Welcome to Homicide: Investigation & Forensic Analysis
Researching the insights of forensic science I will be reviewing a crime scene, including management, security, preservation of evidence, and identifying evidence. Providing a comprehensive history, applying theories, and analyzing methods regarding the role of forensic science I can determine what is relevant or significant key findings during a homicide investigation. Using the U.S. Constitution to address Fourth Amendment issues relating to warrants and jurisdiction of forensic evidence used for identifying or placing a suspect at a crime scene I will explain the importance of unreasonable searches, protection of citizens from illegal searches or seizures, and violations of obtaining evidence without a search warrant.
Outlining a brief history of forensic science I will point out important occurrences, events, and findings that contributed to the development of forensic science and how it relates to evidence located and evaluated at a crime scene. Discussing the actions of the initial crime scene response I will include the processing steps such as surveys, searches, documentation sketches, and include a discussion regarding where the crime scene is located and what, if any, Fourth Amendment issues exist that should be addressed. Next, I will explain the process to identify, collect, preserve, and analyze three pieces of evidence at a crime scene and discuss the analysis of the three pieces of evidence by pointing out what information can be interpreted from this type of forensic science. In conclusion, I will summarize the significant findings for crime scene reconstruction as if presenting the case to the district attorney for prosecution.
Viewing the video “Welcome to Homicide” of where a homicide takes place in Richmond VA, I will analyze the crime scene and determine the protocols and procedures for securing the crime scene and preservation of evidence. The video begins with a suspicious call to 911 of a man claiming that some people think their son might be in a trunk of a car and that they might be dead. The caller says the car had been missing all day and the family of the owner of the car have been looking for him and when the car was found it was at an apartment complex and the trunk had blood on it. Detective Shane Waite of Richmond homicide received a call of a body in a trunk and assumes there will be foul play. Foul play means if a body is involved it indicates that there was an assault and the intent to kill was not accidental but, intentional.
Detective Mark Williams whom is a veteran of Richmond homicide assists Det. Waite since this is Det. Waites first homicide and explains how to approach a crime scene which has a homicide. Det. Williams explains how assuming the body has been in a trunk over 24 hours in heat that the body would be mushy. This means that the lack of oxygen and prolonged period of heat and humidity would increase the human body decomposition process and liquify organic materials of the body. This can affect the forensic evidence since the lack of oxygen promotes bacterial growth of organic substances such as with skin, blood, and other bodily fluids and it can change the bodys appearance and make it difficult to obtain a clean DNA sample.
While Det, Waite and Det. Williams approach the crime scene it is already secured with Richmonds Crime Scene Unit and tape surrounding the scene and officers keeping back civilians from entering the crime scene. The preservation of the scene is good and there is no indications of anything affecting or obstructing the evidence. Detective Faith Flippo of Richmonds Forensics Unit first obtains a warrant which is approved before preserving any evidence at the scene. This is important because there is a constitutional law which law enforcement must abide by regarding searches, seizures, and obtaining evidence at a crime scene. If there are any local businesses, homes, or properties which a crime has occurred a search warrant protects law enforcement from being sued and most importantly protects the evidence from being disqualified for use in forensic analysis and in court during prosecution of a suspect. Continuing with the crime scene, Det. Flippo takes pictures of the vehicle before a tow truck since Det. Flippo says “as the vehicle is moved, evidence can be shifted” (2:36/44:54) Santy, C. (Director). (2007)
Det. Flippo then pops the trunk of the vehicle while Det. Waite observes and inside the trunk is what appears to be a body half wrapped in a trash bag. Det. Flippo takes pictures before any further analysis. Det. Flippo indicates that it’s a black male whom is naked and no trauma is detected so cause of death is unknown at that moment. The body in the trunk is also wrapped up in a bed comforter and the hands have ducted tape wrapped around them. Det. Flippo indicated that “it’s hard to tell how the body was wrapped because the body may have been disturbed while being loaded into the vehicle.” (3:44/44:54) (2:36/44:54) Santy, C. (Director). (2007) After determining from what could be seen without touching the evidence the trunk is closed.
Det. Flippo tells Det. Waite that the Capt John Venuti of Richmond Homicide wants to have a bloodhound come to the scene to detect any scents of a trail. Det. Williams ran the plates on the vehicle which has the body of the black male in the trunk and information came back of the identity which was Dean Davis Jr. which was reported missing from an adjoining county and described as a 36 year old black male. Det. Waite thinks the victim was not killed at this particular crime scene and that it happened in a different location. Det. Waite then decides to call in a blood hound which uses a reverse track to determine if there is a trail. An outside bloodhound team is called from another county which is a team that specializes in “dead end” crime scenes.
Capt. Venuti explains how “we have the car and no idea how the car got here but, were really looking for something to take us to the next area.” (5:44/44:54) Santy, C. (Director). (2007) The next step was placing gauze in the vehicle with the body for 10 minutes to soak up the scent of the victim. The bloodhound named Chester then had a large ziplock bag containing the gauze which had the victims scent placed over his face so the dogs face was in the ziploack bag and held for the dog to have the scent. The officer holding the bag wore gloves to not have scents mixed up. The police also wanted to locate the scent of whomever was driving the vehicle containing the victim in the trunk. The bloodhound then tracked a scent to an apartment less than 50 yards away from where the victim was found. According to Hunt. (1999), “A properly trained dog can successfully follow trails of up to 10 days old. Still, because a human scent is affected by such environmental elements as wind, temperature, humidity, and other factors and also diminishes with time, a dog should begin working within 24 hours.” (Pg16Para4)
Det. Waite noticed a strong odor of a cleaning smell coming from the outside of the building of this apartment. This seemed very suspicious and it’s likely that the victim was killed inside the apartment. Capt. Venuti then obtains an affidavit for a search warrant of this apartment because of the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protecting searches of properties and homes without a warrant would render evidence irrelevant. After approval of a search warrant there is a process of serving it to the suspect which according to Det. Waite “serving a search warrant is probably one of the more dangerous things we can do in police work” (7:06/44:54) Santy, C. (Director). (2007) you don’t know what to expect when you open the door of a possible suspect of a homicide and its highly likely they are dangerous and have a weapon with intent to kill, as Det. Waite says, “he has nothing to lose, who knows what could happen.” (7:21/44:54) Santy, C. (Director). (2007) Richmond police approach the door and state who theyare while a black male steps outside with a pit bull on a leash.
Inside the apartment the forensics team takes pictures of everything without touching any possible evidence to preserve the evidence while Capt. Venuti questions the lease holder of the apartment in his vehicle. Everything is done according to protocol regarding preservation of forensic evidence. The suspect has an alibi and so far he is not charged with the murder. The next day when Det. Wait and Det. Williams go to find the autopsy results from Dr. Deborah Kay the Assist Chief Medical Examiner who performed the autopsy. Dr. Kay revealed two gunshot wounds to the head.
Viewing the forensic evidence of how the gunshot wounds were discovered, the entrance abrasion wound was measured from the top of the skull going through the brain. The second gunshot wound was directly through the face from the direction of the teeth, knocking out four teeth and hitting the back of the spine creating a fracture of the first cervical vertebrae. Det. Williams explains some of the methods you can use to detect which gunshot wounds happened first. Dr. Kay explains how fracture wounds caused by a bullet to the skull will stop and not cross into other fracture lines caused by other bullet wounds. The fracture lines created by fracture bullet wounds are unique. Such as with observing the cranial cavity fracture lines can be observed. With the second gunshot wound entering through the mouth and hitting the cervical spine this is more difficult to determine with time of occurrence.
Dr. Kay points out stippling in the entrance wound of the mouth which appear to look like small black dots around the mouth which are caused by gun powder residue. In the photo it looks similar to pepper or black specks which are round around the entrance wound. Based on the sun powder residue it determines the gun was 2 to 4 feet away from the victim before shooting the victim. Det. Williams explains the next step would be sending the xrays and autopsy to firearms and ballistics to determine the type of caliber of weapon that was used. Forensics in ballistics determined it was a 9mm caliber by the rifling characteristics on the bullets.
The victims car was towed to the police impound lot for processing. The processing involved a forensic analyst to take pictures of the outside and inside of the vehicle, swabbing the drivers side of the vehicle for any kind of residue being DNA, bodily fluids such as blood, residue such as cleaning chemicals, or even ballistic residue from using a gun. Search for fingerprints and other substances using luminol spray which causes blood to fluoresce and lighting on the front seat of the drivers side of the vehicle. Color change indicating blood was located on the passenger side dashboard of the car, the appearance of fluorescent drip marks was seen under lighting. There also appeared to be fluorescent marking on the stick shift and middle of the steering wheel. Swabs were taken again of the areas indicating blood was in the vehicle and dusting for fingerprints afterwards also using a UV light to show the fingerprints. One fingerprint was found intact and lifted out of the victims car which matched the victim. Nothing in the car could point out a possible suspect until a new 911 call was received of a man explaining how he thinks his neighbors may have something to do with the case after hearing about it on television. This information gave Richmond Homicide an approval for a search warrant to have the forensics team analyze the apartment.
Inside the apartment of the possible suspect which is a black male age 37, there are red stains throughout the carpet, forensics take pictures of everything without touching evidence in the apartment. It is then discovered after viewing everything, when taking down a comforter on a futon couch, there is large blood stains on the left side of the futon appearing as the blood pattern contact transfer which looks like two wide pools of blood most likely from the victim bleeding out. Next two the two large blood stains on the lower right is what appears to be a secondary spatter pattern which means blood dripping into a pre-existing pool of blood so this indicates the victim was sitting up and bleeding out, not laying down. Spots in the carpet also indicate contact transfer and how the body was moved after the victim was shot.
Capt. Venuti discovers a t-shirt in the dumpster while had a hole and burn marks. There’s burnt charring on the t-shirt where the hole is indicating gunshot residue which appears like pepper or black specks around the hole. This can confirm the round to the face was the first shot fired. It’s possible the firearm was concealed and shot through the t-shirt at the victim. Forensics later analyzes the tshirt and confirms it was a gun being shot through that t-shirt creating the hole and burn marks along with the residue stippling. The forensics team then uses a DeltaSphere 3D Laser Scanner to scan the room and create a 3D model. This literally creates a virtual 3D model of the entire apartment and can be viewed via computer. According to Buck, U., Naether, S., Rass, B., Jackowski, C., & Thali, M. J. (2013), “The 3D laser scanner sends laser beams to the investigation environment while rotating with a horizontal angle of up to 3608 and a vertical angle of up to 3108. The scanning objects reflect the laser beams and the scanner measures their distances and angles and calculates the 3D coordinates of millions of surface points. Therefore, a quick digitisation of the investigation environment with detailed structures is possible. Up to 500,000 measuring points per second can be captured in 3D. The maximum range of the employed time-of-flight laser scanner is 300 m.” (Pg77Para1)
The suspect is apprehended by law enforcement officers finding out his vehicle and plate information and were able to track him down while the suspect was driving. Det. Williams explains how a search warrant is needed in order to search and obtain evidence from the suspects vehicle. If any evidence were obtained without a warrant it would be considered illegal and the evidence could not be submitted to court during prosecution. The next day Det. Waite interviews the suspect and the suspects story doesn’t make any sense or add up. The suspect claims the victim attempted to rob him and tries to take himself out of the story claiming someone else was there. After 5 hours of questioning the suspect still denies being involved so it all comes down to the evidence supporting proof of who committed the homicide and where it took place. According to Read, J. M., & Powell, M. B. (2011), “Any individual who is suspected of having committed a criminal offence may be questioned by police regarding the nature of the allegations against them (see s. 464A Crimes Act 1958 (Vic)). Such questioning is recorded in the record of interview and is commonly referred to in the literature as an investigative interview (Clarke & Milne, 2001; Williamson, 1993). Information obtained in this interview is used as evidence in the trial of the accused person. However, if the information is obtained in a manner which is inadmissible according to law, it may not be admissible as evidence in court.” (Pg599Para1)
Using the 3D Model of the suspects apartment which was scanned by the DeltaSphere 3D Laser Scanner Det. Waite is able to determine different perspectives of what could have happened. Using a visual is helpful for aligning a replicated body with blood stains found at the scene as well. One of the theories was that the victim was sitting on the suspects futon watching television when the suspect went into the kitchen and took a hand gun wrapped in a t-shirt and approached the victim getting his attention then shooting the first round at the victims mouth. The suspect then walks around the victim shooting him a second time in the back of the head. The suspect then rolling the victim off his futon onto the floor and covering the victim in trash bags, then a comforter with duct tape. The suspect then drags the victim which is why there’s indication of contact transfer spots of blood. Its possible the suspect dragged the victim down the stairs and out into the trunk of the victims vehicle. With this theory Det. Waite questioned the suspect again and this time was able to get a confession that the suspect shot the victim on his couch.
In the scenario of obtaining evidence without a search warrant then the evidence submitted in court would not be legally accepted to be used in prosecution. According to Moyer, A. (2011), “All of the nine state appellate courts that have confronted a similar procedural situation have decided that where a federal district court has granted a defendant’s suppression motion because the search or seizure at issue violated the Fourth Amendment, the defendant may not argue that this determination has any binding effect in a subsequent state prosecution.” (Pg166Para2) For prosecuting this suspect in court I would provide the approved search warrants for the forensic evidence found in the suspects apartment, and the victims car. I would show pictures of the blood patterns found containing the victims blood showing where the victim was sitting while they were shot and at how they were shot. Using the 3D Model on a virtual screen I would explain how the victim was facing and how the story is relevant with how the murder occurred and what the suspect did with the victims body. Lastly, I would show the video footage of the suspect confessing to shooting the victim. Since warrants were obtained the forensic evidence could not be dismissed in court and the suspect would be prosecuted for either a life term or death penalty.
Santy, C. (Director). (2007). Welcome to homicide (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site. [Television series episode]. In J. Brenkus & M. Stern (Executive producers), Crime 360. New York, NY: A&E Television Networks. Available from the Films On Demand database.
Hunt. (1999). The benefits of scent evidence. FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, 68(11), 15.
Buck, U., Naether, S., Rass, B., Jackowski, C., & Thali, M. J. (2013). Accident or homicide—virtual crime scene reconstruction using 3D methods. Forensic Science International, 225(1-3), 75-84. doi:10.1016/j.forsciint.2012.05.015
Read, J. M., & Powell, M. B. (2011). Improving the Legal Aspects of Police Interviewing of Suspects. Psychiatry, Psychology & Law, 18(4), 599-611. doi:10.1080/13218719.2010.543399
Moyer, R. A. (2011). WHY AND HOW A LOWER FEDERAL COURT’S DECISION THAT A SEARCH OR SEIZURE VIOLATED THE FOURTH AMENDMENT SHOULD BE BINDING IN A STATE PROSECUTION: USING GOOD SENSE AND SUPPRESSING UNNECESSARY FORMALISM. Vermont Law Review, 36(1), 165-232.
To read more on this topic see: Police Interviewing Suspects