Monday, September 20, 2010

New DNA Evidence May Exonerate Convicted Murderer

by jnr

DNA analysis can either be a sharp sword for prosecuting attorneys or a strong shield for the accused, but can it be relied upon too much?

Investigators have found new DNA evidence in the murder of Peggy Hettrick, a case that was considered closed until genetic evidence freed a man who spent 10 years in prison, according to Colorado Attorney General John Suthers.

The "touch DNA" tests weren't available in the late 1990s. Timothy Masters was convicted of murder in Hettrick's death in 1999, but his conviction was overturned in 2008 after defense lawyers used advanced DNA testing to uncover evidence suggesting a different suspect.

The new evidence was taken from Hettrick's clothing. "We have done 'touch DNA,' and I think it has moved the ball forward. We will know more in the future," Suthers said. He wouldn't say whose DNA was found or identify the clothing on which it was found.

Masters has not been exonerated in the case and remains a suspect.

"While we are not in a position to exonerate Tim at this time, I emphasize that he is presumed innocent and is no more a suspect than a variety of other people," Suthers said.

"A variety of other people"? I would like to know what evidence was presented at trial that led to the conviction of Masters, and if this new DNA evidence refutes it. Does the presence of a DNA profile on the clothing of the victim that does not match the defendant prove his innocence? Only if you can prove that only the killer placed his DNA upon the item. Good luck with that.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

New Method for Recovering Difficult Fingerprints

by blogger ic

It's already difficult to obtain good fingerprints at a crime scene. In most cases, mostly partials will be found. In cases where there was some type of explosion or fire, other methods like this chemical method could be very helpful not just in recovering the print but also to find out some information on who the suspect could be.

"The body chemistry of the person who left the fingerprint can tell us some things," said Shaler. "If the suspect is older or younger or a lactating mother, for example."

The researchers used a form of physical vapor deposition -- a method that uses a vacuum and allows vaporized materials to condense on a surface creating a thin film. Normally, the deposition process requires exceptionally clean surfaces because any speck of dust or grease on the coated surface shows up as a deformity. However, with fingerprints, the point is to have the surface material's ridges and valleys -- topography -- show up on the new surface so analysts can read them using an optical device without the necessity of chemical development or microscopy.

"This approach allows us to look at the topography better and to look at the chemistry later," said Shaler. "We wouldn't have thought of this by ourselves, but we could do it together."

One benefit of this approach would be the ability to retrieve fingerprints off fragments from incendiary or explosive devices and still be able to analyze the chemicals used in the device.

The specific method used is a conformal-evaporated-film-by-rotation technique developed to create highly accurate copies of biological templates such as insect eyes or butterfly wings. Both are surfaces that have nanoscale variations.

"It is a very simple process," said Lakhtakia. "And fingerprints are not nanoscale objects, so the conformal coating is applied to something big by nanotechnology standards."

Friday, September 17, 2010

Bacterial DNA Used to Identify You!

by blogger cfl

As you may know, your skin has "normal flora" bacteria living on it. This bacteria is beneficial to your health, but may also be used to identify you, according to emerging research. Scientists at the University of Colorado at Boulder are developing a method to identify individuals based on the unique bacteria found on their hands. When the amount of human DNA is too small to detect, bacterial DNA could be used in its place. Bacteria can be collected directly from hands or even touched surfaces and the DNA can be sequenced just like human DNA. The scientists found that very few bacteria were shared among test subjects. Even identical twins have different colonies of bacteria on their hands! Bacteria remain on our hands no matter how many times we wash them, so why not use them?

Could forensic scientists become forensic microbiologists within a few years?

..."Each one of us leaves a unique trail of bugs behind as we travel through our daily lives," said Fierer, an assistant professor in CU-Boulder's ecology and evolutionary biology department.
....unless there is blood, tissue, semen or saliva on an object, it's often difficult to obtain sufficient human DNA for forensic identification, said Fierer. But given the abundance of bacterial cells on the skin surface, it may be easier to recover bacterial DNA than human DNA from touched surfaces, they said. "Our technique could provide another independent line of evidence."
...The new technique would even be useful for identifying objects touched by identical twins, since they share identical DNA but they have different bacterial communities on their hands.

Who knew that the bacteria we try to avoid at all costs could become a type of forensic evidence?

Illinois Law Requires Testing All Rape Kits to End Backlog

by blogger gbq

An Illinois law now requires police to test all rape kits since the state has a backlog of thousands of untested rape kits. This new law will help to catch sex offenders and put them behind bars. Illinois is not the only state with a backlog problem. Cities in Michigan and Texas reportedly have thousands of untested rape kits as well. Should this law have been implemented a long time ago? Should all states implement this new law?

"On Wednesday, Human Rights Watch released a report showing that since 1995, only about 20 percent of rape kits, which contain physical evidence obtained from victims, could be confirmed as having been tested in Illinois. More than 4,000 kits had gone untested, the report found."

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Former Hacker Teaches Law Enforcement About iPhone Evidence

by blogger JAW

Today's phones, such as the iPhone contain a plethora of information about individuals and their activities. For criminals this can include incriminating emails, phone calls and potentially even location data. The current issue is many Law Enforcement agencies are not up to date on the ability to collect these key pieces of evidence. As the iPhone market began to mature, former hacker Jonathan Zdziarski began with a small how-to manual that eventually became a full book on how to extract pertinent information.

Law-enforcement experts said iPhone technology records a wealth of information that can be tapped more easily than BlackBerry and Droid devices to help police learn where you've been, what you were doing there and whether you've got something to hide.

Hips Don't Lie... in Sex Determination of Skeletal Remains

by blogger klv

Typically, forensic scientists have used the pelvic bone to determine the sex of skeletal remains. Though widely accepted, the technique has many limitations. Researchers from North Carolina State University have developed a new technique that is accurate and quantifiable.

The researchers found more than 20 anatomical "landmarks" on the os coxa that can be used to determine a body's sex. Finding so many landmarks is important, Ross says, because it means that the sex of a body can be ascertained even if only a small fragment of the pelvis can be found. In other words, even if only 15 percent of the pelvis is recovered, it is likely that at least a few of the landmarks can be found on that fragment.

Here's how it would work: a forensic scientist would use a digitizer to create a 3-D map of the pelvic fragment and measure the relevant anatomical landmarks. The scientist could then determine the sex of the remains by comparing those measurements to the measurements listed in the paper by Bytheway and Ross.

Hackers Steal Close to $1 Million From UVA Wise

by blogger jrb

Brian Krebs broke this story concerning the theft of $996,000 from UVA Wise using a fraudulent wire transfer. The hackers were able to gain access to the university's bank account by infecting the comptroller's computer with malicious software. These kinds of targeted attacks have been happening quite frequently to small to medium sized companies, universities, and not for profit organizations. Brian Krebs has wrote about 43 high profile attacks this year alone. Attacks like these are netting hackers more than bank robbers while greatly reducing the risk of being caught. The current numbers of computer forensic personnel are inadequate to deal with this growing crime.

Kathy Still, director of news and media relations at UVA Wise, declined to offer specifics on the theft, saying only that the school was investigating a hacking incident.

“All I can say now is we have a possible computer hacking situation under investigation,” Still said. “I can also tell you that as far as we can tell, no student data has been compromised.”

According to several sources familiar with the case, thieves stole the funds after compromising a computer belonging to the university’s comptroller. The attackers used a computer virus to steal the online banking credentials for the University’s accounts at BB&T Bank, and initiated a single fraudulent wire transfer in the amount of $996,000 to the Agricultural Bank of China. BB&T declined to comment for this story.

A Yellow Light to DNA Familial Searches

by arg

A serial killer nicknamed the "Grim Sleeper" was caught after a familial DNA search was completed, but now there is controversy about whether this type of search should be done because it could raise privacy and civil liberty issues if it is not properly controlled.

In the case of the serial killer nicknamed the “Grim Sleeper,” DNA samples he left at several crime scenes were a close partial match to Christopher Franklin, who was in a California prison on a weapons conviction. Investigators could tell that the killer had to be a close relative of Mr. Franklin and narrowed it down to his father, Lonnie Franklin Jr., after they found the father’s DNA in saliva on a discarded slice of pizza. Lonnie Franklin Jr. was charged with 10 counts of murder.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

An Arizona Morgue Has Too Many Bodies

by bma

A morgue in Arizona grows crowded with bodies of those who have attempted to cross hundreds of mile of desert during the hot summer months. The Morgue has no where to store the bodies of the unidentified illegal immigrant and has to rent a refigerated truck to store the extra bodies. This begs the question...why is Arizona law enforecemnt done nothing to prevent this?.

Dr. Bruce Parks unzips a white body bag on a steel gurney and gingerly lifts out a human skull and mandible, turning them over in his hands and examining the few teeth still in their sockets.
The body bag, coated with dust, also contains a broken pelvis, a femur and a few smaller bones found in the desert in June, along with a pair of white sneakers.
“These are people who are probably not going to be identified,” said Dr. Parks, the chief medical examiner for Pima County. There are eight other body bags crowded on the gurney.
The Pima County morgue is running out of space as the number of Latin American immigrants found dead in the deserts around Tucson has soared this year during a heat wave.
The rise in deaths comes as Arizona is embroiled in a bitter legal battle over a new law intended to discourage illegal immigrants from settling here by making it a state crime for them to live or seek work.
But the law has not kept the immigrants from trying to cross hundreds of miles of desert on foot in record-breaking heat. The bodies of 57 border crossers have been brought in during July so far, putting it on track to be the worst month for such deaths in the last five years.
Since the first of the year, more than 150 people suspected of being illegal immigrants have been found dead, well above the 107 discovered during the same period in each of the last two years. The sudden spike in deaths has overwhelmed investigators and pathologists at the Pima County Medical Examiner’s Office. Two weeks ago, Dr. Parks was forced to bring in a refrigerated truck to store the remains of two dozen people because the building’s two units were full.
“We can store about 200 full-sized individuals, but we have over 300 people here now, and most of those are border crossers,” Dr. Parks said. “We keep hoping we have seen the worst of this, of these migration deaths. Yet we still see a lot of remains.”
The increase in deaths has happened despite many signs that the number of immigrants crossing the border illegally has dropped in recent years. The number of people caught trying to sneak across the frontier without a visa has fallen in each of the last five years and stands at about half of the record 616,000 arrested in 2000.
Not only has the economic downturn in the United States eliminated many of the jobs that used to lure immigrants, human rights groups say, but also the federal government has stepped up efforts to stop the underground railroad of migrants, building mammoth fences in several border towns and flooding the region with hundreds of new Border Patrol agents equipped with high-tech surveillance tools.
These tougher enforcement measures have pushed smugglers and illegal immigrants to take their chances on isolated trails through the deserts and mountains of southern Arizona, where they must sometimes walk for three or four days before reaching a road.
“As we gain more control, the smugglers are taking people out to even more remote areas,” said Omar Candelaria, the special operations supervisor for the Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector. “They have further to walk and they are less prepared for the journey, and they don’t make it.”
Mr. Candelaria said the surge in discoveries of bodies this year might also owe something to increased patrols. He noted that some of the remains found this year belong to people who died in previous years. But Dr. Parks said that could not account for the entire increase this year. Indeed, the majority of bodies brought in during July, Dr. Parks said, were dead less than a week.
Human rights groups say it is the government’s sustained crackdown on human smuggling that has led to more deaths.
“The more that you militarize the border, the more you push the migrant flows into more isolated and desolate areas, and people hurt or injured are just left behind,” said Kat Rodriguez, a spokeswoman for the Coalici√≥n de Derechos Humanos in Tucson.
At the medical examiner’s office in Tucson, Dr. Park’s team of five investigators, six pathologists and one forensic anthropologist face an enormous backlog of more than 150 unidentified remains, with one case going back as far as 2003.
Every day, they labor to match remains with descriptions provided by people who have called their office to report a missing relative, or with reports collected by human rights groups and by Mexican authorities.
Since 2000, Dr. Park’s office has handled more than 1,700 border-crossing cases, and officials here have managed to confirm the identities of about 1,050 of the remains.

Fingerprints Telling More

by blogger cbt

By using the MALDI-MSI technique, we can now get new details of the suspect that will help solve cases just from a fingerprint. The ability to do this will not only help solve cases but it can also answer unanswered questions about older cases.

The technique, under development by academics at the Biomedical Research Centre (BMRC) at Sheffield Hallam University, allows investigators to identify key details about suspects and can even be used to detect any substances they might have touched, such as traces of cocaine.

For the study, academics from Sheffield Hallam used matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionisation mass spectrometry imaging (MALDI-MSI), which is a powerful technology normally used to map different molecules within tissue sections. For the study the technology was used, for the first time, to analyse and produce images of fingermarks. Simona Francese, from the University's BMRC, said: "Based on the results produced so far and the research currently undertaken we can say this technology can help gain much more information from a fingermark than is currently available. Using it, we could link the suspect to criminal activity and potentially even gain details of their lifestyle by detecting the use of drugs, medication and even diet. This is valuable information to a criminal investigation, particularly if the suspect's print is not on the criminal database."


Speedy DNA Testing

by kec

A new test is being developed to compare DNA from people arrested for crimes to DNA from crime scenes that are stored in databases. This test is being done in under four hours and enables the police to check the person's DNA while the suspect is still being processed.

Andrew Hopwood, Frederic Zenhausern, and colleagues explain that some criminals are arrested, spend less than a day in jail, and then commit crimes while they are out on bail. If police could quickly test the suspects' DNA, to see if their genetic material matches entries in crime databases, they may be able to keep the most dangerous people locked up. But currently, most genetic tests take 24-72 hours, and by the time that the results are back, the suspects often have been released...To increase the speed of forensic DNA testing, the scientists built a chip that can copy and analyze DNA samples taken from a cotton swab. Forensic technicians can collect DNA from suspects by swabbing their mouth, mixing the sample with a few chemicals, and warming it up. The DNA-testing-lab-on-a-chip does the rest. The entire process takes only four hours at present. Hopwood and Zenhausern teams are already optimizing it and reducing the cycle time down to two hours. Once that is done, police could even double-check their DNA evidence before releasing a suspect.

DNA catches the Green River Killer

by kjt

Just when the Green River Killer thought he could get away, DNA saved the day. "COLD CASE: CLOSED"

In the 1980s and 1990s, a faceless killer stalked young women in the Seattle-Tacoma area. Dozens of women, mostly prostitutes, eventually disappeared, sometimes only a few days apart, sometimes only once or twice a year. The killer had a consistent modus operandi: he would rape the women and strangle them with his hands or a ligature...The police compiled a short list of suspects, including Gary Ridgway, a factory worker. But DNA testing was still in its infancy in the 1990s, and since officers lacked enough physical evidence to tie Mr. Ridgway to the crimes, they were unable to arrest him...In 2001, a one-two technological punch brought the case back to life. Forensic investigators decided to re-examine evidence compiled years before with the help of two new modes of DNA analysis: the polymerase chain reaction (P.C.R.) test and the short tandem repeat (S.T.R.) test. Together, these tests proved indispensable because they allowed the scientists to sequence and copy very short fragments of DNA taken from crime scenes...After Dr. Himick and her colleagues completed new DNA profiles from three victims, they compared them with DNA extracted from a piece of gauze Mr. Ridgway had chewed on in 1987. Dr. Himick was floored: the DNA profiles taken from the victims matched .

The Cut-Free Autopsy

by blogger kjs

Scalpels. Bone saws. Lots and lots of gloves.

Those are the tools of the trade when you are an average medical examiner. It's not uncommon to extract bullets from gaping shotgun wounds or to dissect a brain to see how deep a knife wound might go. However, in this golden age of technology, hands-on autopsies may become obsolete thanks to the power of radiological imaging technology. The same instrument that can visualize a broke bone or heart arrhythmia may have the power to determine cause of death without ever opening up a body.

How is this possible?

Well, first of all, there is the issue of radioactive matter: how much can we expose a patient to? With a dead body, that issue is rendered negligible. Also, when a body has finished an autopsy it is sent to a mortuary. With virtual autopsies, data from the body can be stored in a database and the body never needed again in order to evaluate it! Other advantages include: time-saving, protecting religious practices, easier communication with jurors, and less risk of contracting diseases.

Disadvantages include the money needed to buy machines that could handle such procedures and the need for more developed procedures that could visualize bleeding patterns and portmortem gas.

As this becomes a developing issue in forensic technology, the author of the article had this to say:

As terrorists improve their applied technologies day by day, it is unthinkable that forensic pathologists should not also be able to make use of emerging technologies in order to gather as much information as possible from their victims... In times where no one can really feel safe, we should not only focus on the prevention of catastrophe, but also prepare ourselves to handle disasters adequately when they do occur.

Just a little food for thought!

Operation Swordphish

by blogger jel

Next month, the State of Alabama, in a joint effort with Gary Warner at UAB, will receive $3 million in federal funds to pursue cybercrimes that are too small to attract the attention of federal authorities. Fortunately, Warner's forensics lab is skilled in processing these crimes and often tying several of them together to show a much larger crime was actually committed. The State of Alabama is hoping other states will take notice of Alabama's success and model similar programs in their own states. Hopefully by years end, Warner and his graduate students will have already proved their worth several times over in the fight against cybercrime.

Warner's team, made up of graduate students and undergraduates studying computer forensics and justice science, has several tasks. First, there's the public component, including an effort to teach Alabama residents how to avoid cybercrimes, where to report them when they happen and how to avoid contaminating the crime scene -- that is, to save e-mails and other evidence.

Second, they'll work behind the scenes to train police and assist them when needed.

Third, and perhaps most critically, they'll gather all cybercrimes reported in the state -- and those reported federally that are referred to state agencies -- into a single database. Then they can analyze it to find common perpetrators and to determine which complaints or which categories of crime should take priority for investigation and for training.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Dexter Copycat

by blogger orf

It is now common knowledge that the general American public has an obsession with forensic-based shows. CSI has been one of the top ranking shows for years. Unfortunately, a lot of the viewers of this show now consider themselves experts in the field of forensic science. Of course, this can cause all kinds of issues with juries and could even help educate criminals, but in this show, the criminal is always caught and the audience is left with an appreciation for both science and law enforcement.

Recently, another forensic show has been getting more media attention: Dexter. For those of you that aren't familiar with the show, Dexter is an expert blood analyst based in the Miami PD. Sounds pretty typical, but Dexter is also a serial killer who uses his knowledge and connections to get away with murder. In the series, the viewers watch Dexter feed his need to kill by murdering criminals who managed to slipped through the system. Most viewers actually end up rooting for Dexter, I know I do, but some people take it too far. There have been several accounts of people idolizing Dexter, many people saying they can relate to him. Recently, a boy in Indiana who is a fan of the show admitted to killing his brother and said he was inspired by Dexter. Hopefully, this will not become a trend.

An Indiana teen, who said strangling his little brother was like eating a great hamburger, pleaded guilty Monday to murder, according to The Associated Press. Anthony Conley, now 18, (right) admitted to authorities late last year that he was inspired by the television series about a serial killer, "Dexter."

Canine CODIS

by blogger nls

In 2009, the largest dog-fighting raid in US history occurred. This raid resulted in 26 arrests and involved over 400 dogs across seven states. In order to connect crimes scenes, a dog-fighting DNA database (Canine CODIS) was formed to find any correlation between bloodlines of all dogs seized in the raid. Showing blood relation between the dogs in different states aided in 17 guilty pleas, not necessarily showing that owners were connected, but giving the suggestion that there may have been common criminal activity. This shows great potential for animal forensics. The fact that dog-fighting is against the law in every state gives enough reason for the use of forensic analysis in such cases. After all, forensics is the application of science to the law.

Scientists and animal rights advocates have enlisted DNA evidence to do for man's best friend what the judicial system has long done for human crime victims. They have created the country's first dog-fighting DNA database, which they say will help criminal investigators piece together an abused animal's history by establishing ties among breeders, owners, pit operators, and the animals themselves.

"People are not generally going to the pound and buying pit bulls to fight-these dogs are from established bloodlines," said Tim Rickey senior director of field investigations and response for the American Society for the Prevention for Cruelty to Animals. "And if a suspected dog fighter's animal matches one of those bloodlines, that would be a key piece of evidence."

This is very inspiring! Although it is unfortunate that we must learn the hard way, situations such as these give insight into the future and to what forensic science can provide to criminal cases. Dogs are indeed man's best friend and should be protected not only by law, but by the applications of science to those laws.

3rd Times the Charm

by SAM

Just to think, if DNA advancements were never made this case would have never gotten any closure. A case that was over 20 years old finally got solved using DNA that was not able to be used in the first two trials. It was a good thing that he was able to be called back to active duty and be tried, because if not he would have litterally gotten away with murder.

A soldier aquitted of three murders more than 20 years ago in civilian court was convicted by a military jury on Thursday because of DNA tests that were not available in the earlier trial. The soldier, Master Sgt. Timothy B. Hennis, 52, had been recalled to active service specifically to face the military court at Fort Bragg, N.C. He had initially been convicted of raping and murdering Kathryn Eastburn and killing her two young daughters in 1985 in Fayetteville, N.C. But the North Carolina Supreme Court called for a retrial, saying the testimony had been weak. That second trial, in 1989, ended in acquittal. In the years since then, DNA identification technology improved, and a subsequent test linked Mr. Hennis to Ms. Eastburn’s body. Mr. Hennis could not be tried again in state court under rules of double jeopardy, but could be tried by a military jury for the crime, which occurred while he was stationed at Fort Bragg. The military had taken up the case in 2006 after a cold-case detective at the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office had materials from Ms. Eastburn’s autopsy tested for DNA and there was a match to Mr. Hennis, The Fayetteville Observer reported.

In this case he only got convicted again because he was able to be called back to active duty and tried in military court. Double jeopardy would have saved him if this was not the case. It seems like something should be done to prevent this from even being able to happen.

Blood or Ketchup

by blogger kbs

Apparently if you are a perfectionist that is never happy with anything but positive test results you belong at the North Carolina Crime Lab. After an FBI investigation it is been found to be withholding negative blood test results from attorneys. Just because the results are negative doesn't mean they aren't worthwhile.

The review found 230 cases in which eight SBI analysts filed reports that, at best, were incomplete. Of those, 190 resulted in criminal charges...Besides the executions, the report urged a closer look at the cases of four people on death row and one whose death sentence was commuted to life.

What confuses me the most is where do you get trained that your job is to solve as many cases and put as many people in jail even if there is no science to back it up? Kind of defeats the purpose of being a scientist doesn't it?

Monday, September 13, 2010

Guilt by Genetic Association

by blogger sjk

The controversial genetic analysis procedure called "familial searching" or "kinship searching" recently helped solve the "Grim Sleeper" case involving at least 10 serial murders dating back to 1985. "Familial searching" or "kinship searching" can compare DNA collected from a crime scene to DNA databases of both convicted felons and arrestees whose DNA partially matches the unidentified suspect. In the "Grim Sleeper" case, DNA taken from the suspect's son, who was arrested on a felony weapons charge, lead investigators to discover a partial DNA match to the crime scene DNA that was similar enough to show family relation. This type of DNA analysis can prove to be useful, but many believe it is an invasion of privacy. "Kinship searching" is widely used in England, allowing investigators to interview people whose DNA partially matches crime scene DNA, whether or not they are a suspect's family member or were involved with the crime. In the United States, CA is the only state to have a standard guideline model on how "kinship searching" can be used.

Some critics have contended that the technique might lead to an abuse of the system or, over time, to the disproportionate arrest of African-American males because they have a higher incarceration rate than men in other ethnic groups.

But the immediate concern is that kinship searches could produce a long list of convicted felons who are only partial matches to an unidentified suspect. The risk is that the police, while looking for a suspect’s family members, might intrude on people who have not committed a crime.

. . . .

“Our concern is that the initial comparison that generates a list of partial matches does not narrow it down to a single suspect’s likely family member,” says Peter Bibring, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union in Southern California. “It’s a list and, at that point, the invasion of privacy depends on how the police go about their business.”

What do you think: Should “familial searching” or “kinship searching” become a standard investigative tool in the United States, with each state allowed to develop their own procedural guidelines, or should a national law be created for this possibly invasive suspect search tactic?