EV­I­DENCE

The Covington News - - Local news -

such as recre­at­ing a scene, but the job is not what many peo­ple might think, he said.

“It’s long hours… It’s not glam­orous, it’s dirty. It’s hard work; it’s very te­dious,” he said. “I can’t tell you how many times it’s in­ter­fered in fam­ily func­tions.”

By the time Hutchins ar­rives at a crime scene, the site has usu­ally been se­cured by the lo­cal agency re­quest­ing the GBI’s ser­vices. With a flash­light and rub­ber gloves, some­times shoe cov­er­ings and a body suit to limit con­tam­i­na­tion, Hutchins does an ini­tial walk-through to de­cide how he’ll pro­ceed next.

“One thing with a crime scene, you never as­sume based on what the scene looks like when you first see it,” he ex­plained. “You pro­ceed with an open mind.”

For ex­am­ple, even though a death might look like a sui­cide, crime scene in­ves­ti­ga­tors will con­tinue as if it might be a homi­cide, un­til the ev­i­dence rules it out, he said.

Ev­i­dence col­lec­tion and pro­cess­ing is the beginning leg of the over­all in­ves­ti­ga­tion, Hutchins said. “ Ev­ery­thing starts to build off it. If it’s not done cor­rectly from the beginning, there’ll be prob­lems and it can crum­ble at the end.”

Im­proper pro­cess­ing of ev­i­dence was a key fac­tor in the O. J. Simp­son trial, pointed out Cov­ing­ton Po­lice Chief Stacey Cot­ton.

“One of the keys is the in­tegrity of your ev­i­dence,” Cot­ton said. “You do ev­ery­thing to re­move any thought or any be­lief that there could be any tam­per­ing with the ev­i­dence once it’s taken from the per­son.”

At the CPD sta­tion, ev­i­dence is dropped off into pad­locked mail­boxes bolted in the ground and stored in the cells of what used to be the depart­ment’s jail, still guarded with thick con­crete walls and black steel bars and ac­ces­si­ble to only two peo­ple in the depart­ment.

“The beauty of it is, it’s hard to break out and hard to break in,” Cot­ton said.

Some of the metal fil­ing cab­i­nets bristling with sealed pa­per en­velopes emit pun­gent odors, and items of ev­ery size and type line the hall­ways.

At the New­ton County Sher­iff’s Of­fice, a cave-like garage serves as the work­sta­tion where Tracey LaChance, who pre­vi­ously worked at the GBI’s crime lab be­fore com­ing to the NCSO as an ev­i­dence tech­ni­cian, logs ev­i­dence that deputies drop off in a pad­locked mail­box, lifts fin­ger prints, tests for mar­i­juana and pro­cesses larger items like ve­hi­cles.

The ev­i­dence is shelved in rows of white banker’s boxes in a room just across the hall vaguely re­sem­bling a li­brary base­ment. Though the items from con­cluded cases were re­cently win­nowed by an au­dit and dis­posed of or sold af­ter court per­mis­sion, some ob­jects linger, such as a me­dieval-looking tread­mill from a still ac­tive case — the 2004 dog-fight bust.

Tech­nol­ogy and com­put­ers have rev­o­lu­tion­ized ev­i­dence pro­cess­ing in ways more mun­dane and pro­found than the pub­lic might re­al­ize.

Ervin, who spent two decades as a crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tor in the Air Force be­fore be­com­ing an ev­i­dence tech­ni­cian at the CPD, saw the sta­tion rapidly tran­si­tion from card cat­a­logues to log­books to com­put­ers within the span of a year when he first ar­rived. Now, the bar-cod­ing sys­tem al­lows him to find the lo­ca­tion of a piece of ev­i­dence at any given mo­ment, be it in the sta­tion, pros­e­cu­tor’s offices or court­rooms.

The NCSO re­cently be­gan us­ing a fin­ger­print iden­ti­fi­ca­tion pro­gram called Au­to­mated Fin­ger­print Iden­ti­fi­ca­tion Sys­tem (AFIS) which builds a data­base of all the fin­ger­prints taken from peo­ple booked into the jail and sher­iff’s of­fice and helps match prints to those in the data­base, said LaChance. Cer­ti­fied spe­cial­ists are still re­quired to eval­u­ate the pos­si­ble matches, though, and sev­eral NCSO em­ploy­ees are cur­rently be­ing trained.

Still there are many pub­lic mis­con­cep­tions about what in­ves­ti­ga­tors can do with ev­i­dence, said LaChance.

“It doesn’t hap­pen as fast as what peo­ple seem to be­lieve. It’s a lot more com­pli­cated and a lot longer process than that,” she said, of what’s por­trayed on tele­vi­sion. “(Peo­ple) think by the end of the night we’re go­ing to have the re­sults back for them.”

Hutchins said the crime scene shows have made his job more dif­fi­cult in some ways be­cause crim­i­nals are more aware of crime scenes.

“Crim­i­nals watch TV like ev­ery­body else and they do things to keep from leav­ing ev­i­dence,” he said. Even ju­ries are not im­mune and some­times ques­tion whether he should have gone a step fur­ther be­cause that’s what they’ve seen on the screen.

If there is a plus to the pop­me­dia por­tray­als, it’s that art can some­times spur re­al­ity, said Ervin.

“ Over time, fan­tasy has be­come re­al­ity,” he said. For in­stance, cell phones were sci­ence fic­tion not too long ago and DVDs were a rar­ity, but now both are ubiq­ui­tous and have changed the way we do things. TV fic­tions might just spark ideas and chal­lenge peo­ple to find new ways of do­ing things, he said.

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