How to solve a murder: trace evidence matters

How to solve a murder: trace evidence matters

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - During the past five years, the Jonesboro Police Department has investigated tens of thousands crimes. To get a conviction, prosecutors must "prove beyond a reasonable doubt" that someone is guilty.

That's why crime scene investigators are so meticulous. They look at anything and everything that could crack the case wide open.

"The more evidence we get, the better off we are," said Sgt. RJ Smith with Jonesboro Police.

Tracking latent evidence, or evidence invisible to the naked eye, is Sgt. Smith's forte. With the help of lights, filters and tools, he spends days, weeks pouring over small pieces of evidence, like paint chips, shoe impressions and fibers.

"A lot of the time, it's just extra evidence that we don't need," Sgt. Smith said. "If we got fingerprints, we don't need hairs. We just try to get everything we can and what we actually have to use may only be a third of it or a hundredth of it."

But he said it's worth it. For example, thanks to DNA found on a beanie at a crime scene, Jonesboro Police solved nearly 80 cases all tied to one man.

However, before evidence can crack a case, local police have to hand deliver all of the processed items, glass fragments, tire tracks, paint chips, clothing fibers, taillights, pieces of tape. to the state crime lab.

"They send it to trace," said Suzanne Noffsinger, an Ohio-based forensic scientist. "Samples that cannot be tested locally go to the feds."

Forensic scientists, like Noffsinger, put the crime scene back together after police officers, like Sgt. Smith, pick it apart. Noffsinger has tied a broken car mirror to a hit-and-run case, burned towels to an arson case and so much more. To do this, she not only uses some old-school tools, like an microscope, but also more complex devices, like an infrared spectometer and a microspectraphotometer. Those pieces of evidence, out of the hundreds Noffsinger processes every year from multiple law enforcement agencies, could be the only good evidence to solve a case.But Sgt. Smith said sometimes that's all he needs.

"I've had one case last year where I processed 30 items," he said. "It took me over a week to process the stuff and I got one decent fingerprint."

One small piece of evidence that cracked the case wide open."It was a guy who we actually thought did it, but he hadn't been named because we had nothing to tie him to it," Sgt. Smith said. Most evidence that needs to be analyzed in Arkansas is sent to the state crime lab in Little Rock.Sgt. Smith uses his skills to cut down on the amount of time it takes to get evidence from the crime scene to the lab.To show the community just how much evidence he has to process on a regular basis, Sgt. Smith said the department currently has more than 17,000 pieces of evidence in house.

"It's a constant purge cycle," he said.

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