April Meeting Roundup and Good News

by Susan Burns

Tessa McFionn (L) and Rick Ochocki (R) welcome speaker Geoff Symon (C) 

 

FORENSICS WITH GEOFF SYMON         

 

There is no doubt Geoff has been in charge of crime scenes. He uses a number of hand signals to coordinate the sequence of our questions, culminating in a very entertaining presentation.

From Geoff’s Amazon Author Page:

“Geoff Symon is a 20-year Federal Forensic Investigator and Polygraph Examiner. His participation in high-profile cases includes the attacks on September 11, 2001, the War in Iraq, the Space Shuttle Columbia explosion, the 2002 bombings in Bali and the Chandra Levy investigation, among countless other cases.”

Geoff cleverly works his way around the scene of our enthusiastic and creative questions. After asking us by hand, how many are writing about crime, many of us put our hands up. Then he said, while solving the crime, it all comes together at the end, but when writing a crime, everything about how the crime unfolded needs to be known. (Trying to edit everything together later can become a real chore.)

But no matter how we try to figure his cases out, Geoff is consistent in telling us that the forensics team is not allowed any preconceived notions about where the evidence leads. They just collect it and then only interpret after each crime scene is examined (and there may be a sequence of places that point to other scenes where a specific crime may have left evidence).  

TOPICS

CRIME SCENE HIERARCHY:

EMTs, firefighters, and the CDC always take precedence.

WHAT TO USE TO IDENTIFY THE DEAD:

Unless there is a warrant from a federal judge, DNA is just for identifying war victims.

That he knows of, facial recognition software is not used. Only dental records are routinely used in identifying bodies. The reasons for these limitations is the law where governmental institutions like the FBI are not allowed to get into personal information about citizens without a warrant from a federal judge. All constraints on search and seizure are set down in The Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution. 

Identity of victims is usually done by witnesses who know the person, or know of the person.

HOW TO TELL THE TIME OF DEATH:

 Even though forensics agents can calculate the time of death with various methods, they are not allowed to run tests until the coroner receives the body in the morgue where the body is chilled. An insect’s life cycle can be calculated because chilling slows the progress of its metamorphic life cycle. But the most accurate calculation of the time of death has to do with witnesses to something involving the event (for example: gunshots or seeing the crime itself).

One problem in writing about forensics investigations is that it’s either too technical or all fluff, so there is a need to hit a balance between entertainment and accuracy.

HOW TO HANDLE THE BODY AFTER DEATH?

The agents on the case must get a signature from the next of kin for an autopsy. But if the dead person works for the government, an autopsy is required. No next of kin signature is required for this.

When writing in the crime genre, Geoff says to keep in mind three things: who, where, and what.

Considerations:

WHO: The specific agent tasked with collecting information from the crime scene.

WHERE: right to privacy expectations/probable cause/search warrant/curtilage/plain view/consent. Once a person is arrested and taken into custody, they have no expectation of privacy.

Geoff gave many examples at the expense of Rick and his family, but a favorite is when he used Margaret as an example: 

Margaret was supposed to be an innocent partner of the owner of the place that was to be searched (that merited a groan from the audience). To enter the place (the where) she must give her consent for the agent to enter.

Geoff says gut feelings don’t work, but even if no consent is given, if the agent smells blood, sees it dripping, sees part of the body, sees smoke, or anything in PLAIN VIEW, they can get a verbal search warrant by phone, enter, and explore. The agent must be extremely careful in these searches or the case can be thrown out in court.

WHAT: Is the EVIDENCE: eyewitness accounts/testimony/freedom of information act: documents even if redacted/forensics/accuracy of evidence/Locard’s Exchange Principle.

It is all important to preserve the CHAIN OF CUSTODY. An agent must take care in not contaminating the scene (cross-contamination). Photos, maps, and secure pathways are created of/in each crime scene, and signatures of those collecting evidence are required along the way (in addition to protective clothing that is disposed of on the way to the next scene to prevent cross-contamination).

In the afternoon Geoff takes up a real case of murder from Edwards AFB.

I must say that cured many of us from watching TV’s DEAD BODY SHOWS for a while.

For accurate cradle-to-grave forensics analysis, Geoff suggest we see the video THE STAIRCASE.

 *****************

Our Business Meeting with President Rick Ochocki

 Good News:

Tessa McFionn released To Discover A Divine on March 20.

Erin Kane Spock released Courtly Scandals on March 19.

Donnamaie White as Caliente Morgan has re-edited Rollover, Book #10 of her Hot Cops Series. She will republish it at the end of this month.

Members Jeanne Dickson and HelenKay Dimon are finalists in the Rita.

We’ll all be wishing them luck at Nationals.

 In May, Teresa Carpenter will be leading an all-day brainstorming session for those who need help in plotting out ideas for their novels.

Tessa gave out gifts as rewards for joining the April Writing Goals. Nineteen members joined in. And when Tessa said no one volunteered an Atta girl or boy for this month, Rick encouraged us by saying he always hoped he’d win an Atta-girl!

 

Our RWASD president, Rick Ochocki and his wife, Linda, came to the meeting in Harry Potter Gryffindor school colors.

OUTTAKES:

Betsy and Pam have an amusing talk with Geoff.

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