Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Spector Watch

by blogger jgl

I guess this 2003 case is just starting to roll. Last week, there was confusion over whether Henry Lee picked up a fingernail at the crime scene (see post below). Now forensics row will start to trot through the witness stand. This seems like a lot of forensics for one bullet.

The Phil Spector murder trial is going CSI.

After five weeks of dramatic personal stories about the music producer and the B-movie actress shot to death in his home, prosecutors are shifting their focus today to science and the critical forensic evidence.

There will be discussions of blood spatter, fibers, gunshot residue, DNA and the path a bullet took when it killed actress Lana Clarkson...

..."The prosecution has to show that the forensic evidence is consistent with their theory that Spector pulled the trigger or forced her to pull the trigger," said Loyola University law professor Laurie Levenson.

How would physical evidence show that he forced her to pull the trigger? Gee whiz.

On a side note, I was surprised to find that one of the lawyers, Linda Kenney-Baden, is married to the well-known pathologist Michael Baden. What a power couple! For some reason they both showed up in a dream I had the other night. I think we may have been in a small car... has anyone had a dorkier dream than that?

Pets fight crime (sort of)

submit by troym; comments by blogger jgl

The article mentions a couple different situations where animals and forensics cross paths. It doesn't go into much detail about the techniques. I think animal STRs (dog and cat, at least) are getting better and better, meaning the databases are improving. 1 in 67 million is a pretty impressive stat.

I wonder how they take breeding (inbreeding) into account?

...Christian eventually paid $500 for the evidence to be tested at the Veterinary Genetics Lab at the University of California at Davis, which has the largest database of domesticated-animal DNA in the country. The result? A one in 67 million chance the hair belonged to anyone other than Lucky.

"Usually, people come to us because it's a very emotional matter," said Beth Wictum, acting director of the lab's forensics division. "They've lost a pet, and for many people, pets are a member of the family and they want to get resolution."

Wictum's lab handles between 150 and 200 cases a year from all over the world. But scientists there don't just deal with pet-on-pet attacks. They process evidence from cases involving animal attacks on humans, human attacks on animals, and even human crimes against each other in which an animal may yield important clues...

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Henry Lee - busted?

by blogger jgl

This is weird, but seems to fit in the circus atmosphere of celebrity cases. Only worth mentioning in case it turns into something more.

The judge in Phil Spector's murder trial ruled Wednesday that renowned forensic expert Dr. Henry Lee removed something from the scene where actress Lana Clarkson was shot and hid it from the prosecution...

...He said that of all the witnesses who had testified on the issue, the only one he found completely credible was attorney Sara Caplan, who said she saw Lee pick up a white object with a rough edge and place it in a vial during the defense search of the foyer of Spector's mansion.

The prosecution contends the item was a piece of a fingernail with the trace of a passing bullet that would show Clarkson was resisting having a gun placed in her mouth. Lee has denied taking any such thing from the crime scene.

A fingernail with bullet trace on it?! These people need to stop watching movies. The article leaps from someone possibly seeing Dr. Lee put something in a vial to knowing it was a fingernail with traces of a bullet. Something is missing here. Anyone hear more about this?

Who's your Uncle?

by blogger jgl

Finally. I'm sure this has happened before, but it's a good example of forensic limitations to talk about in class.

Twin brothers Raymon and Richard Miller are the father and uncle to a 3-year-old little girl. The problem is, they don't know which is which...

...But a paternity test in this case could not help. The test showed that both brothers have over a 99.9 percent probability of being the daddy— and neither one wants to pay the child support. The result of the test has not only brought to light the limits of DNA evidence, it has also led to a three-year legal battle...

Same old story. Girl meets boy. Girl attends rodeo. Girl sleeps with boy's twin brother.

"'Did you sleep with him [Richard Miller] while in Sikeston for the rodeo?'," Cameron Parker, Richard's lawyer, said she asked Holly Marie Adams in 2003 court testimony, to which she answered "'Yes ma'am.'" "She then said she went to appellant's [Raymon Miller's]home where they had sex later that night or early the next morning," Parker said.

Can fingerprints reveal habits?

by blogger jgl

Images that show how fingerprints can be used to reveal whether you are a smoker, an avid coffee drinker, or even a hard drug user, have been revealed by UK scientists.

They were produced using a novel forensic technique that could in future be used on fingerprints collected at a crime scene. If the prints in question are not on file, this would still give police a powerful way to shrink their pool of suspects, by identifying their lifestyle habits...

...It exploits the fact that the breakdown products - metabolites - of substances people consume are deposited in sweat found in pores in their fingerprint ridges. To detect these metabolites they use gold nanoparticles...

...To detect cotinine, a fingerprint is simply dabbed with a solution containing gold nanoparticles with attached antibodies that bind to the metabolite. Then a second antibody that binds to the cotinine antibodies and is marked with a fluorescent dye is applied...

I wonder what the limitations are? Does it work with every print or only sweaty ones? Will only habitual users "produce" or can it detect someone who is on a binge? And finally, has anyone seen this work published in a journal yet?

Thursday, May 17, 2007


by blogger jgl

For some reason, whenever I am giving a DNA lecture about mixtures, some knucklehead brings up chimeras. This is an old article concerning blood doping that i came across the other day, but it had some interesting facts, er... theories about chimeras.

Dr. Ann Reed, chairwoman of rheumatology research at the Mayo Clinic, who uses sensitive DNA tests to look for chimerism, finds that about 50 to 70 percent of healthy people are chimeras. The more scientists look for chimerism, the more they find it. It seemed not to exist in the past, she said, because no one was explicitly looking for small amounts of foreign cells in people's bodies.

I suppose if i wasn't so lazy, i could try to find out what type of "sensitive" DNA test they are using. I wonder if certain tissues are more likely to be "chimeric"? Anyone ever come across one in forensic casework?

Monday, May 14, 2007

More on Microstamping

sent by troy m; comments by blogger jgl

Last september we had a post about putting a serial number-type stamp on firing pins. The stamp is transferred to the cartridge, easing the process of tracing the gun. There was a debate as to whether this would cost 50 cents per gun or 150 dollars per gun. More testing suggests it could become a reality.

New technology to link cartridge cases to guns by engraving microscopic codes on the firing pin is feasible, but does not work well for all guns and ammunition tested in a pilot study by researchers from the forensic science program at UC Davis. More testing in a wider range of firearms is needed to determine the costs and feasibility of a statewide program of microstamping, as called for by proposed state legislation, the researchers said...

...To test the effects of repeated firing, Beddow fitted engraved firing pins into six Smith and Wesson .40-caliber handguns that were issued to California Highway Patrol cadets for use in weapons training. After firing about 2,500 rounds, the letter/number codes on the face of the firing pins were still legible with some signs of wear. But the bar codes and dot codes around the edge of the pins were badly worn...

...The researchers estimated that setting up a facility to engrave the firing pins of every handgun sold in California would cost about $8 per firing pin in the first year, falling to under $2 per firing pin in subsequent years, Tulleners said...

Cold Case... or is it?

found by troym; comments by blogger jgl

Summer time... hot dogs, swimming pools, and more blog entries.

This one sent in by troy lands in one of my favorite categories... events that might be crimes. Suspicious enough to be worthy for forensic testing, but aren't there other backlogged cases?

Last week, a duffel bag was found in a Belmont County, Ohio strip pond. The bag, which had been weighted down with bricks, contained items of men's clothing and contraceptives.

The Belmont County Sheriff said t-shirt featuring logo from the band Iron Maiden found in the duffel bag had a dark reddish brown stain on it. It was on the upper left chest area...

...The sheriff said there was no recoverable DNA remaining in the condoms. The paving bricks make the discovery particularly suspicious, since it appears someone didn't want this duffel bag to ever be found.

It appears it had been in the water for years...

On the forensic side... how long can DNA or hemoglobin survive under water? I'm guessing in that moist environment... 2 months! how's that for a random guess? any arguments?