Wednesday, November 19, 2008
7 News Investigations: Making the Case
When you hear the words crime lab, you think of those TV shows where a detective walks in with a piece of evidence and five minutes later, walks out with his case solved and his suspect nailed. But that's on TV. In real life, crime labs are fascinating, filled with high tech equipment. But as Patrick Fraser reports from inside the Broward Sheriff's Crime Lab, real life is much tougher than a TV show.
WSVN -- Jack Walker caught a man trying to steal his van. That man killed him and got away with it. Three years later, his widow Patricia got a phone call. The Broward crime lab had identified the man who murdered her husband.
Patricia Carby: "It meant so much to me because, after three years, I had reached the point where I was giving up. My family, it's a relief for them. It was so hard on us."
Stephen Feagin is accused of raping women for 14 years in Florida and Illinois and getting away with it.
George Duncan, Criminalist Unit Manager: "Right now, I'm actually doing an indication test for the presence of semen."
Then, the Broward crime lab got a sample of his DNA.
George Duncan: "This was a national database hit. That national database help in West Virginia, I think it's the FBI, and what that did it matched up with a case in Illinois."
Feagin was arrested. Another accused criminal off the streets in part thanks to a crime lab.
George Duncan: "When most people think of crime labs, they think of CSI, great show, where everything happens just like that, quick and easy. This is the Broward crime lab. It's not quick, it's not easy. It's complicated."
So, so complicated, but with a wide variety of tools crimes are solved.
George Duncan: "So sometimes it's difficult to get a print off of a gun."
Look at this gun used in a crime. With the naked eye, nothing, but when Detective Bell turns on this laser, a crucial piece of evidence pops out.
Lori Bell, BSO Detective: "There's a fingerprint right there on the side of the gun, which without the laser you don't really see it, and you wouldn't be able to photograph it."
A fingerprint you can see, but some of the critical evidence that comes into the Broward crime lab is impossible to spot.
Lori Bell: "We're dealing with extremely small amounts. We're dealing with cells. It can be essentially anything from several cells up to several thousand cells, several hundred cells."
Under the microscope, the crime lab technicians uncover the cells. Maybe they're from skin or a tiny drop of semen. After a technician processes it, a machine goes to work to try and match the DNA to a person.
Lori Bell: "And now we'll show you what a DNA profile looks like."
And odds are, that DNA will match one person.
Lori Bell: "That is the one in quadrillion you talked about or one in quintillion."
Mind boggling numbers, just one problem. With 34,000 cases a year sent to the crime lab, the results don't happen overnight.
Lori Bell: "It just doesn't take, you know, five minutes or 10 minutes. It takes days or maybe weeks to do, whereas on CSI it's done immediately. I would love that to happen."
And while it seems this is the place where crimes are solved. The people here will quickly tell you, don't give us all the credit.
Lori Bell: "The detective work is massive in these cases, massive, and the crime scene people who go out of the scenes and collect the evidence, those are the key areas here. We only perform a small function here. However, we like to think that we have a large impact."
The detectives begin the case, the crime labs help end it and even try to help win it in court.
In this crime lab garage, Joseph Torok is determining where a bullet would come through a car to show detectives where to go look for more evidence and to help a prosecutor get a conviction.
Joseph Torok, BSO Detective: "We can take a picture, and what the picture does, it kind of gives us and a jury an idea of the exact trajectory, so that instead of them having to sit in a car, they can visualize it without having to be there."
A lot of work behind the scenes to help catch a criminal and make a crime victim's family feel a little better.
Joseph Torok: "He's still in jail. He was sentenced for 25 years in jail. To me, this is a great procedure, the DNA, and I hope it will work for other people too."
All done behind the scenes slowly and meticulously in hopes of making the case.