Friday, December 07, 2007

Establishing a Forensics Standard

Forensics Independent Project: Timing is everything

Read: 'Timely Death', by D. P. Lyle, M. D
(you received a copy of this in class on 12/7/07)

Goal: Design an experiment to demonstrate how to precisely date decay of a material or substance.

You are a forensic investigator doing basic research. Your assignment: Design a structured experiment with common materials or substances that will allow you to develop a physiologic timeline and standard.

Example: An apple, when peeled, turns brown due to the process of oxidation. Similarly, a nail, when exposed to moisture, will rust. How long will it take for an oxidation reaction to occur? What factors will influence this change? Can you construct a timeline to track such a change? Your group will become an expert in that item.

  • Within your group, come up with an item or substance that will show short term (ideally, no longer than a few days), demonstrable decay in stages.
  • Develop a procedure to test this process out.
  • List your controls, dependent and independent variables.
  • Your group will be doing this procedure and presenting your results to the class.
For Monday: Each group will identify an experiment and submit a brief, initial outline of their procedure. We will furhther discuss the project in class on Wednesday.

Presentations by all groups will be on Wednesday, December 19th.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Forensics Evidence Analysis: Current Case

Part I - Find A Case

As we discussed in class, you will research and decide on a case currently developing or a current trial (as of the date of this post) in which there is significant physical evidence.

Prepare a one to two page case summary (text, images will be in addition to this) outlining the crimes committed and the known physical evidence. Be sure to cite ALL sources and show the use (and source) of ANYthing someone else wrote.

We modeled the format for the report in class today using an article relating the Laci / Stace Peterson cases as our example.

Part I Due Date: Friday, November 30, 2007, IN CLASS
Late reports will be lose one letter grade per day, including weekend days.

Part II - Same as last time -
(a) Your group will prepare a presentation (including some form of display) of the case and present it to the class. Presentations will be scheduled for Wednesdays beginning December 5th.

(b)Your group will split into two and will present to the jury (your classmates) a case for the prosecution and a case for the defense based on the physical evidence. Groups will present their cases (two groups per class) every Wednesday in November-December.

Re-Peterson: Deja Vu All Over Again

Stacy And Laci Peterson: The Eerie Similarities

(CBS) It's like deja vu all over again: This missing woman might not be pregnant, but the similarities in the Stacey Peterson and Laci Peterson cases are eerie at best... and not just because of their names.


What the husband said: Scott said Laci took the dog for a walk.

Murder in the first: Police have been investigating whether a college student, Kristin Smart, who went to Cal Poly at the same time of Scott Peterson might have been murdered by him.

A watery grave: Police found the remains of Laci after they washed up in the San Francsico Bay. The remains of the couple's unborn son, Connor, washed up days before.

In the family way: Laci Rocha Peterson was eight months pregnant when she was killed on December 24, 2002.

I'm not guilty: Scott Peterson is on death row in San Quentin for the murder of Laci and their unborn child. He maintains his innocence.

Ironically: Laci's best friend, since third grade, was a woman named Stacey (Boyers.)


What the husband said: Drew said Stacy left voluntarily.

Murder in the first: Police now think Drew Peterson might have had something to do with his third wife's (Kathleen Salvio) mysterious bathtub drowning.

A watery grave: Search crews are still looking for Stacy. They recently dredged a nearby lake but found nothing.

In the family way: Stacy Peterson had two children with her husband Drew when she was reported missing.

I'm not guilty: While he was officially called a "suspect" on November 9th for the October 28th dissapearance of his wife, Drew maintains his innocence.

Ironically: Stacy Peterson has a daughter named Lacey.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Robert Chambers

The following case summary (and class discussion) was loosely adapted from material available at and from Crime
The Preppie Murder Case

Just after six on the morning of Aug. 26, 1986, a bicyclist pedaled along her usual morning route down a winding tree-lined path. As she made a final turn, something caught her eye. It was a young woman, her pink and white miniskirt hiked up past her waist and her bra and white blouse pushed up around her neck.

While dead bodies in public places were not entirely uncommon in a year when New York City notched nearly 1,600 homicides, the discovery of Jennifer Levin's body under a leafy elm tree behind the Metropolitan Museum of Art instantly drew attention.

On the night of Levin's death, Robert Chambers' girlfriend Alex publicly broke up with him at an East 84th Street bar, allegedly because of Levin. That night, Chambers left the bar with Levin.

Levin's strangled, semi-clad corpse, covered in bruises, bite marks, and cuts, was found by a bicyclist beneath an elm tree on a grassy knoll near Fifth Avenue and 83rd Street behind the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Her bra and shirt were pushed up to her neck, and her skirt was around her waist. The city Medical Examiner's office said Levin died of "asphyxia by strangulation" and police officials said there were numerous bruises on her neck, both from the strangulation and from her own fingernails as she clawed at her murderer's hands. Later,

Chambers watched from nearby as police officers investigated and found Levin's underwear some 50 yards away

Chambers was charged with, and tried for, two counts of second-degree murder. The trial opened on January 4, 1988.

The prosecution had police officers and forensic investigators detail the crime scene, the location and condition of the body, however the handling and processing of the evidence at the crime scene was not perfect. At times, it was less than acceptable and defense attorney Jack T. Litman was able to cast doubt on much of the critical forensic evidence offered by Prosecutor Linda Fairstein concerning the crime scene.

When police first came upon the scene, they theorized that Ms. Levin must have been killed by a stranger. Only after interviewing her family and friends and learning that Mr. Chambers had been at an Upper East Side bar with her until late did the police visit Mr. Chambers’s apartment, where his body showed signs of a struggle. He was arrested at that time.

The trial judge turned down a motion by the prosecutors to use as evidence a denim jacket that they believed was used to suffocate Ms. Levin. The jacket had blood from Mr. Chambers’s fingers and Ms. Levin’s mouth, as well as her saliva. The judge ruled that the DNA analysis techniques available at the time were not sufficient to allow the jacket as evidence.

Medical Examiner Dr. Maria Alandy testified to the post mortem examination and stated that compression of the victim's neck had to be substantial in order to effect death.

A parade of young people who were friends of the victim, or who were at the bar on the fateful night, took the stand to testify.

For her final witness, Fairstein put on a Dr. Werner Spitz, the chief medical examiner for the city of Detroit who would give his opinion as to the nature of Levin's injuries. For the defense, the estimate of time it took to strangle Jennifer was essential, because Chambers' explanation was that he had grabbed Jennifer by the neck for a moment and threw her off of him.

Defense attorney Jack Litman argued that the killing had happened during "rough sex." He only called five witnesses to testify for Chambers including Dr. Ronald Kornblum, chief medical examiner for Los Angeles, who refuted Dr. Spitz's observations as best he could.

The defense sought to depict Levin as a promiscious woman who kept a "sex diary." No such diary existed; but Levin had owned a small notebook that contained the names and phone numbers of her friends.

The media labeled the crime "The Preppie Murder." Part of the media reported the more lurid aspects of the case; e.g. New York Daily News headlines read: "How Jennifer Courted Death" and "Sex Play Got Rough." Levin's reputation was attacked, while Chambers was portrayed as a Kennedy-esque "preppie altar boy" with a "promising future".

Archbishop Ted McCarrick of Newark, New Jersey, later Archbishop of Washington, wrote a letter of support for Chambers's bail application. He had known Chambers and his mother because Phyllis had been employed as a nurse by Terence Cardinal Cooke.

Chambers was bailed out by his family and the owner of the bar. He remained free on bond for the two years of his trial, reporting regularly to family friend Monsignor Thomas Leonard, a former teacher.

By March 10, the defense rested and the case later went to the jury.

We will discuss the case outcome in class on Friday

Friday, October 19, 2007

Forensics Evidence Case Analysis Project

Part I - Prepare a one to two page case summary (text, images will be in addition to this) outlining the crimes committed and the physical evidence presented at the trial against the notorious figures that were assigned as your group names:
  • Bruno Richard Hauptmann
  • Elizabeth "Lizzie" Borden
  • John Wayne "Pogo the Clown" Gacy
  • Robert "Baretta" Blake
  • Eric & Lyle Menendez
  • Theodore Robert "Ted" Bundy
  • Aileen "Monster" Wuornos
  • Charles "Charlie" Manson
We modeled the format for the report in class today using an article relating the Phil Spector Murder Trial as our example.

Part I Due Date: Friday, October 26, 2007

Part II - Your group will prepare a presentation (including some form of display) of the case and present it to the class. Presentations will be scheduled for Wednesdays in Novmber. An example from the 2006-2007 class will be on display.

Part III - Your group will split into two and will present to the jury (your classmates) a case for the prosecution and a case for the defense based on the physical evidence. Groups will present their cases (two groups per class) every Wednesday in November-December.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

digital forensics 101

Dr. Hany Farid, a 41-year-old engineer, is a founder of a subdiscipline within computer science: digital forensics. Most days, he spends his time transforming ordinary images into ones with drastic new meanings. Click, goes his mouse. Courtney Love has joined Grandpa at the family barbecue. Click. Click. Elvis Presley is on Dartmouth’s board of trustees.

The purpose of all this manipulation is to discover how computerized forgeries are made. Intelligence agencies, news organizations and scientific journals employ Dr. Farid’s consulting services when they need to authenticate the validity of images. Dr. Farid sells a software package, “Q,” to clients so they, too, can become digital detectives. read more...

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

The myth of Fingerprints

fingerprint imageTrue or False: Fingerprints, as we are discussing in class this week, are an exact science. (note that we use "fingerprints" here, but really they are just ridges - the prints are what they leave behind)

Questions to research for Friday's (10/12/07) Class:

Write a response of at least one paragraph answering ONE of the following questions (be sure to cite your sources, not that wikipedia is not an acceptable source):

  • - Does every person have fingerprints?
  • Is it possible for two people to have the same fingerprints?
  • Do identical twins have identical fingerprints?
  • Does EVERYONE have fingerprints?
  • Can fingerprints be removed? If you burn your fingers, will the prints grow back?
  • Is everyone BORN with fingerprints?
  • TV Crime shows have programs that automatically scan a fingerprint and get a confirmation in minutes - how come we don't catrch more criminals this way?

Last year class (& blog) discussed the arrest of an Oregon lawyer in connection with a train bombing in Spain. Here's a summary of the incident.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Is Anybody Guilty Anymore?

Exoneration Using DNA Brings Change in Legal System
By SOLOMON MOORE October 1, 2007, NY Times

"State lawmakers across the country are adopting broad changes to criminal justice procedures as a response to the exoneration of more than 200 convicts through the use of DNA evidence.

All but eight states now give inmates varying degrees of access to DNA evidence that might not have been available at the time of their convictions. Many states are also overhauling the way witnesses identify suspects, crime labs handle evidence and informants are used."

Vaguely Related Story: You Can't Spell "Dumb Criminal" without D-N-A:
CARSON CITY (Las Vegas Review-Journal) — A Reno man who voluntarily submitted DNA evidence to support his claim of innocence in a robbery case could not later prohibit the same sample from being used to convict him of a separate murder charge, the state Supreme Court ruled Thursday...
Read More