Friday, November 20, 2009

DNA Evidence Fabricated

by blogger hcn

UPDATE: I'm re-posting this. For those of you wondering, I think the linked to news story is the reason for the asinine storyline on this weeks SVU. -jl

I recently saw a series of segments on a news show questioning forensic science. After examining several areas of forensic science and questioning their validity, they made a statement that DNA evidence seems to be the only truly accurate evidence to link a person to a crime scene. According to a recent New York Times article, that may not be the case anymore. Scientists in Israel were able to fabricate blood and saliva samples with DNA from a person other than the donor.

The authors of the paper took blood from a woman and centrifuged it to remove the white cells, which contain DNA. To the remaining red cells they added DNA that had been amplified from a man’s hair. Since red cells do not contain DNA, all of the genetic material in the blood sample was from the man. The authors sent it to a leading American forensics laboratory, which analyzed it as if it were a normal sample of a man’s blood.

Obviously a person attempting to fake and plant DNA evidence would need a background in biology and DNA analysis techniques to pull this off. I think it's safe to say your average criminal won't be able to have access to the necessary equipment and the knowledge to do this, but it is an interesting new study.

NRC Report - Free

by blogger jgl

The NRC report on forensic science is now available for free. Previously, I think there was a charge to access the full report. The report can be accessed here.

This report provides some constructive criticism of the current state of forensic labs in the US. It's something that forensic scientists are talking about.

Recognizing that significant improvements are needed in forensic science, Congress directed the National Academy of Sciences to undertake the study that led to this report. There are scores of talented and dedicated people in the forensic science community, and the work that they perform is vitally important. They are often strapped in their work, however, for lack of adequate resources, sound policies, and national support. It is clear that change and advancements, both systemic and scientific, are needed in a number of forensic science disciplines—to ensure the reliability of the disciplines, establish enforceable standards, and promote best practices and their consistent application.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Company to Provide Forensic Services to Army

found by troym; comments by blogger jgl

Does anyone know how these contracts will work? Will these companies be hiring scientists to complete the work or just serving as a middle man sending the work through to already existing private labs?

In other words, will any forensic lab jobs be created/destroyed because of this?

American Systems Corp., Analytic Services Inc. and Ideal Innovations Inc., have won a multiple award contract to compete for approximately $145 million in task orders to provide forensic services to the Army...

...The support will cover the forensic disciplines of nuclear DNA, serology, forensic anthropology, digital evidence, forensic toxicology and forensic pathology, among others, according to a Sept. 28 announcement from American Systems.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Hate Mail Analysis Challenges Public Assumptions

Sample of hate letters
by blogger SLC

Various locations and people throughout the United Kingdom, from simple mosques to the prime minister, have recently received letters containing scathing racial and sexual insults. However, profiles developed by linguistic experts have one surprising thing to say - the writer is likely a woman.

"Men tend to suggest a more explicit threat and a demand for action but, while the nature of the letters were very nasty and would clearly have been received as threats, they were not explicit about what that threat might be. [. . .] One of the things that were striking about the letters was the heavy use of expressive adjectives, which is more typical of women than men."

Experts also think the suspect will likely have written more typical complaint letters to companies or politicians, and have asked for any who recognize certain unusual turns of phrase in the letters to come forward.

DNA evidence from the letters also supports the linguistic experts' theory.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Lock up or field trips?

by blogger msb

In Seattle, a convicted killer escaped during an annual field trip. Phillip Arnold Paul was one of 30 mental patients from Eastern State Hospital recently taken to the local fair by several staff members. Paul, who was classified schizophrenic and acquitted of murder, vanished from the fair with a backpack full of clothing, food and money. He was later apprehended on the side of the highway several miles from the fair.

Shortly after the escape, Susan N. Dreyfus, secretary of the Department of Social and Health Services, ordered a halt to all field trips for "forensic patients," those committed for treatment as a result of criminal proceedings, at all three of the state's mental institutions..."We are committed to finding out how and why this happened, why there was an unacceptable (two-hour) delay in notifying local law enforcement of his escape, and how potentially dangerous patients were brought to such a public venue with the reported staffing ratios"

The really sad part...this is the second time Paul has escaped from a field trip and endangered those around him.

I'm Innocent

by blogger ADD

Texas is on the verge of admitting that it executed an innocent man. The man in question was tried and convicted on faulty forensics.

In 1991,
fire swept through Cameron Todd Willingham's small home. He escaped but his 3 daughters did not. Despite having no clear motive, he was charged with arson. Willingham who had prior run ins with the law was tried, convicted, and executed in 2004.

The new report criticizes the former fire marshal who investigated the blaze and testified for the prosecution. The report states that his testimony was based upon his personal opinion and was not based in science. The report added that the investigators showed poor understanding in fire science and that a finding of arson could not be sustained.

"If something comes out of his execution that would improve the criminal justice system and keep a tragedy like this from happening in the future, it's a very big deal," explained Robert Udashen, a Dallas attorney, who’s also a member of The Innocence Project, which brought the case to the state’s attention.

The Willingham investigation is only the second the Texas Forensic Science Commission has ever conducted. They plan a statewide meeting next month in Las Colinas.

Smile, You're on Candid Camera!

by blogger jmj

A forgery and theft case in Pierce County, Washington was solved with the use of facial recognition software being pilot tested by the Pierce County Sheriff's Department. An ATM surveillance image was compared to 16 years' worth of mug shots taken at the Pierce County Jail using Sagem Morpho Inc.'s new facial recognition software, MorphoFace. It took less than 15 minutes to find a match. The property crime case, that likely would have gotten cast to the side, ended with an arrest and conviction.

The software was used in Tampa, FL in 2001 during Super Bowl XXXV where scans of spectators identified 19 people with criminal records. However, none were wanted by authorities at the time. Airports looked into the use of facial recognition cameras as an added security measure after 9/11, but opponents raised concerns over privacy and argued the technology was intrusive and ineffective.

The difference with the Pierce County Sheriff's Department is that the software is being used as an investigative tool to identify likely suspects in a specific crime, not to just scan crowds looking for felons. The Sheriff's Department is also testing the software to gauge its accuracy.

To test the software's accuracy, Wilkins checks whether it can match current mug shots of repeat offenders currently in the jail with their previous booking photos.

He goes through the daily bookings and selects the men and women who have been locked up before. He takes their most recent mug shots and uploads them into MorphoFace.

The program is asked to find possible matches in a database of more than 479,000 mug shots of people booked into the jail, the Remann Hall juvenile jail and the Puyallup City Jail since 1992.

MorphoFace uses algorithms to measure the location of a person's eyes and builds a model of the face that is compared with the mug shots in the database.

"It will recognize unique patterns in each person's face," Hess said.

Tests of the software have shown that it spots whom it should about 90 percent of the time.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Super Sniffer!

by blogger mem

We all know that the police often use cadaver dogs to locate potential dead bodies, but did you know that they also use dogs to identify criminals? Apparently, scent dogs are often used to match suspects with forensic evidence found at crime scenes. In this article, however, The Innocence Project of Texas is claiming that some of these wonder dogs are responsible for wrongful arrests.

Fort Bend County Sheriff Deputy Keith Pickett and his dogs are being named specifically, citing that his methods are flawed. Curvis Bickham claims to have been falsely accused, and was arrested and charged with murder because of Pickett's dogs. The following video explains further.

“I saw Pickett with an extremely tight leash on that dog. That dog was going where Pickett was going. When Pickett stopped, the dog stopped,” said Dr. Larry Myers, consultant for The Innocence Project.

Though the charges against Bickham have been dismissed and he has been released, he reportedly lost everything because of this case.

Monday, September 21, 2009

DNA Sample could buy Freedom

by blogger gmp

Several states have passed laws over the past few years mandating individuals arrested for a felony must submit a DNA sample. The infamous O.C. also known as Orange County has taken it a step further and are giving those arrested the option of submitting a DNA sample in exchange for their charges being dropped. Those in favor of such measures believe not only will it serve as a deterrent for future criminals and cut down on the number of cases passing through the judicial system. A fee of $75 has also been proposed as the cost to submit the sample as part of the overall deal. Can we really place a price on freedom???

In a perfect world, I think most of us would prefer that were someone accused and arrested for a crime, they proceeded through the criminal justice system in a more traditional sense," Sorrell said. "However, these are very difficult times, and the volume of crimes has had a huge impact on the D.A.'s office and law enforcement agencies.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Improving Fingerprint Recovery Rates for Metal Cartridge Cases

by jnr

Researchers at the University of Leicester are investigating a technique that may improve the visualization of fingerprints on metal surfaces, such as cartridge cases, by studying the chemical and physical interactions that occur between the metal and the residue deposited as a fingerprint.

Researcher Alex Goddard explains, "Once a finger has touched the metal surface, a residue remains behind, this starts to react with the metal and an image of the fingerprint can be developed by use of elevated temperature and humidity, with the resultant image becoming a permanent feature on the surface of the metal."

Bitemark Evidence: Not all it's cracked up to be??

by blogger bcs

According to a new study, bitemark evidence and analysis should be viewed with caution. In the past, the individuality of bitemarks has often been conpared to the individuality of fingerprints. Over the years, based on this misconception bitemark evidence has falsely convicted several people, who had their convictions overturned thanks to awesome power of DNA. This study marks the first time that human skin was used in a bitemark study, so the results were more along the lines of what would be seen in the field. Hopefully, this study will help forensic odentologists to convey to jurors, that while bitemark evidence can be an effective forensic tool, it is not as reliable as DNA, or fingerprints.

In the past 10 years, the number of court cases involving bitemark evidence that have been overturned led us to question the reasons for the erroneous bitemark identification. It's important to recognize the serious consequences of a misidentification for the accused, the victim, the families involved, the justice system and the possibility that the perpetrator is still at large.

Good Cop, No More Bad Cop

by blogger dab

What if harsh interrogations were not necessary and even less effective to bringing out the truth from potential suspects? Scaring someone into confessing lies can waste time in criminal investigations. Sure there are ways to guess whether someone is telling lies, body signals, twitches, etc. There are even polygraph tests, but they only measure physiological changes indirectly affected by lying. These current methods just aren't enough.

Forensic Scientists have come up with a new method which treats interrogations more like a conversation in a bar instead of a confrontation. More can be told about listening to what people are saying instead of how they are saying it.

First, the person recalls a vivid memory, like the first day at college, so researchers have a baseline reading for how the person communicates. The person then freely recounts the event being investigated, recalling all that happened. After several pointed questions (“Would a police officer say a crime was committed?” for example), the interviewee describes the event in question again, adding sounds, smells and other details. Several more stages follow, including one in which the person is asked to recall what happened in reverse...People telling the truth tend to add 20 to 30 percent more external detail than do those who are lying. “This is how memory works, by association,” Dr. Hiscock-Anisman said. “If you’re telling the truth, this mental reinstatement of contexts triggers more and more external details.”

This new method isn't perfect. There are limitations to what kind of information can be asked. It is only effective for asking about what happened during a specific time, not for individual facts like, "Did you see him wearing a hat?" Expert and pathological liars are also unable to be tested.
All in all, suspects and officers can breathe a sigh of relief now that harsh treatment and fear no longer have to be used in questioning.

XBox Forensic Tool Kit: XFT

by blogger kjt

See, you really can have fun at work! The field of forensics is continually advancing technologically and with the introduction of the XBox tool kit, these advances are becoming more profound. Computer forensics has now been able to go beyond searching computer databases. It is now quite common for criminals to store illicit data on game consoles, such as the XBox. Digital forensics expert, David Collins of Sam Houston State University, has truly had the pleasure of playing with all types of games consoles in order to make hardware and software for the XBox and other devices.

"Cell phones, smart phones, PDAs, game consoles and other devices provide a convenient means to store data of all kinds, including images, video, audio and text files. But they also provide a simple way for criminals to possess and hide illegal material too."

"Collins explains how future work on XFT will involve making the toolkit into a fully functional forensic operating system (OS). This OS will be packaged as both a bootable operating system from a hard disk and a "live" bootable compact disk."

What will they come up with next?

The Chemical Stench of Death

by CFL

As of now, police dogs are specially trained to find dead bodies by the lovely fragrance of decay. However, this may all change, because scientists are working on a new device that can detect the chemicals that create the smell of rotting corpses. They say they are looking for the "chemical fingerprint of death". Not only will the device help find the bodies, but will also be able to figure out how long the body has been there....just based on the smell. Sounds pretty stinky, but very cool!

"In an advance toward the first portable device for detecting human bodies buried in disasters and at crime scenes, scientists today report early results from a project to establish the chemical fingerprint of death....."

"To develop such a device, scientists must identify what gases are released as bodies decompose under a variety of natural environmental conditions, Jones noted. In addition, they must detail the time sequence in which those odorant chemicals are released in the hours and days after death."

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Engineering Drug-Free Cannabis Plants

by blogger sjk

This is it folks! The first step has been taken towards engineering drug-free cannabis plants. That's what I said, drug-free. Researchers at the University of Minnesota have identified the location of the gene that produces tetrahydrocannabinol or THC in marijuana and hemp plants. The hallucinogenic compound can be found in the cystolithic hairs covering the plant's flowers and leaves. This discovery has lead to new research and the possibility of silencing the THC gene. If the gene can be silenced, not only would drug-free plants be visually identifiable because of their lack of tiny hairs, but farmers could once again use hemp as a cash crop to produce durable fiber that has been replaced by less environmentally friendly products, like plastics.

Recent popular demand for hemp products has led some states to consider the economic and environmental benefits of hemp. North Dakota legislation aims to reintroduce it as a crop, and Minnesota is considering similar legislation. At the same time, California and other states permit the medicinal use of marijuana.

"Cannabis genetics can contribute to better agriculture, medicine, and drug enforcement," said George Weiblen, an associate professor of plant biology and a co-author of the study.

Fingerprints Show More Than Just Swirls and Loops

by blogger klv

Fingerprints can reveal identity, but what else can be found? A research team at Purdue has developed a method to determine chemical composition of trace residues left in fingerprints. Lifted prints are analyzed by mass spectrometry and show more than just fingerprint patterns. The compounds found in the print can then be used to separate a print of interest from another overlying fingerprint.

"The classic example of a fingerprint is an ink imprint showing the unique swirls and loops used for identification, but fingerprints also leave behind a unique distribution of molecular compounds," Cooks said. "Some of the residues left behind are from naturally occurring compounds in the skin and some are from other surfaces or materials a person has touched."

Will the real DNA please stand up

by blogger aaa

Studies show that DNA can be fabricated and placed at crime scenes. It was reported that the procedure is so easy that undergraduate students can perform it. Forensic science uses DNA to convict and/or acquit people everyday. If DNA can so easily be fabricated, What does that mean for us?

Current forensic procedure fails to distinguish between such samples of blood, saliva and touched surfaces with artificial DNA," the scientists wrote in an article recently published by "Forensic Science International: Genetics," a scientific journal...Researchers at Nucleix also demonstrated how one could implant DNA into real blood by using a centrifuge to separate red and white blood cells and placing the DNA in the former, giving the blood a new profile..."We have come up with a solution that should become an integral part of the standard DNA tests today and seal the hole that has been opened in what has become the gold-standard in forensics," said Ganor.

I guess we should hope this solution is just that a solution or we may need to find a new career.

CODIS: A Short Introduction

by blogger kjs

We've all seen those forensic shows: scientists putting things in tubes, extracting DNA from blood or semen and then running it through CODIS. Well, what is CODIS? If you asked any crime-scene-show-watching aficionado, they probably would tell you it's the "computer thing that catches the bad guys". While that's partially true, the real brains behind the operation lies in the FBI lab in Quantico, Virginia.

CODIS, or COmbined DNA Identification System, is the National DNA Index System that contains of roughly 6.7 million offender DNA profiles from every state. It consists of two types of biological profiles: Forensic profiles, those with unknown DNA, and Offender profiles, DNA that has a name. The FBI currently processes over 5,000 samples in one month and hopes to jump to 90,000 by the year 2010!

With this system in place, states can make matches from an unknown DNA profile (Forensic profiles) to known profiles (Offender profiles) across state lines. In Alabama, forensic profiles have matched offender profiles in more than 20 states. This tool is helpful in the preventing of crimes by repeat offenders, whether or not they decide to remain within state lines.

2010 is a special year: The FBI and many states will begin implementing a new law which allows the collection of DNA profiles from felony arrestees; currently, only convicted felonies require DNA to be put into the database. The FBI will also be collecting samples from detained non-U.S. citzens to put into the system. The number of profiles will grow and so will the work to put them into the system, which provides a little light for DNA analysts looking for relief in the job market.

“We went from federal offenders to arrestees and detained non-U.S. citizens,” said Robert Fram, the special agent in charge of the F.B.I. laboratory division. “We don’t know where, or if, the number of profiles will plateau.”

The FBI is also employing robotics to help with the influx of offender profiles. Robotic machines will handle and place DNA in tubes during its various stages of analysis, preventing contamination and error, both of which have been hot topics in the field of forensic biology.

The future of this system is unknown but the present is certain: it is saving lives, both inside and outside of prisons and paving the way for technological advancement within the forensic science community.

Unsealed crime scene

by blogger ic

So, earlier this month there was a sad case of the missing Yale student, Annie Le, who was supposed to get married in days. Days later, her body was found in the wall of the building where her lab was. Basically, she was seen going in her the building where her lab was but was never seen going back out. It would seem obvious that something awful occurred in the building, yet the Yale PD still decided to keep the building open, even until Sunday, when her body was finally found in the wall. Even though this was a missing persons case for the first couple of days, there should've been more caution.

In a series of interviews conducted yesterday, law enforcement experts from around the country said they were surprised and concerned that authorities did not seal the research facility on Amistad Street as soon as it became clear that Le was missing and that a crime could have been committed inside the building.
But the circumstances surrounding Le’s disappearance were unclear, and investigators initially proceeded on the presumption that Le was missing or kidnapped — not trapped inside the laboratory at 10 Amistad St.

Anything could've happened in the building any of the five days after she disapeared, and any evidence of the crime could've been contaminated. The Yale PD could probably have shown some better judgement in decisions they made.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

DNA Evidence Fabricated

by blogger hcn

I recently saw a series of segments on a news show questioning forensic science. After examining several areas of forensic science and questioning their validity, they made a statement that DNA evidence seems to be the only truly accurate evidence to link a person to a crime scene. According to a recent New York Times article, that may not be the case anymore. Scientists in Israel were able to fabricate blood and saliva samples with DNA from a person other than the donor.

The authors of the paper took blood from a woman and centrifuged it to remove the white cells, which contain DNA. To the remaining red cells they added DNA that had been amplified from a man’s hair. Since red cells do not contain DNA, all of the genetic material in the blood sample was from the man. The authors sent it to a leading American forensics laboratory, which analyzed it as if it were a normal sample of a man’s blood.

Obviously a person attempting to fake and plant DNA evidence would need a background in biology and DNA analysis techniques to pull this off. I think it's safe to say your average criminal won't be able to have access to the necessary equipment and the knowledge to do this, but it is an interesting new study.

Bad Science?

by blogger orf

There have been many complaints recently about the reliability of forensic science. In February, the National Academy of Sciences released a report that pointed out all the flaws found in the field of forensic science, particularly with those that use comparative analysis such as fingerprint analysis. DNA analysis seems to be the only widely accepted forensic science field, but it has been well funded in order to become scientifically proven.

"If we're making life-or-death decisions based on science, we better make sure the science can stand up to rigorous scrutiny," said Ben Wecht, the institute's program administrator.

At a meeting held Dusquesne University on September 11, 2009, the concerns brought up by the National Academy of Sciences were further discussed. It seems now that the only way to improve the forensic sciences is for the government to provide additional funding for testing.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Implants Reveal Identity

by csc

There are many ways to identify a person, including: dental records, DNA, and fingerprints. A not so new, but now highly publicized way of making an identification now includes serial numbers.

The publicity that I'm referring to is the case of Jasmine Fiore, the swimsuit model that was murdered and stuffed into a suitcase. Although, she was without both teeth and fingertips, clearly her murderer/husband was an avid CSI viewer, she was still able to be identified by the serial numbers stamped into her breast implants. In fact, all medical implants come with serial numbers.

Originally intended to speed recall of defective devices and ensure patient safety, serial numbers on implants and prosthetics are now being used to speed identification of the unknown.

...If you have something surgically implanted in you by a surgeon, that is going to have a serial number, and that serial number will be recorded

Just another tool in our forensic arsenal to prove to criminals everywhere, no matter how much tv fodder you digest, it's pretty difficult to outsmart the scientist.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

New Technology Further Automates Fingerprint Identification

by blogger cnt

We've all seen CSI. Investigators find a fingerprint at a crime scene, scan it into the computer and seconds later, voila! A single, perfect match...except we know that's not really how it works. In reality, before a print can be entered into IAFIS or a similar system, a fingerprint examiner must first mark out the distinguishing features of the print. The system will then return numerous results that must be manually examined by the fingerprint specialist.

Now, a new technology has the potential to automate the first part of the procedure. Scientists at NIST are currently testing Automatic Feature Extraction and Matching (AFEM) software prototypes being developed by eight different vendors.

The AFEM software extracted the distinguishing features of the latent prints, then compared them against 100,000 fingerprints. For each print the software provided a list of 50 candidates that the fingerprint specialists compared by hand. Most identities were found within the top 10.

...Results ranged from nearly 100 percent for the most accurate product to around 80 percent for the last three listed.

Will this technology really be able to reliably replace human fingerprint examiners in identifying distinguishing points on a fingerprint? Only time will tell, but it's definitely something to watch.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Uh oh...

by blogger team UAB DB

Uh oh...undetectable blood? Not good for forensic examiners. And why do we continue to help out criminals through the media. If these detergents with active oxygen do work new methods of detection will have to be developed.

"Regardless of the type of material used and the time that had elapsed, in every single case where the three tests were performed, the presence of blood was not detected...".

Common blood enhancers such as phenophthalene and luminol were used in the study and gave negative results for blood on every cloth washed with the active oxygen detergents. I wonder if IR photography could work to show the presence of blood after washing? I'm sure someone's alreeady on that though, at least I hope so.

Thursday, February 19, 2009


by blogger jgl

The Bring Your Own Slides session is often a highlight of the AAFS annual meeting. This year was no exception. The BYOS session is an opportunity for forensic scientists to share interesting stories from their work. There is always a mix of entertaining, light stories, along with more somber stories that are part of the profession (medical examiners are usually featured).

This session was hosted by Dr. Michael Baden of HBO's Autopsy. I think he usually hosts it. His talks are always good. Tonight he didn't have a feature, but threw in good comments throughout.

One of the top talks was by Sam Brothers, a computer forensics guy from US customs. He is a magician! I liked the card counting demonstration.

The feature of his talk focused on cell phone/GPS forensic work. iphones are unique for retaining voicemail in the phone... windows washer doesn't wash log files... a smashed (or chewed) sim card can still be analyzed... and your GPS knows where you are and where you've been. technology helps the good guys!

The always entertaining Mark Benecke ( gave a "fun" talk on a german cannibal. He pointed out that cannibalism can be a tricky category when it comes to charging the crime. Homicide doesn't necessarily fit when a person volunteers to be killed and eaten by another person. Trust me, the details are even weirder than it sounds.

The real bones herself, Kathy Reichs stopped by and told a neat story about how research for one of her books helped lead to an answer in one of her cases. I'm not sure if i have the details right, but basically while researching a deceased Canadian who died in a Guatemalan civil war and a past leper community on Tracadie in New Brunswick, the local press (and possible accompanying documentary) led to someone coming forward admitting to raiding a graveyard when he was a 12-year-old kid. After a couple failed pranks, the bones were ditched in some woods. Years later, in 1989, the skull wound up in kathy reichs' hands and has remained unidentified. eh... i think i messed up the story... maybe it will be featured in an episode of bones.

other good talks as well. Did you know Dickens worked for a coroner? and wrote some articles for the Lancet?

AAFS Annual Meeting

by blogger jgl

Pictures later. I forgot the camera cable, although i noticed a radio shack on the 16th street mall.

I arrived at the American Academy of Forensic Sciences annual meeting (convention) on wednesday. I wonder if there is any chance that people will start to refer to this as For Sci Con or FSC for short...

One noticeable improvement was that the conference organizers had many bulletin boards available to the "public". In recent years there have been as little as 3, covered with junk.

The cybercafe was also terminal plentiful, and not that crowded. Perhaps it was just due to the time of day. Perhaps it is due to the fact more and more people have their own laptops... or netbooks. I didn't try out the wifi in the convention center (if it exists). I'm in a hotel that is a couple blocks from the convention center and notice that there is something called DowntownDenverWifi. Great! Except i can't get the DowntownDenverWifi to work. maybe it is just my laptop...

One potential non-improvement is the poster session. My complaint is that the posters are usually too close together. there isn't enough room to move around. Tonight, the 31 toxicology posters were neatly arranged in a closet. at least they took the coats out. when i left, i was wearing someone else's shoes... i don't know what that means.

the denver convention center is very nice and i was impressed with the 16th street mall. for those who never have been to denver the 16th street mall is basically where 16th street is closed to traffic for 6 or so blocks (except for the buses). shops and food, etc.

And the new AAFS webpage is really nice.

good start!

Monday, February 02, 2009

DNA tests fuel urgency to free the innocent

by blogger gmp

Advances in DNA testing continue to lead to the exoneration of convicted felons, many of whom would otherwise be imprisoned for the duration of their lives. This same technology has led to the "correct" arresting and imprisonment of the associated perpetrators, furthermore validating this means of suspect identification and prosecution. Some of the issues with this system involve the most commonly encountered reason for not pursuing all means of finding "reasonable doubt" - funding. Because of the distribution of wealth within states and the country, many people currently in jail could be freed if only their district had the finances.

After spending nearly 27 years buried in the vast Texas prison system for a crime he did not commit, Charles Chatman's first weeks of freedom have been overwhelming.

Each of the six rooms in his new apartment, including the bathroom, is larger than any of his previous cells. The gleaming entertainment system and sleek laptop from family, friends and attorneys might as well be hollow props on a movie set, because Chatman, 47, has little idea how to operate them — testimony to more than a generation lost behind bars.

Chatman was exonerated last month by DNA testing while serving a 99-year sentence for sexual assault. .

Hope remains that the government will intervene and assist more counties in research such technology prior to the conviction of any suspects, else more lawsuits against cities and counties may arise for wrongful arrest.

Eating Processed Foods Makes it Easier for the Detection of Fingerprints

by blogger cos

A UK forensic scientist at the University of Leicester has found that sweaty fingerprints which are high in salt content will leave more of a corrosive impression in the metal they are deposited on. The more corrosive prints can be easily visualized using a novel technique which could help in solving crimes in the future and previously unsolved cases. The connection has been made to processed foods because they are generally high in salt. As a result criminals, who have a diet high in processed foods are more likely to be discovered using this novel technique.

Dr John Bond, a researcher at the University of Leicester and scientific support officer at Northamptonshire Police, said processed food fans are more likely to leave tell-tale signs at a crime scene.

Speaking before a conference on forensic science at the University of Leicester, Dr Bond said sweaty fingerprint marks made more of a corrosive impression on metal if they had a high salt content.

And he revealed he was currently in early talks with colleagues at the University of Leicester to assess whether a sweat mark left at a crime scene could be analysed to reveal a ‘sweat profile’ ie more about the type of person who left the mark...

...Dr Bond said: “On the basis that processed foods tend to be high in salt as a preservative, the body needs to excrete excess salt which comes out as sweat through the pores in our fingers.

So the sweaty fingerprint impression you leave when you touch a surface will be high in salt if you eat a lot of processed foods -the higher the salt, the better the corrosion of the metal."

Germy Genetics

by blogger CS

Scientists are using the unique genetic sequence inherent to microbes, they can tell the difference between related strains of bacteria. It is claimed to be as remarkable as human DNA, even being able to identify the culprits of food poisoning. The techniques utilized are much like the same techniques used by the CDC to identify a disease. This research stemmed from the anthrax attacks from years passed. Investigators were able to link some of the biological attacks to an individual based on the genetic fingerprint of parent spores found in a flask. They claim to be able to trace a single vial of "germs." Speaking realistically, it seems as though this is better in thought than in practice. Perhaps this form of genetic fingerprinting will become more useful than any other practice currently being used in forensics, but for now it's still too soon to tell.
Microbial forensics is "still a field very much in its infancy," said prominent gene researcher Dr. Claire Fraser-Liggett...Unlike in 2001, today the genetic makeup of many bacteria and viruses has been fully sequenced, or decoded...So Fraser-Liggett urges development of a database of multiple samples of pathogens collected from around the world, so the next such investigation won't have to start from scratch...But legally, microbial forensics raises enough issues that in 2004, the FBI created an elite committee of specialists in genetics and law enforcement to develop the first guidelines on how to handle and preserve bacteria or viruses that may be part of a crime.

This would be incredible, but a lot of convincing in the science world needs to be done. If this becomes a tried and true practice, we can just add it to our ever expanding forensic tool belt.

GHB Detection

by blogger jld

GHB was a drug initially developed to treat illnesses such as anxiety, depression and sleep disorders. Recently it has been abused as a recreational drug and more violently as a date rape drug. Researchers in the UK have been developing a method to invent a portable Raman Spectroscopy test as well as a bench test to detect GHB and GHL in alcoholic beverages as well as storage vials. They tested different storage containers that could be used to hold GHB as well as variations in type and concentration of alcoholic beverages. They concluded that it was a useful method to test for GHB in the field to compliment more thorough tests done in the laboratory.

Forensic analysis usually relies on high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC), gas chromatography coupled with mass spectrometry (GC-MS), nuclear magnetic resonance or infra-red spectroscopy. Moreover, it usually requires the extraction of the drug from a suspect sample before analysis is possible. Raman spectroscopy, on the other hand, is a quick and simple, non-destructive technique that provides qualitative and quantitative information. It might therefore be used to identify substances at the scene of crime or at customs inspection points at shipping ports and airports. The sample need not be removed from the transparent container in which it is found.

"We are able to detect GHB and GBL in a variety of containers including colourless and amber glass vials, plastic vials and polythene bags," explain the researchers, "We have also demonstrated the ability to detect both GBL and GHB in a range of liquid matrices simulating spiked beverages." The lower concentration limit was 1% w/v, which is significantly lower than the common dosage level the team says.

"This work clearly demonstrates that portable Raman spectrometers can be used to interrogate samples in situ," the researchers conclude, "allowing a more thorough investigation of key samples by Raman and other analytical techniques in a forensic laboratory where applicable."

It seems that this new portable system may be useful in airports or property searches but it does not have much practical use once a crime has been committed. The chances of finding a left over drink to test for GHB after the victim has left a bar or a party are pretty slim.

Maryland 1, New York 0

by blogger jmj

The State of New York has spent $7 million dollars since 2001 to test fire new handguns and enter the minute markings the guns make on the shell casings into a searchable database. Proponents contend that the unique markings left behind can later be compared to shell casings found at crime scenes. However, with over 200,000 "fingerprints" in the system, the database has yet to lead to a criminal prosecution.

Opponents to the database argue that the markings left by the gun change over the long term and can be deliberately altered. They also point out that the majority of guns involved in crimes are not used by their legal owner, but are stolen or otherwise obtained by the criminal. They conclude that the amount of money and time dedicated to the record keeping of every gun sold is a wasted effort since less than one percent of all guns sold will ever be used in a crime.

Politicians in Albany however need only direct the attention of these naysayers to Maryland where a similar system has been in place since 2000. With only one more year under their belt than New York, Maryland already has one conviction to their credit.

Seven years ago, New York started a database of "ballistic fingerprints" for all new handguns sold in the state. The bill's backers sold it as a crime-solving device, arguing that the state would now have a sample of a spent shell and bullet for every new gun sold. This, they said, would help police connect future evidence from crime scenes to specific guns.

Since then, the authorities have entered 200,000 newly purchased guns into the database and spent $1 million dollars a year on the system. Yet it hasn't led to a single solved crime. The only other state with such a database, Maryland, can attribute at least one conviction to the system since it was created in 2000-more than zero, but few enough that the state's own Police Forensics Division has suggested scrapping the program because of its demonstrated lack of benefits.

2009... should be your year, New York!

Pollen....Solving Gun Crimes of the Future

by blogger chwb

Scientists have devised a way of connecting gun crimes back to a suspect. The groundbreaking technology...Pollen. What took Mother Earth millions of years to engineer, is being used by scientists to connect suspects back to the cartridge casings used at a crime scene. Scientist have enhanced the pollen by adding their secret formula of "titanium oxide, zirconia, silica, or a mixture of other oxides." I guess the ratio of ingredients and not the actual ingredients are the secret formula.

The tags primarily consist of naturally-occurring pollen, a substance that evolution has provided with extraordinary adhesive properties,” says Professor Paul Sermon from the University of Surrey, who has led the research. “It has been given a unique chemical signature by coating it with titanium oxide, zirconia, silica or a mixture of other oxides. The precise composition of this coating can be varied subtly from one batch of cartridges to another, enabling a firm connection to be made between a particular fired cartridge and its user.

So in the future super sleuths, look for the suspect with the sniffles and a box of Kleenex. It could be the smoking gun ;)

A hairy situation

by blogger msb

Casemaking clothes moth caterpillars are mostly a rural dweller that will feed on human remains and can digest human hair. Entomologists have recently found that the larvae casings, which are constructed of nearby hair and fibers, can yield enough mitochondrial DNA to identify a corpse as well as link a body to the crime scene if it has been moved.

Bucheli and her colleagues discovered human hair in caterpillar cases when a forensics team asked for help with an abandoned body discovered in August 2007 in a Galveston County, Texas house...The hair shafts yielded enough mitochondrial DNA for Bucheli and her lab to sequence a repetitive bit of genetic material commonly used for forensic identification.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

The eyes have it!

by blogger mem

Scientists at the University of Santiago de Compostela have developed software that can more accurately determine the Post-Mortem Interval (PMI) using vitreous humor from the eyes of cadavers. They measure the levels of potassium, urea and a DNA metabolite, hypoxantine. The numbers are then crunched in a program they developed to calculate the PMI. If the results are accurate, it could be very useful to forensic pathologists

“The equations we have developed now make it possible for us to estimate the PMI more precisely than before, and provide a useful and accessible tool to forensic pathologists that is easy to use.

The precision and usefulness of these two models have been confirmed by chemical analysis in more than 200 vitreous humour samples. The doctor and the two mathematicians who have performed the study have verified that the SVM method offers more precise data.”

Caught Before the Ink Dries

by blogger aaa

Researchers at the Midwest Forensic Resource Center at Iowa State University are building a library of ink mass spectras to help identify ink of question documents. The new technique used is called Direct Analysis in the Real Time (DART). This process eliminates the extraction step, which saves time for forensic scientists. The new technique does not require the sample to be cut and it produces results of richer data. Another phase of this project is to develop computer software for the library. Overall, this project will yield better results and save time which will beneficial to all,criminals excluded.

Researchers at the Midwest Forensics Resource Center at Iowa State University are building a library of ink profiles to help forensic scientists identify inks on fraudulent documents and other evidence. MFRC scientists will pair mass spectrometry with a new sampling technique called Direct Analysis in Real Time (DART) to reveal the chemical makeup of ink faster and in greater detail than ever before...
...But, on top of saving time and preserving evidence, the DART method also yields richer data about ink samples than previous sampling methods. Initial tests of the DART system indicate that the mass spectra reveal more components of the ink than conventional mass spectra. Using DART, forensic scientists may be able to differentiate between inks like never before.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Another Ear Print Conviction Reversed!

by blogger bcs

Mark Dallagher was convicted of murdering an elderly woman based on an ear print mark left on the window. Cornelis Van der Lugt, a Dutch ear expert, testified that there was "a unique match" between Dallagher's ear and the impression left on the victim's window. Eight years later Dallagher's conviction was overturned, not because the prosecution all of a sudden doubted the validity of the ear impression testimony, but ultimately because DNA taken from the ear impression did not match Mr. Dallagher. Thanks to the erroneous testimony of Mr. Van der Lugt an innocent man was locked up for crime he did not committ.This article shows yet another example of an over zealous scientist testifying in court about ear mark evidence, when its validity has not been researched or peer reviewed.

"The validity of ear identification is unknown. The research that is necessary to say anything on the validity of ear identification has not been conducted."

It's a bird, it's a plane...

by blogger hcn

The museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. is home to the Feather Identification Lab which collects lefover bird remains from plane crashes. A feather found in the engine of recently crashed US Airways flight 1549 in the Hudson River was sent to the lab to attempt to identify the bird that is believed to have caused the plane to go down. The feather will be compared to thousands in their library and DNA analysis done to attempt to determine the species. They hope to identify the species of bird and possibly how many birds were involved.

One key to reducing bird strikes is to move the species causing the problem, she said. That might mean mowing a certain area, or filling in a pond frequented by a species of duck...

...And for high-profile crashes, identification both by feather structure and by DNA will be performed. A bird strike over the Bronx reported by the pilot minutes after Flight 1549 took off from La Guardia Airport may have caused both engines to fail, forcing the emergency splash into the Hudson.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

You are what you eat...

by blogger mdb

Another reason to eat healthy...research is currently underway in Northamptonnshire on the salts deposited in fingerprints by crimals who eat a lot of processed food. According to Dr. John Bond processed foods being higher in salt causes the body to need to displace more salt, leaving high traces in the sweat depoisted with their fingerprints. Therefore criminals whoh eat a lot of "junk food" leave better fingerprints. This will help most in ballistics cases since the higher the salt content the more the metal of a shell casing may be corroded.

Dr John Bond, a researcher at the University of Leicester and scientific support officer at Northamptonshire Police, said processed food fans are more likely to leave tell-tale signs at a crime scene.

Also added by Dr. Bond, obesity ups your chances of being caught for comitting a crime. "Other research has drawn links between processed foods and obesity and we know that consumers of processed foods will leave better fingerprints,” So if anyone is planning a crime start shopping at Whole Foods and get rid of all that salt in your diet!