Saturday, May 14, 2011

How True Crime Cases Differ From CSI on Television

Several years ago I attended the Boulder Citizens Police Academy. As a mystery writer, I found this program extremely useful in learning about police procedures and the incredible contribution that the police department makes in our community. I’m now vice president of the Boulder Citizens Police Academy Alumni Association, and we meet once a month to hear a presentation on some aspect of law enforcement. This last week we heard from a detective regarding a homicide case that took over ten years from the time of the rape/murder until the perpetrator was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment without parole.

One of the key attributes of writers is patience and perseverance. This is equally true of police detectives. Although the perpetrator’s DNA was collected from the victim and entered into the national database, there was no match for over a decade. The perpetrator had been arrested and was in prison in another state, but the DNA was not entered by law enforcement in that state for seven years. One DNA analysis along the way determined the racial background of the suspect, but this couldn’t be taken any father until a matching DNA sample was found. Another piece of evidence was a fiber that was identified by an expert as coming from a particular model of car. This became useful for later corroboration. After the DNA match was made, the police department needed to produce significant information for the trial including over 14,000 documents during discovery and an extensive chain of evidence list of everyone who had handled DNA samples over the ten plus year period. The reality of police work is much different from the quick resolution during a CSI television episode.

One other intriguing aspect of the case. The ER doctor on duty when the female victim was brought in insisted that she had not been raped. Fortunately, two ER nurses saw evidence of rape and stood up to the doctor and insisted that a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) be brought in with a rape kit. Semen was recovered, producing the DNA sample eventually leading to conviction of the rapist/murderer (the victim died a day after the rape and brutal beating). If these nurses had not stood up to the doctor, the perpetrator never would have been brought to justice.

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