Forensics

Open Up DNA Databases To All

by Diane Dimond on January 28, 2013

Justice For All, Right?

The scene: A criminal courtroom anywhere in America.

The players: A judge, a prosecutor, a defense attorney and the accused.

The assumption: That all parties involved enjoy a level playing toward the twin goals of discovering the truth and finding justice.

The fact: In many criminal cases the prosecution holds the key to what could be the most important evidence of the trial – DNA. Prosecutors in most states have exclusive access to CODIS, the national database of more than 11 million DNA samples, which is considered to be the gold standard in forensic-based investigations. CODIS is used in two ways – to match a known suspect to a crime or to find an unknown suspect who may have been entered into the system years earlier. [click to continue…]

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A Crime and Justice Wish List for 2013

by Diane Dimond on December 31, 2012

Hopes and Wishes for 2013

Where do I even begin with my annual Wish List for the New Year? Because the fog of despair still hangs over us from the elementary school shooting in Connecticut – and because the list of individually meaningless gun control ideas continues to grow – I’m compelled to start there.

I fervently hope that we, as a nation, can come to an agreement on a whole package of anti-gun violence ideas to try to make this country safer. I hope the shrill hysterics – heard from both sides – can be tuned down in favor of common sense solutions.

To those who think all we need to do is get rid of assault rifles, 30-bullet magazines or those video games youngsters spend so many hours playing I say: Don’t kid yourself. After Newtown, Connecticut there was another gun massacre in Webster, New York. I seriously doubt the shooter, William Spengler, who served 17 years in prison for beating to death his grandmother with a hammer, had ever played a violent video game. [click to continue…]

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Your Body Telegraphs Your Lies

by Diane Dimond on July 26, 2012

Polygraphs Have Come a Long Way

So, have you heard the stories about how to beat a polygraph test? Ever read any of the odd suggestions on the internet? Among them: Count backwards from 100 during the test to distract your brain, learn to control your breathing, put a tack in your shoe or bite down hard on your tongue to elicit a pain response and the one that makes me laugh the hardest – contract your anal sphincter muscle to confuse the results of the test.

Do any of these methods work? According to the experts they do not.

In fact, if used they can actually make innocent people look guilty. [click to continue…]

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When A Confession Is Not Enough

by Diane Dimond on June 4, 2012

A Confession is Just the Beginning

It is hard to believe or understand but people confess to committing crimes – sometimes horrible crimes – when they are completely innocent. It happens more often than you can imagine. False confessions can be traced to unjust interrogation techniques, poor legal advice or even the mental illness of the suspect.

That’s one reason detectives involved in the groundbreaking missing persons case of six year old Etan Patz are still hard at work even though 51 year old Pedro Hernandez has now confessed to killing the boy more than three decades ago. False confessions often come in to police around the anniversary of high profile, unsolved cases and Hernandez made his self-incriminating statements to police just days before the 33rd anniversary of Etan’s disappearance. [click to continue…]

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Death By Bactine?

by Diane Dimond on April 16, 2012

Annie McCann Was Just 16

How did 16 year old honor roll student Annie McCann die? Her parents have been agonizing over that heart wrenching question for too long. Definitive answers have been few but these determined parents refuse to give up asking.

On October 31, 2008 Annie left a note in her bedroom which mentioned suicide but she had also added the hope-filled line, “But I realized I can start over instead. . . . If you really love me, you’ll let me go.” Then, she inexplicably ran away, taking $1,000 in cash, jewelry and the family Volvo. It was a shock to Dan and Mary Jane McCann whose daughter was a devout Catholic, quiet and studious – a child who had never given them any trouble.

Two excruciating days later the McCann’s got a phone call informing them Annie’s body had been found at a housing project in Baltimore, Maryland about seventy miles from their home. They were dumbfounded. [click to continue…]

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Do We Really Know All the Facts Yet?

There are two sides to every story. So, why do the media sometimes run whole hogged with the most sensational version of events and why do we eat it up like candy?

It is time for some critical thinking about a widely reported crime story currently in the news.

More than a month ago a tragic incident occurred in a gated community in Sanford, Florida when a Neighborhood-Watch volunteer shot and killed a 17 year old young man. The teen was black, the man with the gun was mixed race Hispanic. The teen was walking back from the store, the adult was in his car going to the store.

When I read the first accounts of how young Trayvon Martin died I was outraged! Seemed as though a 28 year old, gun-toting man named George Zimmerman – a guy who had called 9-11 dozens of times over the last year – was one of those modern day gunslinger types who went around his neighborhood hunting for suspects to bully. Several news accounts called him a, “cop wanna-be” who likely targeted the hoodie-wearing teen because of his race. [click to continue…]

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Laws To Catch Up With Science

by Diane Dimond on September 19, 2011

Sperm Banks Are Big Business

Many years ago I was assigned to cover a story about a certain sperm donor, a newly graduated doctor in Kansas who had donated on such a frequent and regular basis that he was suspected of being the biological father to 500 children. You read that right – 500 children!

My research led me to learn that professors and medical mentors had often urged their male med school residents to donate sperm as a way to a.) Put a little money in their pockets and b.) To help propagate future generations of intelligent children. The belief was that if the sperm came from a person smart enough and driven enough to study to be a doctor, well, all of mankind could benefit from the children they would sire.

An elitist viewpoint, to be sure, but a prevalent one back in the early 90’s. [click to continue…]

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Now It’s Your Turn to Vent

by Diane Dimond on August 22, 2011

Time To Hear From You!

Some of you have been delighted with me. Some of you want to strangle me. So this column is dedicated to your thoughts about my recent musings on crime and justice in America.

It’s your turn to vent.

No column lately generated as much heat as the one about women caught up in repeated domestic violence that refuse to press charges. I told the story of a New York police officer who lost his life responding to a victim’s 12th call for help. I concluded, “Society cannot remove an adult woman from a perilous domestic situation. She must walk out on her own resolved to find a better way of life.” [click to continue…]

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The ‘Re-composer’ of the Decomposed

by Diane Dimond on August 8, 2011

Frank Bender With One of His Creations

A man died recently that I want you to know about. He operated in the shadow of law enforcement and you probably never heard his name. In his own very unique way he developed an expertise that helped bring justice to those who would otherwise never get it.

His name was Frank Bender and when he died recently at the age of 70 at his home in Philadelphia he was the best known of a rare breed of forensic sculptors.

Frank Bender somehow knew how to take a fleshless mummified human skull and reconstruct its face into an eerily perfect facsimile. To compare a photo of the dead person with a finished Bender sculpture would take your breath away.

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Failure to Test is a Failure of Justice

by Diane Dimond on August 1, 2011

Untested Rape Kits Add to Victim's Humiliation

The evidence had been there all along. It had been sitting on a shelf inside a cold storage facility at the Houston Police Department for 12 years. After a determined detective tracked it down and sent it off to the lab for testing the state of Texas realized it had a found a serial rapist.

The criminal’s name is Roland Ali Westbrooks and his story highlights why every state in the union should make testing of backlogged rape kits a top priority.

For more than two decades law enforcement has had the ability to take even the tiniest specks of evidence from a rape victim – bodily fluids, stray hairs, fingernail scrapings – and match the DNA findings to information stored in a national data base called CODIS.

Every time a rape kit is processed the DNA print is supposed to be entered into CODIS. And the reason for this is simple: Rapists rape repeatedly. They hardly ever have just one victim. [click to continue…]

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