"There's a theory that every time you leave an area, you always leave evidence behind, no matter what, no matter how careful you are; and that's why there's forensics" (Santy, 2007). Forensic science has seen a number of major developments over the years. Throughout its evolution, analytic techniques have become finer tuned and accurate, allowing for much greater law enforcement practices. Today, forensics relies of a plethora of techniques to help solve crimes, as seen in the case of "Welcome to Homicide."
Forensic science is not new, although it does look dramatically different that just a few decades ago. The research suggests that "forensic science resolves legal issues by applying scientific principles to them" (Hall, 1999, p 2). It is a technique used by law enforcement to help solve crimes through examining physical and biological indicators of who did what. As, such, the analysis of forensic scientists involves "a variety of sciences, mathematical principles, and problem solving methods, including the use of complex instruments; chemical, physical, and microscopic examining techniques; and reference literature" (Hall, 1999, p 3). The very first forensic lab was set up by French scientist Edmond Locard in 1910, and the discipline has grown dramatically in just over a century. Since its humble beginnings, forensic science has developed rapidly, especially since the inception of DNA testing in the mid 1980s. All these evolutions led to the type of analysis that was seen in the case study discussed here.
"Welcome to Homicide" is a real case which took place in Richmond, Virginia. In the episode, a black male had been found in the trunk of a car. The body had been there for clearly over 24 hours, and he was stripped naked. There was no visual trauma at the initial search, and the body was loosely wrapped with a comforter and trash bags with duct tape around the hands and legs. Although the initial search could not determine the exact cause of death, it definitely signified to detectives that they were dealing with a homicide case.
The episode, "Welcome to Homicide" employs modern tactics of investigation, but also some that have been used for generations. For example, the case illustrated the use of a K-9 as a way to possibly catch on a scent that would lead to further evidence. According to the research, "Europeans have been using scent-discriminating canines in criminal investigations for more than 100 years" (Stockham, Slavin, & Kift, 2004, p 1). The detective believed that the victim was murdered elsewhere and then brought to the scene of the crime. As such, the bloodhound K-9 unit was brought in to hopefully lead onto a scent. The bloodhound was given a piece of gauze that sat in the care for ten minutes to marinate in the scent. The officers had hoped that the dog would find the scent of the individual. The bloodhound tracked a scent to an apartment that was extremely close by, only a few meters away from where the car was initially found. The detectives smelled a strong odor of cleaning products, which made the situation much more suspicious. A search warrant was acquired and police units went to execute it in order to search more into the apartment. Detectives believed that the suspect found in the apartment was just using similar cleaning products that were used in the car where the victim was found, but they believed that he had no part in the murder that had taken place just outside of his apartment walls. Personally, I believe that this may not have been necessary, as it only led to a dead end. It is clear that "because human scent is easily transferred from one person or object to another, it should not be used as primary evidence" (Stockham, Slavin, & Keft, 2004, p 1). I understand that detectives were trying to use all they initially had to find more leads; yet at the same time, modern research has proven the use of K-9 units can be problematic.
Additionally, fingerprint testing was used throughout the investigation in a number of instances. Fingerprinting was a true revolution in forensic analysis. It is also known as Dactylography and its roots go as far back as ancient China (Swanson, Chamelin, & Territo, 2003). Its modern usage was revolutionized by the Henry System, which was a type of classification system that helped establish the earliest use of fingerprinting as a Western criminal investigation tactic. A cooperative network of law enforcement agencies was first established by the California Bureau of Criminal Identification in 1905, which "was set up to share information about criminal activity" (Swanson, Chamelin, & Territo, 2003, p 6). As developments in fingerprinting continued to evolve, so did the databases that kept their records for police to use in various organizations. The detectives in this particular case had the luxury of a large database, instantly accessible to fingerprint documents from around the nation. This is an example of an older method of analysis has been recently transformed by the evolution of technologies used to collect crime scene evidence. Here, the research suggests that "digital technology allows crime lab professionals to compare prints at a rate of 400,000 per second," whereas in previous generations, detectives often had to manually search and compare fingerprints without the help of computer technology (Hall, 1999, p 5). As such, the modern team in the video used fingerprinting on a number of different situations, including the car the victim was found in, as well as the suspect's house and car.
Moreover, firearms identification is another strong and traditional technique that has been used by detectives for generations, and was also used in the context of this case.
In 1913, Professor Balthazard "noted that the firing pin, breechblock, extractor, and ejector all leave marks on cartridges and that these vary among different types of weapons" (Swanson, Chamelin, & Territo, 2003, p 14). The process of "firearms examination involves matching identifying characteristics between a firearm and a projectile and between projectile and target. Typically, this includes matching bullets to the gun that fired them" (Hall, 1999, p 4). From this, computer technologies have helped the process of identifying small and unique differences on bullets pulled from crime scenes. Riffling characteristics have different widths that are unique to each fire arm. The fragments of the bullets were extracted from the victim's skull in order to determine the caliber. Investigators were able to determine that both bullets were 9 mm caliber. Additionally, the forensic examiner determined that both bullets had been fired by the same gun
There needed to be a full documentation of the crime scene prior to the car being transported to the homicide head quarters for further forensic investigation. After the vehicle was transported to the coroner's office, an autopsy took place. The medical examiner found that the victim had perished because of two gun shot wounds to the head. There was one lethal shot that went through the brain, and then another shot that went through the mouth and fractured the vertebrae. The close range of the shot indicates that the victim probably knew the person who killed him. Which wound may have been first needed to be determined by examining the nature of each wound. If the wounds are close enough, the fracture of the second blow would stop at the first fracture. However, the wounds were too far from one another to use that method. As such, there was gun power residue and stippling at the mouth, indicating that the muzzle was between two to four feet away. The medical examiner believed that the mouth shot was the first, and then the suspect shot again in the victim's head as he fell over, dead.
The car was also searched thoroughly. A search warrant was needed to search the car, which was eventually acquired. This would be the only leads that would tie in another individual to the crime. Someone had to drive the car to that particular location, and thus the search was aiming to find the driver. Pictures were taken thoroughly. Then, the entire car was swabbed in order to uncover any DNA evidence. Luminal was sprayed on the vehicle to find any evidence of blood under a UV light. There was blood found on the front of the dashboard, the stick shift, and on the wheel. The victim's own blood and fingerprints were present in the car, which is obvious because it was his car. No other definitive evidence was found in the car that would point to another individual being present for the crime.
In order to further this investigation, DNA tactics were employed. According to the research, "DNA analysis determines how frequently parts of a person's genetic code are found in the population; forensic scientists isolate that person's unique DNA to the DNA of a sample of others" (Hall, 1999, p 3). DNA is a relatively recent testing method that began to become increasingly popular in…