A Failure For Sheriff, A Grim Reaper As Deputy, And The Media Who Promotes Their Twisted Version Of Reality

by Travis Mateer

Sheriff Toth, I know you’re doing the best you can. It’s clear how hard you’re trying, but that failing organ in your chest may not be getting the oxygen your brain needs to function properly.

Why is this a problem? Well, it seems certain institutions, like crime labs and newspapers, are deeply beholden to the documents you generate, documents like “police reports” and other tangible proof that stuff like “investigations” are happening.

Two documents now exist–documents called “autopsies”–and for the public to be properly informed about the results of these autopsies, you, Sheriff Toth, have a responsibility as an information gatekeeper to accurately depict the basic facts of such documents to the media.

Since it appears that a problem of accuracy developed somewhere between Sheriff Toth and the Missoulian, a headline had to be amended hours after it was posted online. Here is the original headline, just below the image the Missoulian used for the story.

And here is the amended title of the article with an alternation that might not seem significant at first, but it is, as I will try to explain.

Before getting to Angela Mastrovito’s Facebook response, allow me to describe something I hadn’t realized until investigating this story. There is apparently a BIG difference between CAUSE of death and MANNER of death. Here’s the distinction:

In this case, after talking to the director of the State Crime Lab, Rebekah’s CAUSE of death is only PRESUMED to be drowning because the dog the crime lab NEVER saw and NEVER examined was found in the water, its cause of death unknown. Does that sound like flimsy reasoning? Does that assume the dog entered the water at the same time Rebekah did? What is the proof of that?

The Director of the crime lab, Travis Spinder, was adamant about the fact they DO NOT investigate the circumstances that can determine the MANNER of death. In this case, that would have been the responsibility of the Mineral County Sheriff’s Office. Anything beyond the remains being examined is derived from those “documents” I mentioned, like “police reports”.

What documents did Sheriff Deputy Ryan Funke generate, considering he was the responding law enforcement official first on the scene to discover Rebekah’s vehicle and personal belongings? And what kind of documents did CORONER Ryan Funke generate, since this talented dude is ALSO that for Mineral County? Was there documentation involved in Funke’s decision WHEN to release Rebekah’s remains for evidence destruction cremation? There’s a few other details that have me wondering if Funke is the grim reaper in this case.

Now, on to Angela Mastrovito’s quick attempt to counter the misinformation being passed along by the Missoulian.

The content of the Missoulian article presents another problem, and that’s the impression that the CAUSE of death is still being investigated. Really?

The cause of death still is under investigation, meaning officials haven’t determined why or how she drowned, Mineral County Sheriff Mike Toth explained.

While there seems to be a pretty clear admission that the MANNER of the alleged drowning of Rebekah Barsotti hasn’t been determined, the reporting DOES seem confident that it had NOTHING to do with domestic violence, despite the “former spouse” facing a PFMA charge last March, a no-contact order, video evidence of Rebekah’s terror, text evidence of HIS death threats toward her, and a six year domestic violence history chronicled by local police reports.

Nope, nothing to see here. From the “reporting”:

For Mastrovito, her daughter’s case has transitioned into an effort to raise domestic violence awareness, citing allegations that Barsotti’s former spouse was abusive, although authorities have not connected Barsotti’s case to domestic violence.

Yes, authorities haven’t connected Barsotti’s case to domestic violence because they’ve been busy at lemonade stands.

I cropped this picture because I’m not a big fan of using kids to show how narrative control functions, but I do think it’s interesting to see this picture uploaded right around the same time the second autopsy was being completed at the State Crime Lab in Missoula.

It’s incredibly frustrating to have so little media attention on this story for so long, then, as authorities ensure information trickles out on THEIR timetable, this article, with its misleading headline, gets to start forming the narrative the public will consume.

Until the media landscape changes, failed Sheriffs and grim reaping deputies will be able to set their preferred narrative. Luckily, there are other people working to ensure the truth will win out in the end.

Thanks for reading!

About Travis Mateer

I'm an artist and citizen journalist living and writing in Montana. You can contact me here: willskink at yahoo dot com
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4 Responses to A Failure For Sheriff, A Grim Reaper As Deputy, And The Media Who Promotes Their Twisted Version Of Reality

  1. amastrovito56 says:

    Thank you Travis for being boots on the ground and your willingness to effectively inform the public of what is really happening..

  2. This is an excellent piece. My comments here are for readers as much as for you; you already apprehend much of this. (BTW, if you can find a copy of “Medicolegal Investigation of Death,” buy it. It’s a classic text by a famous forensic pathologist that we old criminal homicide defense lawyers had on our shelves).

    Yep, ’cause’ and ‘manner’ of death aren’t the same. ‘Cause’ relates to physiological reason a person died. And cause of death is “determined” primarily by direct anatomical & physiological indicators, although immediately attendant objective circumstances can play a role. It can also be either imprecise or so precise as to be useless. In a ridiculous example for purely illustrative purposes, the cause of almost all deaths might be characterized as ‘asystole’ (no heartbeat). If a person bled to death, the cause would be “exsanguination.” And so forth. There is wide range of “causes” that one will find listed on death certificates for persons (especially elderly ones, in absence of autopsy) when no disease process is noted…and when it is. Cause of death of a 92-year-old might be simply given as “natural causes” or “advanced age.” Or, based on medical records, a more precise physiological description might be cited with one or more disease processes given, such as “heart failure; artherosclerosis.” Sometimes a primary cause, and “contributing causes” are given.

    And as was illuminated by the COVID-19 pandemic, this variation in the way in which cause of death is given, can fuel sometimes fuel controversies.

    With respect to “manner” of death, immediate attendant circumstances may play a larger role. And manner of death, like cause of death, may be more or less precise. It typically attempts to differentiate among “accident,” suicide,” and “homicide,” and might endbeing given as “unknown.”

    Note that in determining manner of death, pathologists don’t attempt to characterize the manner as criminal or non-criminal; or as negligent, reckless, intentional, or deliberate. That’s the province of legislatures, grand juries, prosecutors, judges and juries. Examples:

    * cause of death is determined to be asphyxiation. Autopsy revealed that hyoid bone was fractured. Anatomically, it is extremely improbable that a hyoid fracture occurred accidentally Manner of death will therefore almost always be given as “homicide.” (The “cause” is sometimes given as “strangulation” rather than “asphyxiation”). The “manner” does not go so far as to characterize it as criminal or non-criminal, etc. “Homicide” simply reflects a determination that a death was not suicidal or accidental but rather the result of acts or omissions by a person other than the decedent.
    The defense in a murder trial might produce evidence in support of a theory that an asphyxiation was accidental, for example as part of S/M sex play or orgasmic enhancement (hyoid bone fracture would militate against that conclusion, but where asphyxiation is the cause and hyoid bone fracture is absent, evidence that the defendant and decedent practiced consensual S/M or anoxia-enhanced orgasm production could produce reasonable doubt that the homicide was intentional criminal homicide).

    * a cause of death is given as “gunshot to head.” Depending on other factors, the manner of death will be given as accident, suicide, or homicide (or rarely, e.g. in some cases in which only skeletal remains were found, as “unknown”). If given as “homicide,” the question remains whether it was a homicide society deems to be criminal, and if criminal, what level of homicide it is. A gunshot inflicted by a person other than the decedent still might not be criminal (i.e., be deemed justifiable) because a factfinder (judge or jury) is presented with evidence that the gunshot was inflicted in lawful self-defense or defense of a third person. Cross examination and defense evidence might also undermine the initial determination by a medical examiner that the manner of death was homicide as opposed to accidental.

    There are too many nuances to examine here, but that’s the basic framework.

    It can be seen from this, that such variables as extreme decomposition of a corpse, lengthy period between death and burial, and speedy cremation, may work either to the benefit of a murderer, or to the detriment of an accused person who did not in fact kill the decedent. Lost, degraded or destroyed evidence can produce unreliable conclusions. As a consequence, a murderer may evade justice and/or an innocent person may be imprisoned and/or executed.

    Evidence of extreme emnity by an accused toward the decedent, and/or history of violent conduct and/or threats by the accused against the decedent, is generally deemed admissible in a criminal trial as circumstantial evidence of the accused’s guilt; by the same token, because of the obvious power of such evidence, loss, degradation or destruction of evidence (including a corpse) can destroy the ability of a criminal defendant to effectively defend against the charge. And of course, any time an innocent person is convicted, the actual perpetrator escapes justice.

    This is why the questions you are asking, the circumstances, acts/omissions by law enforcement, relationships (disclosed and undisclosed) between/among judicial, law enforcement, family, et al, are so important.

  3. HERE YOU GO, TRAVIS this will greatly assist you in your assessment of the autopsy report(s):

    https://books.google.com/books/about/Spitz_and_Fisher_s_Medicolegal_Investiga.html?id=-m_fb580Vx0C

    NOTE that the treatise has a chapter dedicated to “Investigation of bodies in water.”

    Here is the Amazon teaser (accurate in its description). I wasn’t aware of this complete re-writing and new editorship. Now I want it myself:

    “Spitz and Fisher’s Medicolegal Investigation of Death: Guidelines for the Application of Pathology to Crime Investigation

    “Werner U. Spitz, Daniel J. Spitz, Russell S. Fisher

    “Charles C Thomas Publisher, 2006 – Law – 1325 pages
    1 Review

    “MEDICOLEGAL INVESTIGATION OF DEATH, known as the “bible” of forensic pathology, is now in its thirty-third year of publication. This book has been completely rewritten, updated, expanded and improved. It embraces all aspects of the pathology of trauma as it is witnessed daily by law enforcement officers, interpreted by pathologists of varying experience and expertise in forensic pathology, and used by lawyers involved in the prosecution and defense in criminal cases as well as those engaged in civil litigation. This authoritative and complete textbook is written by some of the most respected experts in the United States.

    “The table of contents reads as follows:

    “History of Forensic Pathology and Related Laboratory Sciences; Crime Scene; Time of Death and Changes After Death; Identification of Human Remains; Anthropology; Forensic Odontology; Sudden and Unexpected Death from Natural Causes in Adults; Investigation of Deaths in Childhood; Trauma and Disease; Blunt Force Injury; Sharp Force Injury; Injury by Gunfire; Thermal Injuries; Asphyxia; Investigation of Bodies in Water; Electrical and Lightning Injuries; The Road Traffic Victim; Medicolegal Investigation of Mass Disasters; Trauma of the Nervous System; Microscopic Forensic Pathology; Forensic Aspect of Radiology; Investigation of Deaths from Drug Abuse; Forensic Aspects of Alcohol; The Medicolegal Autopsy Report; and Selected Procedures at Autopsy.

    “Multiple new chapters on trace evidence, the crime scene, exhumation, forensic anthropology, radiology, DNA and photography by nationally and internationally renowned experts have been added to make this revised edition an all-encompassing state-of-the-art text for anyone interested in studying mechanisms of injuries and the wider spectrum of the forensic sciences.

    “With over 1,400 photographic illustrations and diagrams in this clear and comprehensive text, this atlas leaves little to the imagination. The continued use of simple, non-technical terminology makes this book a truly unique treatise and source of information.”

    Be prepared for wallet shock. Look for a used copy.

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