opening arguments and stated that Teresa Halbach’s shin bone was the large bone on the left.

bone fragments

That’s what Kratz asserts, but is there proof that this shin bone was identified as Teresa’s? Two witnesses testified about this key piece of evidence — Dr. Leslie Eisenberg (Forensic Anthropologist) and Sherry Culhane, lab analyst with the Wisconsin crime lab. The photo above was referenced as Exhibit #150 during the Brendan Dassey trial.

First, let’s begin with Dr. Leslie Eisenberg’s testimony about Exhibit #150. Dr. Eisenberg testified that she examined the bone specimens at the Dade County Morgue on November 10, 2005 and discovered the bone with the tissue.

Q All Right. And what is, um, Exhibit 150?

A One-five-zero is a portion of burned human bone that was recovered with other smaller burned human bone fragments and fragments of dried or desiccated human muscle tissue.

Q All right. And is the a fragment that you transferred to the crime lab for DNA analysis?

A That is one of the fragments that I transferred to the Federal Bureau of Investigations for DNA analysis.

During the Avery trial, Dr. Eisenberg testified more affirmatively that she packaged and sent the items directly to the FBI when asked if she sent the items to the crime lab.

Q Now the one we’ve been examining more closely here, is that the bone that you arranged to be sent to the FBI, or excuse me, to the crime lab for further analysis?

A No, the contents of all of the items you see on this screen, this larger bone, which is about two and a half inches long, and some of these other bone fragments and this muscle tissue was packaged by me and transferred directly to the FBI in November of 2005.

So she was clear that the specimens did not go back to the crime lab and that is important.

Note that the FBI referenced the specimen as “charred remains“, rather than “bone fragments“, even though they referred to several subsequent samples that were sent by Dr. Eisenberg as bone fragments.

**Also very important is the evidence that the shin bone referenced in exhibit #150 is referenced as Q1 Charred remains in the FBI document.**

FBI report Q1The trial testimony revealed a contradictory claim about the shin bone fragment. Sherry Culhane testified that she received the bone fragment into her lab on November 11, 2005 and removed a portion of  tissue that she believed was suitable for DNA testing.

A Item BZ was taken into the laboratory on November 11th, 2005.

Q And when you examined this, was it a combination of bone and tissue?

A It appeared to be, yes.

She referenced it in her report as “charred tissue” and labeled it BZ.

Item BZ

Item BZ was the same specimen that Dr. Eisenberg claimed to have shipped to the FBI. How do we know that? This PowerPoint slide which was shown to the jury during Sherry Culhane’s testimony is proof.

Culhane powerpoint bone

Q When you examined this, was this a combination of bone and tissue?

A It appeared to be, yes.

Q And what is shown on the big screen here, which we will later get an exhibit for and mark it, is that the bone and tissue fragment that you examined?

A Yes, it is.

 

 

Sherry Culhane testified that she removed tissue from the very bone that Dr. Eisenberg packaged and shipped directly to the FBI.

A Um, this is a bone fragment here with a piece of charred tissue attached to it. When I sampled this, I took a portion of the tissue that appeared to be least burned towards the bone and that’s what I used for my examination.

Q And did you assign a crime lab designation to this?

A Yes, I did.

Q And what was that?

A Item BZ.

Q And did you conduct DNA testing on this tissue portion of this burned bone fragment?

A Yes I did.

 

What does this mean?

  • The shin bone photograph was used twice at both trials to illustrate how they were able to obtain testable material from a fire that caused such extensive damage that the crowns of the teeth were completely burned; yet the timeline and circumstances of the handling of the only tissue found on that single bone do not add up. Dr. Eisenberg stated that she sent it directly to the FBI. How could that be? Did Culhane receive the tissue/bone specimen before Dr. Eisenberg even identified it as human? If Culhane removed a section from it before Dr. Eisenberg received it, she would have been doing so with no confirmation that the bone was even human. She would have also been altering evidence before Dr. Eisenberg would have had a chance to examine it. It wouldn’t make sense.
  • Both the Wisconsin Crime Lab and the FBI characterized the specimen as  “charred tissue/remains,” even though it was described by Dr. Eisenberg as a “two-and-a half inch fragment of shin bone with intact tissue”. This is very suspicious in light of the fact that there are already obvious issues with the handling of the bones alleged to have been discovered on the Avery property.
  • Once again we are left with an enormous question mark related to the bones, the DNA and the identification of the victim. In fact, the absence of any characterization of a bone fragment in the lab reports could indicate that there were no bones at all! Perhaps the prosecution felt they needed to present solid proof that a bone from the pit was definitively identified as Teresa’s, and if there were no bones, maybe they had to get creative. Maybe there is nothing more than the photo of the shin bone of unknown origin and the box of bones, which by the way look very similar to pig bones.
bones3
Bones in Halbach investigation
Pig bones
Pig bones
  • One has to wonder where the tissue came from. Did the crime lab and FBI in fact test sections of the golf ball sized tissue alleged to have been discovered by Agent Pevytoe?

Pevytoe charred tissue

Summary of the bone discovery, collection and processing:

MTSO Deputy Jost finds 1 inch object believed to be a bone (11/8/05) 

Investigators dig up the burn pit, transfer everything to the Calumet SO (11/8/05)

Box of bones are transferred to Dr. Eisenberg (11/9/05)

Agent Pevytoe finds golf ball sized piece of charred tissue while examining debris at Calumet Sheriff’s Office (11/10/05)

Dr. Eisenberg examines bones at Dade County Morgue, identifies shin bone with charred, attached muscle – sends it to FBI (11/10/05)

Sherry Culhane claims to somehow receive same shin bone with charred, attached muscle, labels it item BZ (11/11/05) and reports that a partial profile was obtained and that seven markers matched Teresa Halbach’s profile.

 

There’s a lot of confusion and misinformation about the bone/tissue DNA evidence and exactly which types of tests were performed. There were three separate sets of specimens submitted for DNA identifications — one went to the Wisconsin crime lab, and two separate sets of specimens went to the FBI.

  1. We really don’t know where item BZ came from. We do however know that the reported result of the STR DNA test was grossly misstated. The reported “partial profile”  — 7 of 16 locations should have been recorded as “inconclusive” because it was an indication that the test didn’t work — the sample was too degraded to trust the result. Instead, it was reported that since seven alleles matched the standard profile, statistics indicate that only one person of a billion would have that partial profile in a Caucasian population. It was suggested that although it was not a conclusive match, it was very unlikely that the specimen could have originated from anyone beside Teresa. This was very misleading, but the defense never refuted it.

DNA stat

DNA pic

2. The FBI received charred remains purportedly from the shin bone on 11/16/05 and performed mitochondrial DNA testing. They compared it to DNA from Karen Halbach’s buccal swab. It is unclear why no one sent the FBI Teresa’s DNA to compare to the charred material (designated as Q1 by the FBI). Since the MtDNA database is small, the report only concludes that Teresa cannot be ruled out as the contributor. No one from the FBI testified at either the Avery or Dassey trials.

FBI DNA MT

To avoid confusion, the designation of the same shin bone/charred tissue specimens from Exhibit #150:

  • BZ – Wisconsin Crime Lab
  • 1B2 – Dr. Eisenberg
  • Q1 – FBI

3. In January, 2006 Calumet County Sheriff Jerry Pagel incorrectly informed the media that the FBI confirmed the bones were Teresa’s, even though the FBI report clearly stated simply that she could not be ruled out.

On January 19, 2006, Calumet County Sheriff says bones found at the family auto salvage yard of a man charged with murder match those of a freelance photographer.Sheriff Jerry Pagel says the FBI confirms that the bones found at Steven Avery’s family salvage yard are those of 25 year old Teresa Halbach. The report from FBI headquarters in Quantico, Virginia says Mitochondrial DNA analysis of evidentiary remains found in a burn pit match the DNA sample of Halbach’s mother.

Prosecutor Ken Kratz referenced this in an email to Sherry Culhane. Apparently the media was never instructed to edit their misleading articles about the FBI “match” so the public believed there was conclusive proof that Teresa’s remains were found on the Avery property.

Kratz Culhane email

4. In November and December of 2006, several additional bone fragments were sent to the FBI.  They reported that none of them were suitable for mitochondrial DNA testing.

DNA fragments FBI

This is not surprising, as many studies have shown that DNA cannot withstand high heat exposure — such as the heat alleged to have been generated in the raging bonfire.

Recent progress of DNA analysis techniques is improving its discrimination power and sensitivity on an ongoing basis and now this technique is routinely applied to the identification of skeletal remains.7476 DNA profiling was expected to be a useful tool for identifying severely burnt bones when morphological tests would fail because of the deformation and fragmentation. However, casework we have encountered and studies published on burnt bone DNA typing show the harsh reality of this application. As mentioned earlier, the organic matrix disappears at a comparatively early phase in the burning process, and DNA is no exception.

Several studies have reported the applicability of DNA typing to the investigation of burnt bones.28,33,36,45,52 As a pioneer of experimental study in this area, Cattaneo et al assessed the amplification of 120 bp products of the human mitochondrial DNA region V in experimentally burnt human compact bones (800°C–1,200°C, for 20 minutes) as well as in charred bones obtained from actual forensic cases.52 They found that none of these burnt specimens retained DNA that was amplifiable and concluded that DNA typing cannot be used successfully with charred bones. (source)

 

There is simply no evidence that bones were found during the investigation. No one documented the bones on site at any of the three locations where they were allegedly found. Not a single photo exists. No one documented the “charred material” — not a single photo is in evidence. The FBI and crime lab reports didn’t even designate the shin bone as bone. If true that no bones were found, one can only speculate about the origin of the tissue sent to the labs. Clearly there were problems identifying the remains as Teresa Halbach’s, though one wouldn’t  know that from trial testimony or media reports. The defense accepted Culhane’s report as proof that Teresa’s body was found. How can it be trusted when there is a huge problem with the chain of custody? If Dr. Eisenberg shipped it directly to the FBI as stated, how did Culhane test it at all?

The fact is the remains (if there were any found to begin with) were never conclusively identified and that means the fraud in this case may be much bigger than anyone could have imagined. Hopefully at some point Avery’s attorneys will look into this matter. It is too important to overlook.

 

 

 

 

New DNA Evidence Proves Camm’s Innocence As 3rd Trial Is Set To Begin

camm_familyFor those unfamiliar with the specifics of this case, it’s a complex case filled with the most egregious prosecutorial misconduct one could imagine.  The actions of public officials in the state of Indiana have impacted David Camm, his family, Kim’s family, supporters, friends and the entire community in ways that could never be quantified.  It’s been going on for 13 long years with much needless suffering, and it’s not over.  Camm’s 3rd trial is set to begin with jury selection currently underway.  Many have written articles about the case, including myself.  Here is a summary I put together last year that highlights most of the key points.

Though new evidence recently surfaced that further implicates the real killer, Charles Boney, I’m dismayed to see that so many people have their minds made up about Camm, believing that he is guilty.  People reason that since he was after all convicted twice for murder, surely he must be guilty.  Could two juries get it wrong?  The answer is yes but had it been an honest and thorough investigation from the start, Camm would have never even been indicted for the murders.  Once a corrupt investigation begins, it snowballs and becomes very difficult for the truth to be revealed.  They have the press on their side and whatever is reported is imprinted in people’s minds.  They remember the information and it doesn’t matter that it’s not factual.  The innuendo put out there by the State is all that people remember.

Do people know?

  • That there was evidence placing Boney at the crime scene from the beginning – the sweatshirt with is DNA on it, and his palm print – but that the State said they ran the DNA through CODIS but didn’t get a match when in fact they had never even tested it at all?
  • That it was the defense who finally pushed to have the sweatshirt tested 5 long years later and that their insistence to do so is what finally revealed the killer’s identity – Charles Boney?
  • That Prosecutor Stan Faith had a close friendship with Boney’s mother and that he also assisted Boney with his legal issues from his many arrests?
  • That Faith likely would have known that “Backbone” written on the sweatshirt would have belonged to Boney and that is quite likely the reason he chose not to test it and instead to pin this on Camm?
  • That Boney could be Faith’s son? It would explain why someone would go to such lengths to protect this man. I have no evidence but it certainly would make sense.
  • That Faith attempted to coerce a chemist into testifying at the first trial that Camm could not be ruled out as the owner of prints left at the scene – but that she was honest and refused to go along with it?
  • That evidence from the Camm’s home was “lost” – a shower curtain with blood on it and a condom from the septic tank – never to be tested because they vanished?
  • That there is no evidence whatsoever linking Camm to Boney in any way – no phone calls, no emails, no witnesses ever seeing them together?
  • That Boney had a long history of assaulting women?
  • That Boney had a foot fetish and that Kim’s shoes were placed on the hood of the Bronco?
  • That in every other known murder case in history, when DNA shows up that places a person at the scene they become a suspect and are fully investigated?
  • That the prosecutor’s preferred to concoct a story that the sweatshirt must have appeared at the scene because Boney sold Camm a gun – rather than admit they were wrong from the beginning to ever prosecute Camm?
  • That prosecutors spent long hours grilling Boney and finally the story was created that kept Boney off of death row and kept Camm on the hook?
  • That the “story” has no backing?  That it isn’t substantiated with one piece of evidence?
  • That the only evidence the prosecutors continue to hold onto – alleged high velocity blood spatter – 8 tiny droplets of blood on his shirt has cost them $300K in experts but that it’s considered junk science?
  • That Camm was playing basketball with 10 other people at the alleged time of death and that their statements have never wavered?
  • That according to the State’s theory, Camm would have had only about 15 minutes to drive home, commit the murders and drive back to the church for the second game?
  • That none of the other players reported that he was sweating or panting or stressed in any way?  (Because he never in fact left the gym).
  • That this alibi could not have possibly been planned in advance because it was unknown if they would even have enough players to get a game going that evening?
  • That there is new DNA evidence – Boney’s DNA on the victims’ clothing – he touched the victims…there is no doubt now.

Knowing that a 3rd trial was approaching and having thoroughly studied this case, I was puzzled about how they were going to approach this since we know that they can’t go after his character by bringing up past affairs or alleged sexual assault.  The appeals court overturned both convictions due to this as it likely had a direct influence on the verdicts. This is the only case I’m aware of where the killer (Boney) has already been convicted and is serving time for the murders – yet they continue to go after the husband … because of what? Because of 8 tiny drops of blood that he likely got on his shirt as he lifted his son out of the vehicle upon finding his family murdered in his garage?  It’s criminal that they continue to pursue Camm because they are afraid of the backlash of admitting that they screwed up and wasted millions of tax dollars prosecuting the wrong man.

But in the past several weeks there’s been a huge break in the case, something that I believe is so big that I am quite honestly shocked that the State hasn’t dropped all charges against Camm once and for all.  His amazing defense team sent some other clothing items from the scene for more sensitive DNA testing known as “touch” or mitochondrial DNA – which is basically just very sensitive testing from skin cells that were in contact with the items.  It turns out that Boney’s DNA was found on Jill’s shirt and on Kim’s panties and I believe her shirt as well.  Remember that the State’s theory was that Boney’s role in this was simply that he sold Dave the murder weapon and happened to be there when the shootings occurred, and that he only got away because the gun jammed when Dave allegedly turned it on him?

Now the story will need to change again to keep Camm involved – how will they do it?  I can’t even imagine a scenario where Camm is present when this animal is attacking his family as we now know for certain that Boney’s hands were on the victims. Enough is enough.  More and more people will learn the truth about this case – what the State of Indiana has done to David Camm.  I am hopeful that he will be acquitted but I’m going to continue to find ways to get the facts out there until this is over.  I was worried because the prosecutor actually tried to bar the DNA evidence from the trial but the judge ruled that the evidence is admissible and I take that as a good indication that this is an honest Judge. Support for David Camm continues to grow.  For all the facts about this case, please visit justicefordavidcamm.com.

BPA5

Summary video

Boney’s lies

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