What is Trace Evidence?

     Trace evidence analysis is the section of the crime lab where, if they don’t know where to send it, they send it to us. We get all kinds of oddball things in here. Feathers. We’ve had feathers come into the crime lab. Bird feathers….

     Trace evidence analysis is the section of the crime lab where, if they don't know where to send it, they send it to us. We get all kinds of oddball things in here. Feathers. We've had feathers come into the crime lab. Bird feathers.

     One case: A person was shot and killed outdoors, near a garage. The bullet went through the victim's down jacket. And then it hit a garage door and deflected off. In that garage door, in the bullet hole, there was a little feather. I think the defense's story was that the shooting was accidental, that the defendant had aimed at the garage, and the bullet deflected off it, and then it went into the victim.  We couldn't say for sure that the bullet hole feather was from the victim's jacket, but finding it on the garage door corresponds more to the person being shot and then the slug entering the door. The victim was hit first.

Trace evidence analyst in Crime Scene by Connie Fletcher, 2006 

from http://jimfishertruecrime.blogspot.com/

Dr. William Maples on Forensic Anthropology

     A forensic anthropologist is not a medical doctor, though he has a Ph.D. and has studied anthropology in college. We specialize in the human skeletal system, its changes through life, its changes across many lifetimes, and its varia…

     A forensic anthropologist is not a medical doctor, though he has a Ph.D. and has studied anthropology in college. We specialize in the human skeletal system, its changes through life, its changes across many lifetimes, and its variations around the world. We are part of the larger field of physical anthropology, or biological anthropology as it is known today, which is concerned overall with the human body and all its variations. My specialty, physical anthropology, is distinct from other fields such as cultural anthropology and archaeology....

     My field of expertise is the human skeleton. Though some pathologists insist on doing their own skeletal examinations along with autopsies, I can confidently say that there are very few cases in which a forensic anthropologist--someone like me--could not add a great deal of useful information to what a pathologist can discover. I have had pathologists exclaim frankly in my hearing, when confronted with a skeleton: "Gee, I'm not used to looking at these without the meat on them!"

Dr. William R. Maples, Dead Men Do Tell Tales, 1994

from http://jimfishertruecrime.blogspot.com/

Dr. William Maples on Forensic Anthropology

     A forensic anthropologist is not a medical doctor, though he has a Ph.D. and has studied anthropology in college. We specialize in the human skeletal system, its changes through life, its changes across many lifetimes, and its varia…

     A forensic anthropologist is not a medical doctor, though he has a Ph.D. and has studied anthropology in college. We specialize in the human skeletal system, its changes through life, its changes across many lifetimes, and its variations around the world. We are part of the larger field of physical anthropology, or biological anthropology as it is known today, which is concerned overall with the human body and all its variations. My specialty, physical anthropology, is distinct from other fields such as cultural anthropology and archaeology....

     My field of expertise is the human skeleton. Though some pathologists insist on doing their own skeletal examinations along with autopsies, I can confidently say that there are very few cases in which a forensic anthropologist--someone like me--could not add a great deal of useful information to what a pathologist can discover. I have had pathologists exclaim frankly in my hearing, when confronted with a skeleton: "Gee, I'm not used to looking at these without the meat on them!"

Dr. William R. Maples, Dead Men Do Tell Tales, 1994

from http://jimfishertruecrime.blogspot.com/

A Short History of American Forensic Science

     By 1935, crime laboratories were up and running in New York City, Chicago, Detroit, Boston, Los Angeles and Philadelphia. The FBI Lab had opened its doors in 1933. The bureau’s national fingerprint repository had been operating in W…

     By 1935, crime laboratories were up and running in New York City, Chicago, Detroit, Boston, Los Angeles and Philadelphia. The FBI Lab had opened its doors in 1933. The bureau's national fingerprint repository had been operating in Washington, D.C. since 1924, the year J. Edgar Hoover, an early advocate of scientific crime detection, became the agency's fourth director. August Vollmer, the progressive police administrator from Berkeley, California, and Dean John Wigmore of Northwestern University Law School, had been tireless crusaders for forensic science and physical evidence as an alternative to coerced confessions, eyewitness testimony, and jailhouse informants. Wigmore and Vollmer were the main forces behind the formation, in Chicago, of the Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory in 1930. In 1938, the private lab beame part of the Chicago Police Department.

     In the 1930s, a pair of private practice forensic chemists and crime scene reconstructon analysts in the northwest, Oscar Heinrich and Luke May, were grabbing headlines by solving high-profile murder cases. Stories involving crimes solved through the scientific analysis of physical evidence had become commonplace features in the fact-crime magazines so popular at the time. Numerous textbooks and manuals had been published on the subjects of fingerprint identification, forensic ballistics, questioned documents, trace evidence analysis, forensic serology, forensic medicine, scientific lie detection (polygraph), and forensic anthropology, the identification and analysis of skeletal remains.

     Criminal investigation textbooks of this era contained detailed instructions on how to protect crime scenes, render crime scene sketches, photograph clues, mark and package physical evidence, dust for latent fingerprints, make plaster-of-Paris casts of tire tracks and footwear impressions, and in the case of sudden, unexplained, or violent death, look for signs of criminal homicide. By the mid-thirties, virtually every court in the country accepted the expert opinions of practitioners in the major forensic fields, and jurors recognized the advantages of expert physical evidence interpretation over the more direct testimony of jailhouse snitches and eyewitnesses.

     Today, nothwithstanding DNA science and computerized fingerprint identification and retrieval capabilities, crime solution percentages in the United States have not improved since the mid-thirties when the FBI started collecting crime statistics. The emphasis on street policing (order maintenance), the escalating war on drugs, and the threat of domestic terrorism has diminished the role of criminal investigation and forensic science in the administration of justice. At a time when DNA technology has advanced far beyond the imaginations of the pioneers of forensic serology (Dr. Paul Kirk and others), rapists, pedophiles, and serial killers are escaping detection and arrest due to DNA analysis backlogs created by a shortage of funds and experts.

     Ironically, one of the byproducts of DNA science has been the release of hundreds of innocent people who have been convicted on the strength of coerced confessions, unreliable eyewitnesses, and the testimony of jailhous informants. In the small percentage of trials involving the analysis of physical evidence, jurors are commonly exposed to conflicting scientific testimony. When faced with opposing experts, jurors tend to disregard the science altogether. The forensic pioneers of the twenties and thirties would be appalled by this hired-gun phenomena and the low productivity of today's investigative services.

     During the first decade of the 21st Century, due to forensic misidentifications caused by substandard lab conditions and incompetent personnel, crime laboratories in, among other places, Houston, Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit, and Boston, had to be temporarily closed. During this period, for the first time in the history of the science, there were numerous high-profile fingerprint misidentifications. Moreover, modern forensic science has seen the infusion of pseudo-science and bogus expertise into the nation's courtrooms.

      In March 2009, the National Academy of Sciences, an organization within the National Institute of Justice, after an eighteen month study, published a report criticizing the state of forensic science in America. The writers of the widely publicized report recommended that Congress create a federal agency to insure a firewall between forensic science and law enforcement; finance more research and personnel training; and promote universal standards of excellence in the troubled fields of DNA profiling, forensic firearms identification, fingerprint analysis, forensic document examination, and forensic pathology. From this, one might reasonably conclude that modern forensic science, weighed against the hopes and dreams of its pioneers, has not lived up to its potential.

    

from http://jimfishertruecrime.blogspot.com/

The Forensic Science Hall of Shame: Courtroom Experts From Hell

     The inaugural inductees into my Forensic Science Hall of Shame represent the worst of the worst. They are, in no particular order:Albert H. Hamilton     In the 1920s and 30s, this druggist from Auburn, New Y…

     The inaugural inductees into my Forensic Science Hall of Shame represent the worst of the worst. They are, in no particular order:

Albert H. Hamilton
     In the 1920s and 30s, this druggist from Auburn, New York, professing expertise in toxicology, fingerprint identification, fireams analysis, and questioned document work, testified falsely in dozens of criminal trials. A pure charlatan, Hamilton was caught switching gun barrels in the Sacco and Vanzetti murder case. He also injected himself as a forensic document examiner into the Lindbergh kidnapping case. By then his reputation was so shot neither side wanted to put him on the stand.

Dr. Ralph Erdmann
     Beginning in 1981, Dr. Ralph Erdmann began serving several west Texas counties as a private contract forensic pathologist. During the next fifteen years he performed thousands of autopsies and testified in dozens of homicide trials. Prosecutors loved Dr. Erdmann because he always gave them exactly what they needed. Stupendously incompetent and dishonest, Dr. Erdmann's testimony and bogus cause and manner of death findings sent scores of defendants to prison. While several were later exonerated, there is no way to know how many more of these defendants were innocent.

Joyce Gilchrist
     The damage a single phony forensic scientist can do to the criminal justice system is enormous. Such is the case of Joyce Gilchrist, a DNA analyst and hair follicle identification practitioner who worked in the Oklahoma City Crime Laboratory in the 1980s and 90s. Gilchrist, through a series of unscientific identifications, was accused of sending dozens of innocent defendants to prison. Like the other inductees into the Forensics Hall of Shame, prosecutors found this expert witness extremely helpful in weak cases.

Fred Salem Zain
     A West Virginia state trooper who flunked chemistry in college, Zain began working in the state police crime laboratory in 1977 as a forensic serologist. He later became a DNA analyst, and in that capacity, through his recklessly bogus testimony, falsely linked dozens of innocent defendants to crimes they had not committed. Because Zain was so flamboyant and prolific in his willingness to tailor his testimony to the needs of prosecutors, he was in demand all over the country as a prosecution witness. This was particularly true in Texas. His dreadful career as a phony expert came to an end with his early death in 2002.

Dr. Louise Robbins
     In the 1980s and 90s, Dr. Louise Robbins, an anthropology professor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, testified for the prosecution in scores of homicide trials involving footwear impression evidence. Prosecutors liked Dr. Robbins, who looked and sounded like the "Church Lady," because she always linked the defendant to the crime scene shoe or boot print through a whacky method all her own that had absolutely no basis in science. If Dr. Robbins hadn't died early from a brain tumor, there is no telling how many more defendants would have been falsely connected to crime scenes. Prosecutors would bring Dr. Robbins out of the bullpen when no other forensic expert saw a physical connection between the defendant and the murder scene. I've often wondered what motivated Dr. Robbins. Was she simply stupid and full of it, or did she like the money and the attention? For the innocent defendants sent to prison on her bogus testimony, it really didn't matter what motivated this forensic science charlatan.

Dr. Michael West
     In the 1990s, this forensic dentist from Hattiesburg, Mississippi, through his patented "blue light technique," helped convict innocent homicide defendants by testifying to the presence of human bite marks qualified odontologists could not see. Dr. West later expanded his forensic repertoire into blood spatter interpretation, forensic photography, video enhancement, and gunshot-powder analysis. As a forensic scientist, Dr. West attacked the criminal justice system like an out of control wrecking ball. Several of the defendants sent to prison on the strength of his testimony were later exonerated through DNA analysis. 

from http://jimfishertruecrime.blogspot.com/

Dueling Experts in the David Camm Murder Case: Is Blood Spatter Analysis a True Science?

     On September 28, 2000, at 9:29 in the evening, David Camm called 911 and reported that he had discovered the murdered bodies of his wife, daughter and son in his garage. Upon arrival at Camm’s house in New Albany, Indiana, police di…

     On September 28, 2000, at 9:29 in the evening, David Camm called 911 and reported that he had discovered the murdered bodies of his wife, daughter and son in his garage. Upon arrival at Camm's house in New Albany, Indiana, police discovered Camm's wife Kimberly, his 5-year-old daughter Jill, and his 7-year-old son Brad in Kimberly's Ford Bronco. She and her daughter had been shot in the head. The boy had been shot in the chest. There were abrasions and bruises on Kimberly's knees, elbows, and feet.

     At seven in the evening on the day of the murders, Kimberly, with Jill in the car, picked up Brad from his swimming class. As they drove home, David, a former Indiana state trooper and employee of his uncle's construction company, left the house for his weekly basketball game with friends and relatives. According to eleven witnesses, Camm left the church gym for home at 9:17 PM. Twelve minutes later, he called 911.

     Medical examiner Donna Hunsaker found that although no semen had been recovered, the little girl had been sexually molested within hours before her death. From the onset, detectives suspected David Camm of murdering his family. The police and the Floyd County prosecutor, Stan Faith, believed that Camm had arrived home at 9:22, killed his family, disposed of the gun (it had not been recovered), cleaned up the crime scene, then called 911. But the crime scene evidence did not support this theory. The blood on the driveway had coagulated which suggested that the victims had been murdered before 9:22. If this were the case, David Camm had an iron-clad alibi. The prosecutor, to get around the alibi, decided that Camm had murdered his family before he left the house that night to play basketball.

     In the Ford Bronco, crime scene investigators had found a gray sweatshirt under Brad's body. DNA tests on this sweatshirt and the boy's clothing failed to connect the suspect to the scene. Several latent fingerprints lifted from the car did not belong to anyone in the family.

     In March of 2002, a jury found David Camm guilty of murdering his family. While the prosecution didn't have a motive, or a murder weapon, they had Robert Stites, a blood spatter analyst from Portland, Oregon who testified that eight tiny bloodstains on the defendant's t-shirt had come from spray made by the bullet fired into his daughter's head. The defense argued that Camm had stained his shirt when he embraced the victim. The judge imposed a 195-year sentence.

     In 2004, an Indiana appeals court set aside Camm's conviction on grounds of insufficient evidence. The prosecution promised a retrial. A year later, after the arrest of an armed robber and rapist named Charles Boney, investigators submitted his DNA to a data bank which linked him to the site of the Camm family murder. After initially denying that he knew David Camm, Boney told the police Camm had paid him $250 for the gun Camm had used to shoot his family. To explain the presence of his sweatshirt at crime scene, Boney said the gun had been wrapped in the shirt when he gave it to Camm.

     On the belief that Charles Boney had been Camm's crime scene accomplice, the authorities charged the 36-year-old with three counts of murder and one count of conspiracy to commit murder. In January 2006, the jury found him guilty. A few months later, the judge sentenced Boney to 225 years in prison. After the trial, several jurors told reporters they believed David Camm was the actual shooter. Following Boney's conviction, a man he had served time in prison with, told the police that four months before the murders, Boney had said that when he got out, he planned to kill a police officer's family, and frame the cop.

     David Camm's second trial got underway in January 2006 with a new prosecutor, Keith Henderson, representing the state. On the third day of the trial, the Indiana State Police sergeant in charge of the crime scene investigation testified, under cross-examination, that within days of the murders, the prosecutor (Stan Faith) hired two outside blood spatter analysts to study the serological evidence. The private experts from Portland, Oregon were Rod Englert, and his protege, Robert Stites. (Stites had been the prosecution's key witness in the first trial.) Defense attorney Stacy Vliana asked the witness if he had been aware that Stites wasn't qualified to process crime scenes. Did the sergeant know that Stites hadn't even taken the 40-hour standard bloodstain analysis course? The witness said he had not been informed of Stites' professional background.

   The next day, on cross-examination, Stacy Viliana grilled Robert Stites on his lack of experience as a blood spatter expert. The witness acknowledged that he had not taken the introductory course. He said he had read one book on the subject in 1994. Two days after the Camm murders, he had traveled to New Albany, Indiana because his mentor, Robert Englert, was too busy to handle the case. This was the first murder scene Stites had processed on his own. He had examined the t-shirt David Camm had been wearing on the night of the crime. The shirt contained eight bloodstains, each about a millimeter in diameter, spots he considered consistent with blood sprayed from the impact of a bullet. The defense attorney asked Stites if he had known that the defendant, while wearing that t-shirt, had carried his daughter out of the Bronco. The witness said he had not been aware of that. Stites acknowledged that concerning blood spray staining from the impact of a bullet, one would expect to find hundreds of little spots, not just eight.

     Forensic scientist Lynn Scamahorn took the stand and testified that in Camm's first trial, prosecutor Stan Faith had tried to get her to change her testimony about the DNA evidence on Charles Boney's crime scene sweatshirt. According to Scamahorn, the prosecutor wanted her to say that David Camm's DNA was also on the garment. When she refused, Faith threatened to charge her with obstruction of justice. He had also yelled and swore at her. In recalling her ordeal, the witness broke down. (Faith later denied these allegations.)

     In February, blood spatter expert Tom Bevel testified for the prosecution. According to his analysis, based on 25 years in the field. the blood on the defendant's t-shirt had been sprayed there by a bullet. Bevel also told the jury that David Camm had to be at the crime scene when his wife was shot because her blood had dropped onto one of his sneakers. The witness said that he believed the defendant was within four feet of his daughter when she was shot.

     The next day, prosecution blood spatter expert Rod Englert (Stites's mentor from Portland, Oregon), testified that the defendant must have been standing next to his wife, and just a few feet away from his daughter, when the two were shot. Englert added that the bloodstain on Camm's shoe appeared to have been diluted with water. Microscopist William Chapin, an employee of McCrone Laboratories, took the stand and confirmed the prosecution theory that the defendant was a few feet from his daughter, and right next to his wife, when they were shot. According to Chapin, he had seen traces of the victim's tissue on the defendant's t-shirt.

     The defense put two of its own blood spatter experts on the stand. Paul Kish and Bart Epstein testified that the blood on Camm's t-shirt had gotten there by transfer when he hugged the victims. Paul Kish said he couldn't render an opinion on how the blood stain had gotten on the defendant's shoe.

     On March 3, 2006, following 45 hours of deliberation, the Camm jury found the defendant guilty of murdering his family. The judge later sentenced Camm to life in prison. Following the verdict, F. Thomas Schomhorst, a law professor emeritus at Indiana University, questioned the prosecutor's claim, without supporting evidence, that the defendant had sexually molested his daughter.

     The Indiana Supreme Court, on June 26, 2009, overturned Camm's 2006 conviction. A third trial was scheduled for June 2010. Shortly after the second conviction, prosecutor Keith Henderson signed a publishing deal for a book called, Sacred Trust: Deadly Betrayal. The nonfiction book about the Camm case, would actually be written by Damon DiMarco. The Camm defense, on the grounds the prosecutor's book deal created a conflict of interest, petitioned the court for a special prosecutor. In November 2011, the Indiana Court of Appeals granted the request. This ruling delayed the start of David Camm's third trial.

     In February 2012, the Indiana Supreme Court decided not to hear the state's appeal of the appellate court ruling. Prosecutor Keith Henderson was therefore off the case. Convicting David Camm of murder became the job of special prosecutor Stan Levco.

     On August 22, 2013, the third Camm trial got underway in Lebanon, Indiana. Once again blood spatter analyst Tom Bevel testified that the crime scene bloodstain patterns proved that the defendant was in the garage when his wife and children were shot to death.

     Charles Boney, the man convicted in the case, took the stand and repeated his story that he provided the gun David Camm used to kill his family. Boney said he had no physical contact with any of the victims.

     To counter the prosecution's blood spatter case, defense analyst Barrie Goetz took the stand. Goetz had worked for the Indiana State Police from 1978 to 1981. From 1981 to 2004, he conducted blood spatter examinations for the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. According to Goetz, the blood on the defendant's shoe had been caused by a bloody shoelace hitting the side of the shoe when he ran. The pattern was not, in this witness' opinion, a "projected stain." Goetz said that, unlike his prosecution counterparts, he had used real human blood in his recreations.

     On cross-examination, prosecutor Levco asked this forensic witness why he hadn't videotaped his blood pattern experiments.

     On October 3, two defense witnesses testified that when the Camm murders took place, they were playing basketball with the defendant.

     Dr. Robert Shaler, a forensic anthropologist known for his work identifying bodies after the World Trade Center terrorist attack, testified that blood spatter analysis was not a true science. The interpretation of blood stain patterns had not been subjected to scientific peer review. Moreover, no data had been collected regarding error rates. "Either blood pattern analysis is based on science or it's an art form," Dr. Shaler said. "If it's an art form, then anyone can come up with opinions on it."

     On October 9, Dr. Richard Eikeienboom, a Dutch DNA analyst, took the stand for the defense. According to Dr. Eikeienboom, DNA evidence proved that Charles Boney had physical contact with Kim and Jill Camm. That meant Charles Boney had lied when he testified he had not touched the victims. The defense attorney put Dr. Eikeienboom on the stand to discredit the prosecution's star witness.

     On Eikeienboom's cross-examination, prosecutor Levco brought out the fact the witness' Netherlands based firm, Independent Forensic Services, was not accredited in the United States.

      On Thursday, October 24, 2013, after thirty-one days of testimony, the jury of eight women and four men found David Camm not guilty. The defendant's thirteen-year criminal justice ordeal, involving three murder trials, had finally come to an end. The state of Indiana had spent millions of dollars in a failed attempt to acquire a murder conviction in an obviously flawed case.

     Sometimes prosecutors just don't know when to quit. Moreover, the David Camm case, featuring dueling experts in blood spatter interpretation, is an embarrassment to forensic science. Blood spatter analysis, while perhaps an investigative tool, is not a science and shouldn't be presented as such in a court of law.
      

from http://jimfishertruecrime.blogspot.com/

Dr. Pamela Fish: DNA Expert From Hell

     In 1990, prosecutors in Cook County, Illinois charged John Willis with several counts of rape in connection with a series of sexual assaults committed in the late 1980s on Chicago’s South Side. Willis, a petty thief, and illite…

     In 1990, prosecutors in Cook County, Illinois charged John Willis with several counts of rape in connection with a series of sexual assaults committed in the late 1980s on Chicago's South Side. Willis, a petty thief, and illiterate, denied raping the women even though several of the victims had picked him out of a lineup.

     The only physical evidence in the Willis case was a scrap of toilet paper containing traces of semen. Police took this evidence to the Chicago Police Lab where it was examined by Dr. Pamela Fish. Dr. Fish had come to the lab in 1979 with bachelor's and master's degrees in biology from Loyola University. Ten years later, after taking courses at night, she earned a Ph.D in biology from Illinois Institute of Technology. According to her handwritten lab notes, Dr. Fish determined that the secretor of the semen had type A blood. John Willis had type B blood thereby excluding him as the rapist. Dr. Fish reported, however, in contradiction to her lab notes, that the semen on the tissue possessed type B blood. She testified to this at Willis' 1991 trial. The jury, in addition to believing in Dr. Fish, believed eleven prosecution rape victim/eyewitnesses that identified the defendant as the rapist. The jury found Willis guilty and the judge sentenced him to 100 years in prison.

     Eight years later, a south Chicago rapist confessed to these sexual assaults after being linked to the crimes through DNA analysis. An appeals  judge set aside the Willis conviction and he was set free. On the day of his release, Dr. Fish, now the head of  biochemistry testing at the state crime lab, spoke at a DNA seminar for judges. (The Chicago Police Lab had been incorporated into the Illinois crime lab system in 1996.)

     The Willis reversal led to a 2001 review of Dr. Fish's cases by the renowned DNA expert from Berkeley, California, Dr. Edward Blake. Dr. Blake studied nine cases in which Dr. Fish had testfied that her blood-typing tests had produced inconclusive results. Dr. Blake found that Dr. Fish's test results had actually exonerated the defendants involved and that she had given false testimony at those trials. Dr. Blake characterized Dr. Fish's work as "scientific fraud."

     In the summer of 2001, a state representative at a legislative hearing on prosecutorial misconduct suggested to the head of the Illinois State Police that Dr. Fish be transferred out of the crime lab into a position where she could do less harm. (In the public sector this is considered harsh employee discipline.) The police administrator ignored the recommendation.

     In 2002, three more Illinois men, in prison for rape since 1987, were exonerated by DNA. Dr. Fish had testified for the prosecution in all three cases. Two years later, after the state paid John Willis a large settlement for his wrongful prosecution and incarceration, the state refused to renew Dr. Fish's employment contract. Rather than firing Dr. Fish, the state reluctantly refused to rehire her. (I would image that Dr. Fish's forensic misbehavior did not keep her from enjoying her government retirement benefits.)

     In 2008, Marlon Pendleton, two years after his release from an Illinois prison where he'd been wrongfully incarcerated thirteen years on a rape conviction, sued the Chicago Police Department and Dr. Fish in federal court. The plaintiff accused Chicago detectives Jack Stewart and Steven Barnes, of manufacturing a false line-up identification against him. (These cops were notorious for this kind of  behavior.) He charged Dr. Fish with perjury in connection with her DNA testimony at the trial, testimony that convinced the jury he had raped the victim.

     As of 2015, Dr. Fish was employed as a biology teacher at Notre Dame College Prep in Niles, Illinois.

     Pendleton's civil suit in which he sought punitive damages for malicious prosecution, conspiracy, and emotional distress, had not been resolved as of December 2017.

from http://jimfishertruecrime.blogspot.com/

Forensic Document Examination

     Forensic document examination, also referred to as questioned document analysis, is a branch of forensic science that concerns itself with the identification of handwriting, ink, typewriting, computer printing, and various writing i…

     Forensic document examination, also referred to as questioned document analysis, is a branch of forensic science that concerns itself with the identification of handwriting, ink, typewriting, computer printing, and various writing instruments. Ninety percent of a document examiner's work has to do with the comparison of known handwriting samples with questioned writing such as bank robbery notes, ransom documents, mail bomb package addresses, threatening letters, handwritten suicide notes, and disputed signatures in wills, insurance policies and contracts.

     It's the forensic document examiner's job to determine if the questioned handwriting is genuine or forged. This aspect of the science is based on the principle that a person's handwriting is unique and consistent.

     Forensic document examiners do not draw conclusions about a writer's personality from his handwriting. That is the function of graphology, a branch of psychology that is not hard science. Graphologists who also function as forensic document examiners are not members of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences and should not be qualified to testify in court as expert witnesses.

     Graphologists who do testify as expert witnesses belong to their own professional organization called the World Association of Document Examiners. Most judges have not learned the difference between these two sets of handwriting identification practitioners. Because of the graphologists, the dueling expert problem flourishes in this field of forensic science. Many critics of this branch of forensic science consider handwriting identification to be too subjective to be true science. The entire profession has been under attack for decades.

     Legitimate document examiners utilize chemistry, specialized photography, computer science, and microscopy in their work. A few specialize in the restoration of charred and burned documents. There are no schools for this kind of work. A document examiner's education and training is in the form of on-the-job experience in federal, state, county, and city crime laboratories. A few learn the trade in private crime labs and from examiners in private practice.

     Because documents and handwriting are common pieces of physical evidence in virtually every type of crime, criminal investigators rely heavily on this branch of forensic science. It is therefore important that the field maintains its scientific integrity.
     

from http://jimfishertruecrime.blogspot.com/

Handwriting Evidence in the Lindbergh Kidnap-Murder Case

     On April 3, 1936,  Bruno Richard Hauptmann, an illegal alien from Germany who lived in the Bronx, New York, died in the electric chair for the kidnapping and murder of 20-month-old Charles Lindbergh, Jr. At the 36-year-old unem…

     On April 3, 1936,  Bruno Richard Hauptmann, an illegal alien from Germany who lived in the Bronx, New York, died in the electric chair for the kidnapping and murder of 20-month-old Charles Lindbergh, Jr. At the 36-year-old unemployed carpenter's trial held in Flemington, New Jersey in January and February 1935, prosecution handwriting experts took the stand and testified that the defendant had written all of the ransom notes as well as other documents associated with the abduction and murder. It was this forensic document evidence that sent Mr. Hauptmann to the death house in Trenton.

     At the Lindbergh-Hauptmann trial, eight nationally known questioned document examiners, from Los Angeles to New York City, both private and government employed, testified that Hauptmann wrote the fifteen ransom letters, including the note left by the kidnapper in the baby's nursery. The Lindbergh crime produced an unusually large quantity of questioned writing. Moreover, the experts had plenty of known handwriting to work with in the form of request writings--a carefully worded paragraph dictated to Hauptmann--and his conceded or "course of business" writings in the form of his personal notebooks and his auto registration, driver's license, and insurance applications.

     The prosecution experts testified that Hauptmann's known writing looked like the writing in the ransom documents. They produced dozens of word chart exhibits for the jury that illustrated the similarity in the two sets of cursive writing. Hauptmann and the ransom note writer also misspelled certain words the same way.

     The questioned document testimony phase of the Lindbergh-Hauptmann trial took up four days, and produced 800 pages of trial transcript. Besides the eight experts who took the stand, the prosecution had four rebuttal experts who would have testified against Hauptmann had the defense put on a credible battery of their own handwriting witnesses. As it turned out, these rebuttal witnesses were not needed.

     One the the rebuttal witnesses, John Vreeland Haring, later published a heavily illustrated book showing why he believed Hauptmann had written the ransom documents. Mr. Haring made a special effort to illustrate the similarities between the defendant's writing and the ransom note left in the nursery. For comparison purposes, Haring used as known handwriting samples, two post-conviction letters Hauptmann had written in hand to the Governor of New Jersey.

     In addition to the prosecution's eight handwriting witnesses and the four rebuttal experts, Charles A. Appel, Jr., the head of the FBI crime lab, believed Hauptmann was the ransom note writer. The crime lab director testified against Hauptmann before the Bronx Grand Jury months before the trial.

     Hauptmann's defense attorney, Edward J. Reilly, asked seven document examiners to look at the handwriting evidence. Three declared that Hauptmann had written the documents, another three said the ransom notes had been altered after Hauptmann's arrest to look like his known writing--thereby conceding that the known and questioned writings were similar. The seventh examiner asked by the defense to analyze the evidence, a man named John C. Trendley from St. Louis, ended up being the only  examiner who actually testified for the defense at the Hauptmann trial.

     A reporter who covered the Lindbergh-Hauptmann trial wrote this about Mr. Trendley: "He was a furtive, musty little codger who had the greatest difficulty establishing his claim to be an expert....And his testimony was really pathetic." Besides his background as a courtroom charlatan, Trendley's testimony was weakened by the fact he had not spent much time with the evidence.

     Hauptmann's defense lawyers--he had five--were never able to counter the prosecution's overwhelming handwriting case against their client. Notwithstanding all of the other physical evidence connecting Hauptmann to the crime, it was his handwriting that sent him to the electric chair.

     To this day, the Lindbergh case remains the high water mark in the American history of forensic document examination.
   

     

from http://jimfishertruecrime.blogspot.com/

The Phil Spector Murder Case

     In the morning of February 3, 2003, Los Angeles County Sheriff deputies responded to a call from the Alhambra mansion owned by Phil Spector, the 67-year-old music producer who became famous in the 1960s for his “wall of sound.” In t…

     In the morning of February 3, 2003, Los Angeles County Sheriff deputies responded to a call from the Alhambra mansion owned by Phil Spector, the 67-year-old music producer who became famous in the 1960s for his "wall of sound." In the foyer, the deputies found 40-year-old actress Lana Clarkson slumped in a chair. She had been shot once in the mouth by the .38-caliber Cobra revolver lying on the floor under her right hand. When the fatal shot had been fired, Clarkson and Spector were the only people in the house.

     Spector's chauffeur told the police that at five in the morning, he heard a noise that sounded like a gunshot. Shortly after that, he said Spector came out of the mansion carrying a handgun. According to the driver, Spector had said, "I think I killed somebody."

     The music producer had met the victim the previous night at the House of Blues on the Sunset Strip where the struggling actress worked as a hostess for $9 per hour. When the nightclub closed for the night, she had accompanied Spector back to his house for a drink. According to Spector's account of the death, Lana Clarkson had committed suicide.

     The crime scene investigation and the analysis of the physical evidence featured forensic pathology, the location of the gunshot residue, and the interpretation of the blood spatter patterns. Los Angeles Deputy Coroner Dr. Louis Pena visited the scene, and conducted the autopsy. The forensic pathologist found bruises on the victim's right arm and wrist that suggested a struggle. A missing fingernail on Clarkson's right hand also indicated some kind of violence just prior to the shooting. Her bruised tongue led Dr. Pena to conclude that the gun had been forced into the victim's mouth. Its recoil had shattered her front teeth. Clarkson's purse was found slung over her right shoulder. Since she was right-handed, and would have used that hand tho hold the gun, the deputy coroner questioned suicide as the manner of death. Based on his crime scene examination and autopsy, Dr. Pena ruled Lana Clarkson's death a criminal homicide. The police arrested Spector who retained his freedom by posting the $1 million bail.

     Blood spatter analysts from the sheriff's office concluded that after the shooting, Spector had pressed the victim's right hand around the gun handle, placed the revolver temporarily into his pants pocket, later wiped it clean of his fingerprints, then laid it near her body. From the bloodstains on his jacket, the government experts concluded he had been standing within two feet of the victim when the gun went off. The absence of her blood spray on a nearby wall led the spatter analysts to believe that Spector had been standing between the victim and the unstained surface when he fired the bullet into her mouth. Gunshot residue experts found traces of gunpowder on Spector's hands.

     The forensic work performed by the Los Angeles County Coroner's Office and the sheriff's department had not been flawless. A dental evidence technician had lost one of the victim's teeth; a criminalist had used lift-off tape to retrieve trace evidence from the victim's dress which had interfered with the serology analysis; and the corpse had been moved at the scene, causing unnatural, postmortem blood flow from her mouth which compromised that aspect of the blood spatter analysis

     The Phil Spector murder trial got underway in May 2007. On June 26, the government rested its case. The defense led off with Dr. Vincent Di Maio, the former chief medical examiner of Bexar County, Texas. Dr. Di Maio, considered one of the leading experts on the subject of gunshot wounds, testified that he disagreed with the prosecution's experts who had asserted that blood spatter can travel only three feet from a person struck by a bullet. Dr. Di Maio said blood can travel more than six feet if a gun is fired into a person's mouth, the pressure from the muzzle gas that is trapped in the oral cavity creates a violent explosion. "The gas," he said, "is like a whirlwind, it ejects out of the mouth, out of the nose." (If the defendant had been standing six feet from the victim when the gun went off, he couldn't have placed the gun into her mouth.) Because 99 percent of intra-oral gunshot deaths are suicides, Dr. Di Maio opined that Lana Clarkson had killed herself. In the witness' 35 years as a medical examiner, he had seen only "three homicides that were intra-oral."

     In an aggressive cross-examination by the deputy district attorney, Dr. Di Maio was asked how much he had been paid for his work on the case. The former medical examiner said that his bill was $46,000, which did not include his trial testimony. Courtroom spectators laughed when Dr. Di Maio told his cross-examiner that the longer he kept him on the stand, the more it would cost the defendant.

     On September 18, 2007, the Spector jury, following a week of deliberation, announced they were deadlocked seven to five. Two days later, the judge sent them back to the jury room with a new set of instructions on how to determine reasonable doubt. In the Spector trial, the celebrity experts for the defense (including Dr. Henry Lee) did more than just muddy the water by pointing out mistakes and erroneous conclusions by the government's experts. They had offered a conflicting scenario backed by their interpretations of the physical evidence. In circumstantial cases like this, deadlocked juries are to be expected. The hung jury is what Phil Spector paid for, and it's what he got. The jury remained split, and the judge had to declare a mistrial.

     The second trial, this one not televised, got underway on October 20, 2008. The case went to the jury on March 26, 2009, and 19 days later, the jury found the defendant guilty of first-degree murder. Two months later, the judge sentenced Phil Spector to 19 years to life. In May 2011, the California Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction. The California Supreme Court, when it declined to review the case, guaranteed that Mr. Spector will die in prison. Because so many high-profile forensic scientists disagreed on the interpretation of the physical evidence in this case, it will not be a positive landmark in the history of forensic science.

     

from http://jimfishertruecrime.blogspot.com/