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.