The W. Roger Webb Forensic Science Institute program on the campus of the University of Central Oklahoma began in 2009 with fewer than 100 students, said Dwight E. Adams, UCO Forensic Science Institute director.
Today the forensics program is growing with more than 500 in the program, he said. The credit for such rapid growth goes to the faculty, Adams added.
Adams joined faculty members at the Edmond Economic Development Authority’s 4o’clock 4cast with an update of the forensics program.
“We require more of our students than any other program in the country,” Adams said. Students must combine their forensics degree with another degree on campus in order to specialize in a specific discipline of forensic science.
Digital media is a rapidly growing field of forensic science, said Mark R. McCoy, associate professor Forensic Science Institute and School of Criminal Justice.
“We look for digital types of evidence in all types of crimes,” McCoy said. “All crime scenes contain digital evidence.”
Be careful about throwing away items containing a hard drive, such as an old printer, he said. Somebody could pick it up, remove the hard drive and recover confidential documents, he said. There are ways to be able to delete that data.
“We are constantly looking for things where people who may want to hide evidence may hide it,” McCoy said.
Just because digital evidence has been altered does not mean it has been destroyed. An arson fire ravaged a building that contained a surveillance camera with a digital hard drive. The imagery was recovered regardless of the smoke, heat and water damage, McCoy said. The owner of the building was the arsonist.
“Remember BTK?” McCoy said.
The BTK (Bind, Torture, Kill) strangler had 30 some years of avoiding law enforcement in the Wichita area, McCoy said. Dennis Lynn Rader murdered 10 people between 1974 and 1991.
Police captured Rader in 2004 because of a floppy disc that he didn’t know could be traced. Rader was in the process of digitizing souvenirs from his murders.
“They were forensically able to track him back to the computer that was used there at the church there at Wichita,” McCoy said. “He was president of the congregation.”
During the central Oklahoma tornadoes of 2011, the Forensic Science Institute volunteered its services to recover mud-covered hard drive data for tornado victims.
“We were able to identify the owners of those computers,” McCoy said.
Students also learn about crime scene processing for physical evidence by using the 12-step FBI model for best practices, said Wayne D. Lord, professor Forensic Science Institute and Biology.
“The course usually begins with preparation of approaching a science and how to properly secure and protect a scene,” he said of preserving the integrity of evidence.
Documentation is the most critical phase of a crime scene, Lord said. Fields are used on the UC0 campus for students to process a crime scene that has been simulated.
“We teach our students about mechanical fit,” he said.
When a damaged item leaves pieces at a crime scene, it may be possible to match those pieces to the source object once it is located, McCoy said. Students learn the behavior of an offender may be revealed in what the assailant leaves at a crime scene, such as drawings left on a victim’s back, he said.
Criminal profiles help to identify or suggest behavioral characteristics of an offender for investigative strategies. A criminal profile cannot be used as evidence during a criminal trial, McCoy said.
For John P. Mabry, a genetic profile is the most exciting piece of evidence. The assistant professor Forensic Science Institute and School of Criminal Justice teaches a class in forensic serology.
“We handle some of the dirtiest types of evidence,” Mabry said.
He has received items covered in all sorts of bodily fluids and waste. Students learn to differentiate human DNA from that of an animal. It’s important for them to learn whether a fluid’s DNA came from blood or for an example, the skin cells on a hand as somebody touched a glass of wine.
Presumptive testing may cause a biological fluid from blood or semen to change in color. Confirmation of blood can be made by looking for crystal formations under a microscope, McCoy said.
“You want to be a serologist? You spend a lot of time under a microscope,” he said.
Forensics students learn about identifying gun markings in from Deion Christophe’s specialized course on firearm and tool mark analysis.
“We look at a lot of microscopic evidence, or microscopic detail that leads to how a firearm works and the marks they exhibit,” Christophe said.
Individual striation patterns, fractures and small microscopic particles will result from gunfire, he said. Students learn whether components of a gun have been altered, he said. They learn how far away a shooter was when the gun was fired.
Comparative analysis is used to differentiate ammunition components placed side-by-side, Christophe said.
How a bloody crime event scene occurs is the focus of faculty member Craig Gravel, who teaches blood-stain pattern analysis.
“Some of the information we can get from looking at blood stains or spatter patterns — we can tell the direction it was traveling,” Gravel said. “We can use a mathematical formula to determine the angle that it impacted.”
An area of space of where a murder originated can be located within 12 inches, he said.
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