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Everything that's new in the crime scene investigation world, what crime scenes are "hot", and what's changing for the CSI

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In 1985, a mistaken identification and an unreliable microscopic comparison of hair wrongly convicted Steven Avery  of raping a Manitowoc woman. In 2003, Avery was acquitted  after DNA testing eventually identified the real rapist as Gregory Allen. This case has  gained worldwide notoriety thanks to a show called “Making a Murderer,” a Netflix docu-series which documents the shortcomings and pitfalls of U.S. judicial system.

Steven Avery,flanked by two officers in this photo, was wrongfully convicted for rape in 1985. He was later proven innocent after spending eight years in prison. Credit: AP
Steven Avery,flanked by two officers in this photo, was wrongfully convicted for rape in 1985. He was later proven innocent after spending eight years in prison. Credit: AP

Innocence Project’s Keith Findley, the lawyer who won Avery’s freedom, says the film exposes the limitations that wrongfully convicted Avery, but also freed him.

“Most lawyers go to law school cause they don’t do science. It’s sort of been just tradition that over the years that whatever the forensic analyst said everybody just sort of accepted it, and it’s only recently that we’ve begun to realize that it’s not that reliable,” Findley said.

“We’re fascinated by science. We’ve got all the CSI shows that make everybody believe that the science is instantaneous, flawless and sexy, and it’s none of those,” he adds.

The National Academy of Science said the only consistently reliable forensic science is DNA, yet many courts convict people based on a shoe print or bite mark, Avery says. As a forensic science resource, we at ITSGOV.com agree. While such forensic marking are excellent to aid in investigations helping find new leads, these shouldn’t be used alone in court as evidence.

A French scientists claims there’s another portrait etched beneath the Mona Lisa — one of the most famous paintings in the world.

mona-lisa

Pascal Cotte was first allowed by the Louvre Museum to analyze the painting in 2004, since he convinced them that the work of art won’t be damaged or altered in any way. The technology he used, called Layer Amplification Method (LAM), is very new in the field. The device fires intense beams of photons, then a camera records the reflections of these beams that can permeate though the surface. Based on these measurements, Cotte was able to reconstruct how the various layers underneath the apparent surface of the painting looked like, as if da Vinci were there painting La Joconde again. “We can now analyse exactly what is happening inside the layers of the paint and we can peel like an onion all the layers of the painting. We can reconstruct all the chronology of the creation of the painting,” Cotte told the BBC.

Apparently, one onion peel suggests there’s a different portrayal of Mona Lisa  — different from the way we’ve come to know her, at least (though debatable, historians attribute her identity to Lisa Gherardini, the wife of a Florentine silk merchant). The analysis shows that there was no smile, the gaze is totally different, as was the outfit. These features were then painted over.

Mr. Cote, next to a digital reconstruction (left) of the different Mona Lisa portrait he found. Image: Brinkworth Films
Mr. Cote, next to a digital reconstruction (left) of the different Mona Lisa portrait he found. Image: Brinkworth Films

Interestingly enough, Cotte has this theory which says that this earlier rendition was in fact the original Mona Lisa, a different person from the one we know today.

“The results shatter many myths and alter our vision of Leonardo’s masterpiece forever.

“When I finished the reconstruction of Lisa Gherardini, I was in front of the portrait and she is totally different to Mona Lisa today. This is not the same woman.”

If that’s true … well, I guess the Louvre can just throw away the museum label for the painting. Martin Kemp, Emeritus Professor of the History of Art at the University of Oxford, isn’t that convinced. Instead, what we’re seeing, Kemp suggests, are simply the various stages a painting goes through until it reaches the artist’s last brush stroke.

“I do not think there are these discreet stages which represent different portraits. I see it as more or less a continuous process of evolution. I am absolutely convinced that the Mona Lisa is Lisa,” he told BBC News.

Cotte’s findings and other insights can be learned in the upcoming BBC 2 documentary, The Secrets of the Mona Lisa. It airs on BBC Two at 21:00 GMT on 9 December.

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A new study conducted by Innsbruck researchers found that people who enjoy bitter foods like olives, dark chocolate and broccoli are more likely to exhibit everyday sadism.

It’s often said that the foods you like can tell a lot about yourself, but can they tell things about your deeply emotional traits? Specifically, can they indicate things like narcissism or sadism? A team of psychologists set out to investigate that. Christina Sagioglou and Tobias Greitemeyer from the University of Innsbruck in Austria asked almost 1000 volunteers to self-rate their preference for bitterness and then set out to investigate whether they were more prone to so-called everyday sadism.

Everyday sadism joins with subclinical psychopathy, narcissism, and Machiavellianism to form the so-called “dark tetrad” of personality. Studies have also found that sadistic personality disorder is the personality disorder with the highest level of co-occurrence with other types of psychopathological disorders, but this is still a work in progress – there are still many things we don’t understand about this condition. What does this have to do with bitter foods? Well, apparently… it might have something to do with it.

Bitter foods are strange – or better put, it’s strange that we enjoy bitter foods. Few animals in the wild enjoy bitter foods, greatly preferring sweet ones; there is an evolutionary advantage here, as sweet foods are more likely to be rich in calories and nutrients, while bitterness is often a sign of toxicity. So it’s strange that we enjoy bitter foods – could this be a sign of abnormality?

Well, a causality has not been proven yet, but this study showed a strong, robust link; this doesn’t mean that everyone that enjoys some olives is a sadist – not in the least. But it does seem to indicate an interesting correlation.

“The present research has demonstrated that bitter taste preferences are associated with more pronounced malevolent personality traits, especially robustly with everyday sadism. The sample was a large community sample, thereby representing a wide section of the population. In establishing a robust link between taste preferences and personality traits, this research reveals further real-world behavioral correlates of antisocial personality traits.”

 

Another important point to make is that correlation doesn’t imply causality – this may be a coincidence (although it seems unlikely), or there may be another underlying factor that causes both these elements – or there could be something completely different that we haven’t yet discovered.

A number of CIA officers were pulled from the U.S. Embasy in Beijing as a precautionary measure taken in the wake of massive cybertheft of current and former federal employees’ personal data, officials said. Two major hacks into Office of Personnel Management were disclosed earlier this year, and this move can be seen as a direct consequence of the breach. Officials (privately) attribute the attacks to the Chinese government, but decided against publicly blaming them.

Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Sept. 29.
Image via washingtonpost

The documents were stolen in what senior U.S. officials brand as political espionage, intended to identify spies and people who would be receptive to bribes, susceptible to blackmail, or willing to be recruited as spies in order to provide useful information. And as OPM records included the background checks of State Department employees, all they had to do was compare them with the list of embassy personnel. Anyone not on the list could be a CIA officer, and exposed to immense risk. As such, CIA’s move was aimed at safeguarding officers whose affiliation might have been discovered after the hack, said officials on the condition of anonymity. The CIA officially declined to comment on the issue.

The disclosure comes as senior defense and intelligence officials on Tuesday tried — not always successfully — to explain to a committee of frustrated lawmakers their policy on deterring foreign governments, such as China, from carrying out cyber-intrusions.

Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr., testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, sought to make a distinction between the OPM hacks and cybertheft of U.S. companies’ secrets to benefit another country’s industry. What happened in the OPM case, “as egregious as it was,” Clapper said, was not an attack: “Rather, it would be a form of theft or espionage.”

“We, too, practice cyberespionage and . . . we’re not bad at it,” he went on to say.

Seeking punishment on other countries for what their own intelligence services do as well wouldn’t be U.S’s best course of action, he believes.

“I think it’s a good idea to at least think about the old saw about how people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw rocks.”

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the committee’s chairman, argued against what he believed is not wise restraint, but rather a show of weakness.

“So it’s okay for them to steal our secrets that are most important because we live in a glass house? That is astounding.”

“I’m just saying that both nations engage in this,” Clapper concluded, referring to China and the United States.

Several lawmakers were not satisfied with the lack of a punishment for the OPM theft, despite Clapper’s explanation.

“This is a pretty significant issue that is going to impact millions of Americans,” said Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.). “But it seems to me they are not seeing a response right now from us, and therefore we’re going to continue to see bad behavior from the Chinese.”

At another point in the hearing, Deputy Defense Secretary Robert O. Work seemed to stray off-message when he asked what response he would recommend if the Chinese were to carry off another OPM-like cybertheft.

“Sanctions? Retaliation?” asked Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska).

“Could be any of those, Senator. Maybe all of the above,” Work responded.

But in the end, it’s unlikely the administration will impose sanctions or retaliate officially for the OPM intrusions for the exact reasons that Clapper outlined. During the Cold War, Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) noted, a foreign agent who was nabbed trying to steal U.S. secrets would be kicked out of the country if he or she had diplomatic cover or thrown in jail otherwise.

“[But in the OPM case] the U.S. government seems uncertain about what a proportioned response would look like,” he added.

The counterintelligence risks of the OPM breach are significant, Clapper said. He noted that the intelligence agencies do not know specifically whose records were taken. But the scale of the compromise — more than 22 million individuals’ records breached — “has very serious implications . . . from the standpoint of the intelligence community and the potential for identifying people” who may be undercover.

“Unfortunately,” he said, “this is a gift that’s going to keep on giving for years.”

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According to Locard’s exchange principle, one of the most robust pillars of the forensic work, “Every contact leaves a trace”. In forensic investigations these traces are important for identifying suspects, understanding the circumstances of a crime or homicide. These clues or traces can be anything from tracks, to fingerprints, to DNA. But it’s not only humans or other animals that leave traces, tiny creatures do it too – the most numerous and most successful from an evolutionary standpoint. I’m refering to bacteria of course, which can be found on our shoes, on our clothes, on our skin and, of course, inside us. Billions of bacteria, some harmless and most beneficial, live inside making the microbiome. These are unique to every individual, depending on what he eats, drinks and other environmental factors. Some researchers think that tracking bacteria could become one of the most important tools for forensic investigators in their toolkit soon.

bacteria shoes
Image: Economical Me

For instance, one of the most enticing research was made this year by a group at University of Huddersfield. They took samples from the shoes of 89 randomly selected participants from three different conferences. They found that the bacteria collected from  shoes could be grouped into three separate families, based on where the conferences took place. That’s because the bacteria signature is comprised of the core microbiome, inherent to each individual, and secondly of the bacteria that inhabits a distinct surface. When we walk, we scrap off bacteria from our homes, from the supermarket, office and so on. So, studying these bacteria not only can tell a forensic investigator who these ‘belong to’, but also where the person carrying the germs has been.

Besides shoes, the researchers also looked at mobile phones. These too hold populations that are distinct. What’s more, there are different patterns found on the front and the rear of a mobile phone, since the back mainly comes in contact with the hands, while the front with the face.

How could these findings be applied in the field? That’s a good question with no easy answer. Because we walk around all sorts of places, the bacterial signature changes constantly. It’s so volatile you could never use it as evidence in court, but it’s good enough to track down suspects or filter a list of suspects, so law enforcement can focus their resources on the likeliest persons. Read more about the study here.

A study pegged by the Ponemon Institute found cybercrime costs have gone up significantly relative to last year. According to the report, the average US company  loses $1.9 million to cyberattacks each year, up from $1.5 million reported last year. The bigger the company, the higher the costs. The same study found the average large US company loses  $15.4 million, which  is 19 percent higher from $12.7 million a year ago.

Criminals are stepping up their game and data breaches are becoming both common and devastating. In 2013, there were more than 100 DDOS attacks at over 100Gbps or higher , while events topping 20Gbps in the first half of 2014 nearly doubled those for the entire year of 2013. Yes, companies have also grown more sophisticated, but so far cyberattackers seem to be leading the arm’s race.

cybercrime

Some of the most famous recent hacks include Ebay (hackers had managed to steal personal records of 233 million users) , P.F. Chang (the company’s customer payment information records were breached, so thousands and thousands of credit cards surfaced on the black market) or Domino’s Pizza (Hacking group Rex Mundi held Domino’s Pizza to ransom over 600,000 Belgian and French customer records). All in all, today company lose  82 percent more money to cyber crime than they had six years ago, according to Ponemon.

“As an industry we’re getting better, but attacks are becoming much more invasive and sophisticated,” said Andrzej Kawalec, chief technology officer for Hewlett-Packard Co.’s HP Enterprise Security, which sponsored the study and sells cybersecurity services to businesses.

To assess costs, the Ponemon researchers factored in costs or damages incurred from detection, recovery, investigation and incident-response management. Expenses meant to cover loss of additional business due to security breaches were also included.

This was a global study  that spanned 252 companies in the U.S., United Kingdom, Germany, Australia, Japan, Russia and Brazil. Globally, the average annualized cost of cybercrime increased 1.9 percent from last year to $7.7 million.

A novel technique shown by researchers in Belgium can estimate the age of a criminal, or victim for that matter, by interpreting genetic code found in blood or tooth samples. Of course, there are many methods employed by forensic scientists that are used to estimate age, but sometimes victims might be so torn up (burned, severed limbs, etc.) that there’s no other way to estimate the age. Likewise, if the only lead a crime scene investigator has is a blood stain left over by the criminal or possibly some other DNA containing sample, then this is the only chance they have of at least profiling the age. Sometimes, this can make all the difference in the world since it narrows the search and makes police work a lot more bearable.

TDL Genetics
TDL Genetics

The DNA and genetic material is not fixed, but always changing. Depending on our environment some genes might be turned on or off, and these changes in the genome can even be passed on to offsprings. The study of live DNA changes is called epigenetics. Likewise, the genome changes as we age. All our organs, for instance, are regulated by the genome so you can tell how old a person is by identifying which key genes are switched on or off, say researchers at Belgium’s University of Leuven (KU Leuven).

“The behaviour of our organs and tissues depends on which of our genes are activated,” Bram Bekaert, a forensic scientist at KU Leuven, explained in a press release. “As we grow older, some genes are switched on, while others are switched off. This process is partly regulated by methylation, whereby methyl groups are added to our DNA. In specific locations, genes with high methylation levels are deactivated.”

For now, the researchers tested this hypothesis using only four DNA methylation markers. Even so, they were able to accurately assess a person’s age using blood and tooth samples with a margin of error of 3.75 years and 4.86 years, respectively.

The findings appeared in the journal Epigenetics.

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After more than 300 episodes spanning 15 seasons, the CBS’s crime show CSI took its final bow this Sunday. Besides being one of the most viewed drama series in television series, “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” is also one of the most influential with good and bad. In fact, it’s so influential that people had to coin the “CSI effect” to describe how people’s opinion of how a forensic scientist or crime scene investigator does his job has changed. In most cases actually people actually found out what a crime scene investigator does, albeit short of a couple of tidbits that don’t necessarily reflect reality.

Hilariously relevant. Comic by The CSI Effect
Hilariously relevant. Comic by The CSI Effect

A prime example of the CSI effect – and there’s no greater impact – can be found in the courtroom, of all places. “With increased awareness comes a lot more expectations,” Kristine Olsson, blood spatter analyst and trace evidence scientist said. Speaking for KCTV5’s Bonyen Lee, Olsson said that the biggest misconceptions the TV show created were the timelines of test results and cracked cases. You’d think a judge would know better but Olsson claims he’s heard of many cases where DNA tests and other forensic investigations where taken for granted. “They think the results can come out in one or two minutes and crimes are solved in less than an hour on TV, including commercials,” said Allen Hamm, interim director at the Johnson County crime lab.

https://sites.google.com/site/effectofcsi/_/rsrc/1364336939277/why-should-we-be-worried/1019_b281.png

At the same time, there’s a positive side to the CSI effect – publicity. Millions of young adults have become mesmerized and interested in becoming a CSI. While the show definitely romanticized the profession, schools are flooded with applications. More competition inevitably means more talent, and labs now have more qualified youth. Yes, some will definitely be disappointed past first semesters, but it’s safe to assume that a lot of people have now embarked on a career they enjoy, despite the difficulties that it entails.

Do you want to become a CSI, but not sure what this means or is required of you? Better read our guide first.

KCTV5

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Positive trends have been reported in Washington – requests for forensic medical exams has increased by about 70 percent since 2010, which indicates that people are becoming more and more aware of the procedures they can turn to and are more motivated to defend their rights.

Washington Hospital Center. Image via Biz Journals.

Nurse examiners in D.C. have performed 421 exams since last October, according to Heather DeVore, president and CEO of D.C. Forensic Nurse Examiners. These forensic exams have two main functions: first, to immediately care for the rape survivor and see if there are any obvious or hidden physical injuries, and then to collect any evidence that may be useful in the investigation.

The exams are invasive but should be carried immediately (ideally under less than 30 minutes after the assault) only by specialized nurses. Included in the exam is a head-to-toe examination, hair and urine samples and examination of any injuries. In the city, there is actually a specialized task force.

Free rides

Forensic medical exams are only available in D.C. at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, and thanks to a city-funded program, victims can get free rides with Uber to the hospital. DeVore said the availability of the exams has likely spread through “word of mouth,” but this program might have also helped.

The response of other invested agencies has also improved, thanks to continuous monitoring.

“We’re always looking at evaluating that response and looking at the agencies,” DeVore said.

Judy Malmgren, a member of the International Association of Forensic Nurses and a forensic nurse examiner in Santa Barbara, California has stated that throughout her career, the number of forensic medical exams has remained the same, and the same can be said for most of the country. It would be interesting to see what made D.C. so different.

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Hundreds of cases and investigations are now in jeopardy after it was revealed that Oregon State Police (OSP) forensic analyst Nika Larsen tampered with evidence from drug cases – essentially, he stole drugs. To make things even worse, another, second  forensic analyst is now under investigation for the same thing.

Image via Wiki Commons.

Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel said that Larsen stole drugs from the counter and then replaced them with over-the-counter pills to avoid being caught.

“I’m very concerned about the policies and procedures at the OSP crime labs in general,” Hummel said. “I want to see a major investigation by an independent agency.”

This unfortunately threatens all the cases on which Larsen worked, because it’s a case of tampering with evidence. Hummel is now going through 502 criminal cases that Larsen has worked on and has to re-evaluate all of them. But it gets even worse than this – as a forensic analyst, he had access to more evidence, not just from the cases he was working on.

“I’m very shocked to see the lack of control at the crime labs,” Hummel said. “Forensic analysts have access to all evidence, not just the evidence of the case they’re working on. We also absolutely call for an independent audit of the Oregon State Police crime labs, all of them,” Kaplan said. “We’ve actually reached out to the Attorney General with these views and the governor.”

OSP said late on Friday that a second analyst, who worked at its Central Point lab, overstate the evidence for a case in 2005. He has since retired, but an investigation is still required, as this may signal even more tampering. The OSP has some serious work to do, and the thought that this happens at more other stations is extremely worrying.

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