Investigation of homicide crimes is highly specialized and needs years of skills combined with frequent process of training and education. The first action taken by the responding patrol officers to the scene of crime determines the outcome of the homicide investigation. However, the murder scene is the most vital scene of the offense an investigator can be assigned to respond. The collected pieces of evidence might be in the form of autopsy results, eyewitnesses who witnessed the account first hand, and statements from suspects. Homicide investigation requires a number of basic principles to initiate effectiveness, which includes patrol officers to respond rapidly to the scene of the crime in order to safeguard evidentiary materials not to be lost, altered, and destroyed. Everything and anything at the place of the offense must be considered as evidence, whether testimony or physical evidence; they are noted, preserved, and handed over to the investigator. The failure of a homicide case might happen because of inadequate examination and not implementing necessary procedures for crime scenes. This paper will discuss how homicidal criminal investigations are conducted and processed by giving specific case examples and their outcomes.
The starting point of homicide investigation is where the body is found originally. The initial point of the body is referred to as primary crime scene (Bennett & Hess, 2006). In some instances, the body might be found on a different spot from the one where the person was actually killed, and such location is therefore known as the secondary crime scene. However, the focus of the investigation should be at the original point of the body to help retrieve most evidence. Usually, there are additional crime scenes to where the body is found. They include the place where the body was transferred, the actual spot where the assault occurred, the place where evidence trace linked to the crime is discovered, the type of vehicle used to transport the body, and the current location where the body was finally found. Other areas connected to the primary crime scene are the suspects, including body, hands, clothing, their residence, the route of escape, and the entry point. Therefore, it is essential for the responding officers to establish the exact scene of the crime that needs investigation and the additional scenes that would require coverage.
At the main crime scene, every item is considered physical evidence; thus, it should not to be moved or touched prior the arrival of investigators. In the situation where the evidence is to be protected from destruction, itsfeatures such as condition, appearance, and location among others must be documented by the officer in charge. However, the investigator should be informed of the initial position of the evidence in order not to lose the evidentiary value. In homicide cases, the scene of a crime is proof that a crime has been committed, since various elements provide lots of physical indication connecting a suspect to the crime. Therefore, if the scene of offense is controlled, the investigation is also secure.
All the homicide investigations begin at the primary scene of the crime. This is because the officers are alerted by the offense eyewitness, the victim, and the individual that discovered the body. Also, in homicide cases, physical evidence is found mostly in the initial location the body is discovered, thus acting as a base of analysis. The item list of physical evidence might extensively consist of causes, type, and number of the homicide. The primary scene of the crime is the essential point for beginning a homicide investigation.
The important rule in murder cases is to secure and preserve the scene of the crime in order to aid in determining the dimensions of the latter. Before making an intelligent evaluation of the scene of a crime, the investigator should be informed enough to know what creates physical evidence and areas to establish the homicide scene boundaries in order to protect the evidence. For instance, most frequently found physical evidence at the murder crime scenes consist of such objects as weapons, firearms, tools, letters, bullets, and vehicles. Also, body materials such as vomit, blood, feces, semen, urine, hair, spittle, and tissue are found. Next, impressions such as dents and breaks, fingerprints, newly damaged areas, tire tracks, bullet holes, footprints, tool marks, and palm prints may be present as well. Therefore, upon confirmation of death, the investigating officer assesses the evidence to determine precincts.
The murder scene must be protected from unauthorized individuals and unnecessary entry may not be contaminated, lost, destroyed, or deprived of trace evidence. Crime scene safeguard and preservation is an essential aspect in homicide misconducts. The action taken first at the place of the offence is vital in shaping the direction of the investigation. Therefore, the crime scene needs to be safeguarded as effectively and quickly as possible by the first officer to report at the scene and to ensure successful investigation. However, the outcome of the first act taken might be negatively affecting entire investigation and prosecution of the case. The first individual to reach the crime scene is the patrol officer. The duties of responding officers are to arrive at the crime scene and ensure the required assistance from investigators. Then, they have to protect the scene for securing the evidence. Scene protection such as roping off a diameter of various blocks and closing room entrance where the victim was found are also very important. Available information acquired at the scene of a crime will determine if many other areas need to be secured to retrieve vital evidence.
At the primary crime scene, verifying the situation of the body and ensuring that the main scene of the offence is intact as the initial investigation are only done when the investigator arrives. Therefore, the first officer to respond to the crime scene briefs the investigator from the time of arrival and protection phase. Throughout preliminary period, the investigator is capable of assessing the surrounding and the scene area to establish the following: consistencies and inconsistencies that are crucial to the course of the investigation, the existence of any fragile evidence that may necessitate instant collection, supplementary areas that may need securing, and chain of custody of any evidence retrieved during the scene protection phase. The presentation is an essential aspect of the primary crime scene. The position, location, and condition of the victim in terms of definite crime scene provide skilled homicide detectives with fundamental information concerning the offense that permits for prompt investigative hypotheses and contribute in validating consistency or inconsistency.
The measures for a scene of crime processing include videotaping and photographing the whole area. A comprehensive search of the crime scene is conducted. Also, acquiring a rough sketch of the scene is needed. Processing the crime scene for hidden fingerprints is made as well. Overall, identifying, documenting, and, finally, controlling evidence should also not to be forgotten.
During videotaping and photographing, the recommended initial shot is three by five index card to provide information about the telephone number and department name, photographer, type of film, type of camera, conditions of lighting, time, date, weather, location, case number, and case type. If need arises, the instant photos are taken to be viewed by commanders. Also, overall crime scene shots and close-ups are taken. For instance, there may be any evidentiary value items, wounds, and the body itself.
The search method applied is determined by the scene complexity, location, and size. Commonly used searching methods of a crime scene include grid, zone, and strip ones. The grid method is performed in two directions. The search is continued in a perpendicular direction after searching one direction, which allows the same area to be searched twice. The zone method assigns each searcher his/her searching blocks to help acquire various perspectives other than of the earlier searches. The strip method is applied in open and vast areas since it can be executed using any number of investigators. The detective searches from one end to the other in a straight line.
Crime scene sketching is done by individuals including the researcher or the offense scene technician. Exact measurements of the area are taken first defining evidence locations. A sketch of a scene of the crime is a drawing to indicate the appearance of a scene. The description aid in labeling the evidence affiliation and position of items is also provided. A sketch is vital since it can cover a bigger range.
The evidence is collected after it has been sketched and photographed. The victims evidence items number cards used must match the sketch, evidence log, and photographic log. The investigator should use protective equipment such as gloves to avoid tainting the evidence or exposing him/herself. Before collection, the most significant evidence should be photographed. Each evidence items is to be described in appropriate bags; thus, it aids in maximizing evidence integrity. Evidence items that can be destroyed in sealed containers should be placed in paper bags. Evidence log must be maintained. To obtain fingerprints at the scene of a crime, the officer should locate, photograph, and then lift them. On the print card, such information as photo number of the print, evidence number of the print, the person who lifted and located the print, the place where the print was found on the scene, the description of the print, and the case number should be listed.
The collecting and packaging of all evidence items gathered at the scene of the crime should be handled by one individual. In a situation where the view area is too big for one person to handle, it is advisable to assign regions of responsibility. Chain of custody should apply to every recovery of evidence items. Any transfer of evidence items from one individual to the other must be documented. Chain of custody begins with the crime scene.
The crime scene processing final survey is the review of the search entire phase. The investigator must ensure every evidence item is secured. Therefore, when releasing the scene of a crime after the ultimate survey, the documentation must indicate date and time of release and the individuals who released it and to whom it was released. When the personnel are contented with how the scene was searched, then the scene should be released.
One of the case examples is the murder of Leanne Tiernan, a 16-year old victim discovered buried in the shallow grave in West Yorkshire, nearby Otley. In November 2000, after shopping with friends, she was reported missing. In August 2001, the victim was found by a man strolling his dog in Lindley Woods. When the victims body was found, it was wrapped in green plastic bin liners held with twine; her head was concealed in the black plastic bag tied with a dog collar, her neck was tied with the cable, and her wrists were tied together with a scarf. The officers searched the area of approximately 1500 gardens and 800 houses that covered the territory from the bus stop to her home. According to the pathologist examining the victims body, the victim was kept at low temperatures after being strangled, thus showing the body was not at the scene since November. Suppliers of dog collar were tracked down to the man named John Taylor, a poacher from Bramley, who had brought several dog collars similar to that on the victim. The twine was trailed to a supplier in Devon, and it matched the one found in John Taylor’s house. The cable ties were trailed to Royal Mail John Taylors patent company employer, parcel force. A search in Taylors house revealed more cable ties and one of the dog collars. The officers searched the surrounding including magazines, cans, and the woods, and recovered almost 400 items. The forensic scientists compared the DNA samples from bin bags, duvet cover, with that of family and friends knowing sex offender, and residents of the victims estate. The scarf around the body had few hairs on it. They were later matched to John Taylors dog ones after mitochondrial DNA was profiled. For the first time, British homicide investigation used dog DNA profiling since dog hairs were found on the victims body. However, the dog DNA was not helpful as John Taylors dog had died making it impossible to match the DNA result. Forensic scientist discovered blood under floorboards in John Taylors home. The blood belonged to be Leanne Tiernan. In October 2001, John Taylor was detained and sentenced to life.
A second case example is the murder case of Black Dahlia in the 1940s. Elizabeth Short, a young female was found bisected in half and sexually posed in an explicit way. In 1947, January 15, the victims body was discovered in the vacant lot on South Norton Avenue between Coliseum and 39th Street. Betty Bersinger, a homemaker, and her 3-year-old daughter found the body. The woman realized it was not a mannequin but real human body and informed the authorities through anonymous call using a nearby house phone. Police officers responded to the scene finding the victims body cut in half. The victims body, head, and face were cut and bruised. Elizabeth’s upper half faced up with her arms over her skull, and her mouth had slashes 3-inch on either side. The scene of the crime had little blood indicating the victim was dumped after her body was washed by the murderer. A massive investigation was launched after fingerprints had confirmed it was Elizabeth Short, a 22-year-old female. The crime scene was overcrowded with reporters, onlookers, and officers, which slowed down the collection of evidence. Almost 200 suspects were questioned, polygraphed, and later released. In the state of California, the case has remained unsolved regardless of the efforts that investigators made.
Homicide criminal investigation begins from the point the body was found. However, in some circumstances, the victim’s body may be discovered in a different spot from where the killing happened. Nonetheless, investigators focus on the original point of the body to assist in retrieving evidence. Every physical item at the scene of a crime is considered evidence. The vital role of homicide cases is to preserve and protect the site of the offense in order to help realize the dimension of a crime scene. The evidence must be maintained by putting boundaries. However, in case the evidence can be destroyed, features such as location, aspect, and condition are documented. Crime scenes are managed through photographing and videotaping the area. The success and failure of the homicide investigation rely on the primary crime scene.