Actions that are undertaken during crime scene investigation play a significant role in ensuring the resolution of a criminal case. A careful and thorough investigation process are imperative in ensuring that the available physical evidence is not manipulated. The potential witnesses who might play a significant role in resolving the case should not be overlooked also. Crime scene investigators, therefore, have a chief responsibility of ensuring that the crime scenes are protected, the available physical evidence is preserved in an appropriate manner. The crime scene investigators also have the responsibility of submitting the gathered evidence for scientific analysis and examination. In order for crime scene investigation to be effective, it should be launched as early as possible. The technological advancements provide an effective framework for the analysis of crime scenes. An essential factor that determines the success of crime scene investigation is that the investigation process should have a well-laid objective, it should also be thorough and most importantly, be based on a thoughtful approach. The chief objective of carrying out an investigation at a crime scene is to identify and safeguard the physical evidence which will, in turn, play a major role in unveiling reliable information to be used in the investigation process.
The process of crime scene investigation
Crime scene investigation requires diverse skills such as observation and the ability to critically analyze the collected evidence; in particular, to draw a relevance of the collected evidence and the crime that is under investigation. Crime scene investigation is dynamic and the plan of approach is significantly determined by the nature of the crime and the crime scene.
The first step in crime scene investigation is the process of crime scene recognition. The main objective behind crime recognition is to acquire an in-depth understanding of the elements that the investigation will involve. The outcome of crime scene recognition is a methodical approach that will be applied in the acquisition of evidence related to the crime. Crime scene recognition does not involve any physical contact with the potential evidence (Ogle, 2011). It entails having an insight into the scene through the use of eyes, smell and sound, and recording of any relevant material. Defining the degree of the crime scene is one of the most critical steps in recognition of the crime scene. This typically involves identifying the locale in which the crime might have taken place and any other items that might have been possibly used by the perpetrator such as cars (Osterburg & Ward, 2010). The next step in recognition of the crime scene is securing the scene and any additional places which might be realized later as part of the crime scene. The core area of the crime scene is most critical and represents the area where most of the evidence is available. The police or the CSI must secure the core area in preparation for an untainted search before evidence can be manipulated by elements such as rain and human factors. Securing the crime scene is usually done through use of physical barriers such as tapes or using police officers to control access to the crime scene (Ogle, 2011). It also involves removing any other unwanted persons from the crime scene. Depending on the nature of the locale, the crime scene investigation unit might require the assistive effort of the District Attorney in case they need a search warrant. The Crime scene investigators must guarantee that they amass evidence that is allowable to be presented in a court of law. After securing a crime scene, the investigators can talk with the respondents to see if they happened to touch anything at the scene just after the crime (Osterburg & Ward, 2010).
The second phase of crime scene investigation is the scene documentation. The main objective behind the documentation of a crime scene is to have a visual representation of the crime scene. This is significant in allowing the forensics experts and the attorney in charge of prosecution to accurately reconstruct the crime scene. Scene documentation typically entails the use of video, audio and still photos to have a visual representation of the crime. Various devices such as video cameras, digital cameras, sketch papers and measuring tapes are used in documenting the crime scene. The investigators may also use pens, camcorders, rulers and tripods to document the scene. One of the basic steps in documentation of the scene is a second walk through, keeping in mind to follow the same trail of the first walk through. Activities such taking photos, videos of the crime scene and creation of sketches are done during this phase. An investigator is also required to take notes during this phase; note taking requires scientific observation of the crime scene (Ogle, 2011). Factual observations are written down exclusive of conclusions. Taking photos is usually done before touching anything at the crime scene. The three kinds of photographs taken can be overview shots, which enclose all parts of the crime scene; mid range pictures represent specific evidence. Close up shots are used to represent specific characteristics of the evidence such as serial numbers. Walk through videos usually offer a better visual representation of the crime scene and should capture the whole crime scene accompanied with audio narrative (Ogle, 2011).
The third step during crime scene investigation is gathering the evidence. The main objective of this stage is to gather and preserve all the reliable evidence which might play a key role in attempting to reconstruct the crime and help in identification of the offender, in such a way that the evidence is admissible in a court of law. Typical evidences which might be collected at a crime scene are: impressions such as finger prints; body fluids such as vomits and blood; hair and other fibers; documents and weapons. Theories can be deduced in order to develop a systematic way which can be applied in establishing the relationship between the evidence collected and the crime committed. In cases of homicides, the CSI unit carries a thorough analysis on the dead body and looks for indicators such as marks, the condition of the clothing, the presence of blood and other elements that might have led to the death of victim. Forensic scientists might be needed to approximate the time of death. An examination of the scene is a critical process in gathering evidence. Approaches are usually deployed depending on the nature of the crime, the orientation of the scene and the distribution of evidence. One method is the inward spiral search whereby the crime scene investigation unit starts the search from outside of the scene towards the center. The outward spiral search begins from the center of the crime scene towards the perimeter. Spiral searches are usually effective in cases where the investigator at the scene is alone. Parallel crime scene search usually involve many investigators, where by the team forms a line and explores the scene in straight line. The Grid search involves the deployment of two parallel searches at an offset of 90o. Zone searches usually involve the division of the crime scene into parts which are allocated to different investigators.
Reconstruction of the crime scene and identification of the perpetrator is one of the primary goals of evidence collection. This usually entails the use of techniques that can be applied in tracing evidence. Collecting trace evidence usually involves the use of devices such as tweezers, gloves, waste bags, plastic containers that are fitted with lids and others. Crime scenes involving the use of gunshots usually require the collection of Gun Shot Residue (GSR). Body fluids such as saliva, blood and semen can be helpful in identifying the perpetrator. Blood samples are principally used for DNA analysis. Blood patterns at the crime scene can play an important role in determining the type of weapon that was used during the crime. Hair and fibers found at the scene are taken to the lab which can be used by analysts to determine the DNA of the suspects. Finger prints also play a significant role in tracing the perpetrator (Ogle, 2011). Another trace evidence that might be collected by the Crime Investigation Unit is foot wear impressions. Documents found at the crime scene such as diaries and phone books can also play an important role in identifying the perpetrator.
The last phase of crime scene investigation is forensic analysis. Forensic laboratories are used to provide analysis to the gathered evidence. The forensic reports are usually based on matching evidence collected with the known information so as to identify the offender. It is worth noting that the task of Crime investigator does not end once a crime report has been filed. A big task of the CSI is ensuring that the evidence collected is admissible in a court of law. This usually entails the testifying about the evidence, the approaches the investigator deployed to collect the evidence and the people that he came into contact with during the investigation. The evidence should be able to stand the attack from the defense attorney. This explains why investigation procedures such as search warrants, logs of the investigation process and detailed photos of the crime scene should not be overlooked (BACM Research, 2006).
The key personnel who are involved in the investigation of a crime scene include: the police, they are usually the first to turn up at the scene and can make any arrests if the offenders are still present at the crime scene. The crime scene investigations units are primarily responsible for providing a documentation of the crime scene and the collection of any available physical evidence. The District Attorney may be required in scenarios where legal search warrants are to be issued so as to facilitate the investigation process crime (Osterburg & Ward, 2010). Specialists such as forensic experts may be required in crime scenes where the evidence collected required an analysis by an expert. In cases of homicide, medical examiners may be required to evaluate the cause of death. It can be seen that crime scene investigation requires almost every discipline for the investigation process to be successful (Osterburg & Ward, 2010).
The Atlanta child murders
The Atlanta child murders incident involved a sequence of killings that took place in Atlanta between 1979 and 1981 (BACM Research, 2006). It was a stated that at least twenty eight children of African-American origin were murdered. The prime suspect of the case was a 23 year old, Wayne Williams, who was convicted for at least two of the reported murders. It was difficult to link one suspect all the murders.
Profile of the suspect- Wayne Williams
During the end of the murders, Wayne Williams was twenty three years old. Wayne Williams was convicted during January 1982, for the murder of two men. It was then resolved that Wayne Williams was solely behind the killings. The lead that made him the suspect of the murders was the splash that the police on a patrol heard near a bridge where he had stopped his car, two days later, the body of Nathaniel Carter was found at the same spot. As a result, the police labeled Wayne Williams as the prime suspect of the Atlanta Child murders case (BACM Research, 2006).
The investigation into the Atlanta child murders case began with examining the geographical orientations of the murder victims. All the victims of the murder were found to be from the same region of Atlanta, this led to the conclusion that all the reported murders could have been caused by one person (Johnson & Olshaker, 1995). Since most of the dead bodies were missing, it was difficult to gather adequate evidence; however, the little available evidence links Wayne Williams to the case. The evidence that was collected included dog hair, which was found to match the dog at his parent’s house. The evidence that linked Williams to the crime was a corpse that was recovered two days later just near the place where Wayne stopped his car. All the gathered evidence is somewhat a clear cut link between Wayne and the Atlanta Murders. The most critical evidence was the fiber analysis of the victims and the pattern of the murder cases. Other evidence included a number of witnesses who said Wayne solicited sexual favors (Osterburg & Ward, 2010). During trial, Wayne asserted that the he was on his way to audition a musician, named Cheryl Johnson. Neither her profile nor the appointment of Wayne to meet her was found (Johnson & Olshaker, 1995). Wayne defense story could not be accounted for since no records linking him and the musician he mentioned were found to exist. The little evidence collected clearly links Wayne Williams to the Atlanta child murders. The series of murder stopped after Wayne Williams was tried and convicted to life jail term. This implies that the investigation was successful in establishing a connection between the evidence, the prime suspect and the crime (Tayari, 2002).
One of the significant flaws concerning the case of Atlanta child murders is that the investigation process did not provide a well stated motive for investigation. Determining the motive of the perpetrator is imperative in any investigation process as failure to do so can be used as a justification for the actions carried out by the offender. This questions the viability of all the assumptions and conclusions that were made during the investigation and the evidence that led to the arrest of Wayne Williams. The police labelled Wayne Wiliams as a suspect because they herad a splash in the nearby river, it happened coincidentally that Wayne had stopped his car. The police theoritised that Wayne was throwing a dead body into the river, possibly to cover up. The problem is that the police did not determine what was being thrown at the river at that particular moment. There is a possibility that it could be something else rather than a dead body. It can therefore be argued that someone could have thrown the body within the two days time frame or the dead body found at the river might have been flown from another section of the river. The key assumption that implicated wayne was the splash at the river and the body that was discovered two days later. The evidence and the assumption presented at the case cannot be said to be admissible bacause it was the initiative of the police to establish immediately the course of the splash and whatever that was being thrown in the river at that moment (Marily & Rachael, 2006). There is a possibility that the body could have been thrown some time later after the incidence.
To the defence of Wayne Williams, the evidence collected did not include any murder weapons, there were no eye witnesses and no apparent motive behind the case of the child murders. This questions the viability of the collected evidence to presented in a court of law. The fact that it was a murder case with no weapon evidence collected dismisses all the assumptions concerning the case. The 28 fiber evidence which were recovered from William’s household items and on the bodies of the murdered victims did not link William to the case (Baldwin, 1998).
BACM Research. (2006). Atlanta Child Murders – Wayne Williams FBI Files. New York: BACM Research.
Baldwin, J. (1998). The Evidence of Things Not Seen. Cutchogue, NY: Buccaneer.
Johnson, J., & Olshaker, M. (1995). Mind Hunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit, Scribner. New York: Scribner.
Marily, B., & Rachael, B. (2006). The Atlanta Child Murders. Criminal minds and methods , 78.
Ogle, R. R. (2011). Crime Scene Investigation and Reconstruction. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall.
Osterburg, J., & Ward, H. (2010). Criminal investigation: A Method for Reconstructing the Past. New York: Anderson.
Tayari, J. (2002). Leaving Atlanta. New York: Warner Books.