Tuesday, December 28, 2010
Carmel on the Case: Facing Justice
When suspected criminals are caught, they take mug shots and stand in front of a judge, but before that happens, some face a different kind of justice courtesy of a local detective, who's armed with a pencil and paper. Investigative Reporter Carmel Cafiero is on the case.
WSVN -- You are looking into the eyes of a criminal through the eyes of a forensic sketch artist.
Detective John McMahon, BSO Forensic Sketch Artist: "I imagine the person in my mind."
Detective John McMahon has been drawing the faces of murderers, rapists and kidnappers for the Broward Sheriff's Office since 1979.
Detective John McMahon: "I've done several thousand drawings, but approximately 900 have been arrested based on my composites or through DNA and photo lineup confirmation."
The proof is on paper. Remember the detective's drawing we first showed you? Now look at how strikingly similar it is to the suspect's booking photograph.
Detective John McMahon: "I think this is probably the closest one I've ever done in my life."
The man in both of these images is Collis Crow. The detective had never met him.
Rachel Demby will never forget him.
Rachel Demby, Victim of Attempted Carjacking: "His face. I still see it sometimes."
In 2009, Rachel pulled into this restaurant parking lot in Oakland Park when Crow tried to steal her car with her in it.
Rachel fought back, kicking, biting and even using her car keys as a weapon.
Rachel Demby: "The blood that was on me, none of it was mine. The blood was actually all his."
But once Crow ran off, the tough part began. Rachel had to sit down with Detective McMahon to try and put a face to her then unknown attacker.
Rachel Demby: "I told him the eyes were really beady."
Detective John McMahon: "The reflection is very important, the little light reflecting in the pupils."
Rachel Demby: "The guy was a little thinner."
Detective John McMahon: "It's a little bit of this head, and a little of this head, so I draw the head just like that."
Stroke by stroke, McMahon's sketch triggered a frightening flashback for Rachel.
Rachel Demby: "I felt like I couldn't breathe for a second because of the fact that it looked so much like him. When he finished it, I actually cried, because it was uncanny."
The completed drawing then went out to other law enforcement agencies. Sure enough, Wilton Manors Police had picked up Crow the same morning Rachel was attacked, and through the sketch linked the two.
Detective Julie Bower, Broward Sheriff's Office: "I think John is the most talented artist I've ever seen."
BSO Detective Julie Bower says she's witnessed McMahon's knack for nabbing suspects through artwork firsthand. Twenty minutes after handing her a sketch of a sexual battery suspect, Bower spotted him.
Detective Julie Bower: "I'm like, 'Oh, my God. That's him!' And I'm like, wow. It is, like, a mirror of what this person is supposed to look like."
Over the years, 7 news viewers have seen McMahon's sketches on TV.
Detective John McMahon: "John Walsh called me, and he asked me to help them."
The most high profile case may be this color composite of the Boca Town Center murderer. He's still on the loose.
Detective John McMahon: "That is the drawing of the suspect. It was on billboards, it's been in malls."
Perhaps the most delicate part of McMahon's job: mixing an artist's touch with a detective's curiosity and a psychologist's sensitivity, all in an effort to coax traumatized victims to help him help them.
When it comes together on paper, emotions run high.
Detective John McMahon: "They either start crying or they begin to get angry. 'That's the SOB. That's him,' which is good for me, because that's what I want. I want some feedback."
Rachel Demby says she owes her peace of mind to McMahon.
Rachel Demby: "More than thankful, grateful. Every day, I can sleep a little bit easier knowing that if his drawing wasn't there, I wouldn't be able to breathe a lot easier."
Carmel Cafiero: "And as long as John McMahon decides to put pencil to paper, there will surely be more criminals facing justice in the future."
IF YOU HAVE A STORY FOR CARMEL TO INVESTIGATE: