Students attempted to solve two mock crime scenes, handling two cases of suspicious deaths. One of 12 groups solved both cases.
Professor Jane Tucker of the Criminal Justice Department led her two sections of Criminal Investigations (CRJ 240) into groups of detectives who managed a crime scene analysis, processing evidence, filling out affidats and the required paperwork requesting tests and warrants.
Students first reported on-scene to a possible suicide. The 12 groups, made up of six students each, quickly ruled out suicide for several reasons and determined the case as a homicide. First, the mock victim was left-handed and the gun in the crime was set-up to appear that he shot himself on the right hand side of his head.
Students filed paperwork for testing, resulting no fingerprints on the gun and no gunshot residue on the victims hand. Test results came back with white fibers, which indicated to the student detectives that the gun was wiped down.
Several student detectives sent the suicide note, found at the table with the victim, for handwriting analysis. The note was signed “Lefty,” the nickname of the victim.
All groups discovered the blood on the note, including on the backside of the paper, belonged to Lefty. This indicated the note was placed on the desk after the victim was shot.
The only sets of prints on the paper belonged to his co-owner of the restaurant where he was found dead. Professor Tucker acted as the lab analyst, as she gave students the test results. She returned the paperwork by completing only the tests the student detectives had requested.
Tucker added that no students realized or documented that there was no pen on the desk, to go along with the suicide note: another indication this was murder.
The mock scenes served as a trial and error process, Tucker explained. She also served as a judge who would sign off or deny the requested tests or warrants. If she denied a warrant, she explained the problems or lack of probable cause in their request, and allowed them to resubmit the paperwork.
Students who sent the note to a handwriting analyst were notified that the note was written by a right-handed person. Students who asked to compare Lefty’s and the co-owner’s handwriting discovered that the handwriting matched the co-owner. Student detectives had their suspect.
Most groups made an arrest in the first case and took the co-owner into custody. Charges included criminal homicide, theft by unlawful taking or disposition, fraudulent destruction, removal or concealment of recordable instruments, false reports to authorities and tampering with or fabricating physical evidence.
Students, who sent the laptop that Lefty was using before he was slain, discovered he was checking accounts of the business. He had discovered his business co-owner was stealing profits by making large withdraws. Students were able to arrest him on fraud charges.
Search warrants of the co-owners’ house and vehicle led students to find evidence that he committed the murder. Students knew when Lefty and the co-owner had argued on the night of his death. Witnesses in the business had reported this to police. They discovered fraud as a motive for murder. The search warrant enabled students to find the white cloth the co-owner used to wipe down the gun that was used in the murder. Groups who had this evidence filed an arrest warrant. Two groups of detectives with an overwhelming amount of evidence had received a signed confession from the suspect, that Tucker wrote. Not every group who made the arrest got the confession. If they did not have enough evidence for a solid beyond reasonable doubt conviction, Tucker had the suspect lawyer up.
Tucker instructed the students to treat the mock crimes like they would treat a real case. The project developed as a learning experience for students to see new angles, especially those who want to pursue a career in criminal justice.
The second case they balanced involved a report of a missing 20-year-old female. Her co-worker reported her missing on a Friday, while the student detectives received the case a few days later. Tucker explained detectives could typically receive a case later, taking away valuable time. She said usually in policing, detectives could have multiple cases. The students worked both cases at the same time.
Student detectives investigated her apartment for clues, with the mock scene involving only the kitchen. There could be 50 clues at a crime scene and police might only find 35, Tucker said, it is not uncommon for something to be overlooked.
The kitchen table, still set for two people, had two dirty plates and two glasses with a red substance left behind. Several students noticed the glass with lipstick prints on a glass with a cloudy substance, compared to the other glass, which remained clear. Students proved the female victim was drugged when the toxicology test results showed Rohypnol in the red wine residue.
Along with the toxicology result of a drug, students requested DNA and fingerprint tests on the two wine glasses. Along with this, students noticed a calendar on the wall with a name, a time and a heart. Students who asked to interview the co-worker, found out the victim started dating someone she met on facebook.
Tucker reminded her students to treat the victims like real people. She went to the extent to create two Facebook accounts, one for the victim and one for her date. Only a handful of students made the connection to search on Facebook. Checking social networks has become handy for detectives.
Students who did this type of policing were able to prove that the male knew the missing victim. The male became their suspect, likely the last one to have seen her prior to her disappearance. Students learned the crime codes in class and knew they had enough probable cause for an arrest warrant when the suspect denied knowing the victim. His lie to the police was a misdemeanor, for unsworn falsification. The students who followed through with this were able to get the suspect’s fingerprints and compare them to the prints found on the wine glass in the victim’s apartment.
One group made the arrest in this case.
The victim’s body was found two weeks after the investigation began. Tucker developed this as part of the storyline when several groups had not made an arrest. The body was found in a neighboring district, which forced students to turn the case over to the local police department.
Both cases were work intensive, Tucker said. Students photographed both crime scenes and they placed markers to number the pieces of evidence they collected. Only one group included rulers in their pictures as a way to show the real life size of the object. Tucker said students learned this in class and in the readings of their textbook.
Students drafted a digital representation of the crime scene using Mirco Visto. The scale incorporated the evidence found and the objects in the crime scene, as the representation can be used in court. The Criminal Justice Department is working to incorporate technology more into the classroom setting as another learning tool used in the workforce.
Students learned how to file for test requests, complete an affidavit and develop warrants, along with an experience to be thorough in their investigation and documentation of evidence collecting and processing.
Ginger Rae Dunbar is a fifth-year student majoring in English with a minor in journalism. RD655287@wcupa.edu.