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The Crime Scene
You begin to walk toward the coroner and you feel it starting to rain. You realize that some of the evidence such as the foot impressions may be damaged or destroyed. “We need to preserve the evidence now!” you yell to the crime scene techs. You see that they are already scrambling around, grabbing uniformed officers to help them.
1. What are some ways that the crime scene technicians can prevent loss of the evidence due to rain?
You and your partner feel confident that the crime scene techs can handle the job. You have worked with them on many cases and they rarely make mistakes. You approach the coroner who is standing by your car and tell him that you are ready to enter the house. You tell your partner to grab the video camera from your car. You want to get a video of the alleged crime scene before the crime scene technicians disturb the evidence. The three of you enter the house through the front door.
2. Do you need a search warrant to enter this residence? Explain.
As you enter the residence, your attention is immediately drawn to the center of the living room, where in the middle of badly burned carpet and floorboards, lies a body. You take a quick look around the room and note that there is light to moderate fire and water damage to the rest of the living room. Many of the furnishings were not consumed by the fire.
3. Is it significant that the body was found in the middle of the badly burned area? If so, what might this tell you?
You begin videotaping the house while your partner takes still photographs. As you scan the room you see that there are blood smears and droplets on some of the carpet that was not burned. There is also a lamp lying broken on the floor and an overturned coffee table.
4. Is it necessary to videotape and take photographs of the scene? Explain.
5. What is the significance of the lamp and the coffee table?
You turn back to the body as you continue to videotape. The victim is lying face up with his arms by his side. His face is clearly burned beyond recognition. However, you can see what appears to be a small wound above his right eye. Upon closer inspection of the area near the victim you find a small caliber semi-automatic handgun. The grip is completely burned, but the serial number is still visible. You continue to videotape the body and surrounding area searching for more clues.
The coroner crouches down alongside the body, looks up at you and says, “This one will be hard to identify.” You request that an autopsy be conducted.
6. What are the responsibilities of the coroner?
7. How will forensic scientists identify the victim?
Entry and Exit Wounds
Entry wounds can occur at various ranges. They are often similar in size to the bullet. Close contact entry wounds occur when the barrel of the weapon touches the skin. When the weapon is discharged gases penetrate the subcutaneous tissue causing a stellar shaped wound with gray or black discoloration in and/or around the wound. Close range entry wounds are often characterized by tattooing and muzzle blast damage from expelling gases. Medium and long-range entry wounds result in a smaller wound due to gases dispersing in the air.
Exit wounds are often larger than entry wounds. They are sometimes slit-shaped because the bullet becomes misshaped as it travels through the body. As a result slit-shaped exit wounds are sometimes confused with knife wounds. There is no visible powder or soot around an exit wound.
The coroner carefully rolls the body over and you notice what appears to be an exit wound on the back of the victim’s head. The coroner shows you an additional wound on the victim’s lower back. There is no identification on or near the victim. The coroner asks for another officer to assist him in removing the body. The body is carefully wrapped in a sheet and placed in a body bag. A gurney is wheeled to the front door. The body is placed on the gurney and pushed to the coroner’s van.
8. Should you now tell Linda Heckman that her brother is dead? Explain.
You now call the crime scene technicians in to process the inside of the house while you continue to search the surrounding area and the remainder of the house. You go to the front door and tell the officer standing guard to let the crime scene technicians in as soon as they are finished collecting the evidence outside. You are relieved to see that at least the rain has slowed down a bit.
As you wait for the crime scene technicians you continue searching the living room. You begin to consider the possibility that there may be a bullet lodged in something somewhere in the living room. While you are searching, the crime scene technicians enter. One begins videotaping and the other starts taking notes. You fill them in on what you have found so far. You ask them to let you know immediately if they find anything else that may be significant to your investigation.
The crime scene technicians put on a fresh pair of gloves and begin to process the scene. You watch as they carefully cut a carpet sample from beside the victim and a second one from an area of carpet that was not burned.
9. Why did the crime scene investigators need a sample of unburned carpet?
10. What type of forensic analyses will be conducted on the samples of carpet?
You continue your search of the living room. You find what looks to be a bullet hole in the floor underneath where the body was positioned. You inform the technicians so that they can try to recover the bullet.
11. What other evidence should you instruct the technicians to look for in the living room?
You begin to search the remainder of the house. You walk into an adjacent room that appears to be an office. There are desk drawers open and papers are strewn on the desktop and on the floor. A computer is in pieces on the floor. You exit the office and search the remaining rooms of the house. Nothing appears to be out of order until you walk into the master bedroom. Here you find a suitcase lying on top of the bed. Inside the suitcase are a white blouse, a pair of black pants, and several other pieces of women’s clothing. You look in the master bathroom and observe a towel on the floor containing what appears to be a bloodstain. You walk downstairs and advise the crime scene technicians of what you discovered in the office, the bedroom, and the bathroom.
12. What type of crime scene search pattern should be used to properly search inside the house?
13. What type of crime scene search pattern should be used to search outside the house?
14. Latent fingerprints are sometimes valuable in solving crime. As a result of the fire, is it possible to lift latent fingerprints from the scene? If so, where are the logical places to find latent fingerprints of value?
15. If any latent fingerprints are recovered, how do you identify them?
You are interested in talking with the first firefighter on the scene and the neighborhood witnesses. You look around for the firefighter that Tommy Graystone pointed out earlier. You see him standing by one of the fire trucks and approach him. You ask him if he has a few minutes to answer some questions. He says, “No problem, how can I help?” You ask for his name. He tells you it is Dan Weston. You ask him if he was the first fire fighter on the scene. He tells you that he was. You then ask him how he got there before the rest of the fire company. He tells you, “I live only 6 blocks from the scene, when the call came in I rushed here in my personal vehicle in case there were any victims that needed assistance.”
You ask him what he saw when he first arrived. He says that he saw smoke pouring out of the house and that he broke the front window to try to get into the house. He noticed a young boy standing on the sidewalk watching him. Until the fire company arrived he and the boy were the only two on the scene.
You point out Tommy Graystone, who is now standing outside the police cruiser, and ask if he is boy that he saw. Dan tells you, “Yes.” You thank him for the information and ask for his address and phone number in case you need to speak with him later. He provides the information you requested. You then start searching for the neighborhood witnesses.
16. Based on the information from the firefighter, is Tommy Graystone a suspect? Explain.
17. Is the firefighter, Dan Weston, a suspect? Explain.
You find Mr. Frank, the witness that claimed to hear a loud bang at 12:45 am. He appears to be well over 70 years old and lives next door to the Ebersole’s. You ask him if he saw or heard anything else. He says no, and tells you that he was in bed but not yet asleep at the time he heard the loud bang. He says that he didn’t get up until he heard the fire trucks approaching.
You ask him to describe the noise that he heard. He states that it sounded like a car backfiring. As he is speaking you catch a glimpse of something in his ear. You ask him if he wears a hearing aid. “Yes”, he replies. You then ask if he was wearing it when he heard the loud bang. He replies, “No, but the bang must have been loud because I could definitely hear it!”
18. Would Mr. Frank be a reliable witness in court? Why?
Next, you interview Mrs. Butterworth. She is extremely excited and begins telling you that a black Durango was speeding down the street around the time of the fire. She said that she was up late watching television and saw the car from her living room window. She exclaims, “It has to be the person in the Durango that did this!”
You ask her if she saw or heard anything else. She said that she didn’t hear anything, but did see a person running from the Ebersole house. You ask if she can describe the person and she replies, “No, it was too dark to see his face.”
“How do you know it was a male?”
“It just looked like a male because of the short hair and body build. Plus, he was running really, really fast.”
“Did you see anyone with the person?”
You record Mrs. Butterworth’s information and thank her for her time. You provide your business card and ask her to contact you if she thinks of any other information that may help your investigation. She states that she will talk with the other neighbors and let you know if she hears anything that may help with your investigation.
19. What should you tell Mrs. Butterworth about talking with other neighbors?
You speak to several other witnesses who all indicate that they heard tires screeching, but did not see anything suspicious. You are somewhat puzzled by this information.
20. Why didn’t Mrs. Butterworth hear the loud bang that Mr. Frank heard, or the screeching tires that the other witnesses heard?
21. Should you conduct a neighborhood canvas and speak to other people in the neighborhood now? Why?
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