This assignment aims for you to evaluate the criminal investigations process.
Here’s What Happened . . .
Around 12:00 p.m. on September 13, 2004, Fred Smith walked across the road to Bill Jones’s house to ask for a ride. Although it was almost fall, it was still very hot outside and Smith needed to pick up money in a neighboring town. Smith didn’t want to walk from Centervale to Roan County, so he offered to pay Jones $20.00 for gas and his time to drive Smith to pick up his money. Jones accepted Smith’s offer; however, Jones told Smith that he had to pick up a friend at a car repair shop along the way. Jones and Smith drove to Thrifty Repair Shop and picked up Jones’s friend, Roger Fish. Fish was not in a hurry that day, so he agreed to ride with the pair to pick up Smith’s money.
The trio arrived at 200 S. Railroad Street, Brysonton, Roan County, AnyState. Smith exited the car and told Jones and Fish to wait in the car. As Smith walked toward the front of the residence, he yelled to the occupants inside, “You got some weed?” “Yeah,” Raynard Jenkins replied from inside the residence. Jenkins greeted Smith at the door and asked him, “What you got?” Smith pulled out a Ruger SP101 .357 Magnum and shot Jenkins in the chest at point-blank range.
As Jenkins was falling toward the ground, Bob Marshall, a local drug dealer, jumped up from the corner of the couch, dropped a large bag of cocaine on the floor, and ran into the kitchen and out the back door. Smith chased Marshall, shot at him twice, but missed him. Smith ran back to the car and yelled to Jones, “Punch it! He tried to smoke (kill) me.” The group sped away in a brown Ford Taurus, but were pulled over by Deputy R. W. Dunn approximately five miles from the scene. After coming to a complete stop, Jones threw the gun onto the rear floorboard of the car, next to Fish.
Deputy Dunn approached the car, asked the men to exit the car, and detained them to await another officer’s arrival. When the officer was brought to the location where the men were being detained, a witness who saw the shooting identified Jones as the shooter. Smith, Jones, and Fish were arrested, transported to the Roan County Sheriff’s Office for additional questioning, and booked into jail on first-degree murder charges.
The Investigation . . .
State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) Special Agent (SA) Pete Moss arrived at the scene at 200 S. Railroad Street, Brysonton, Roan County, AnyState, with CSI and SBI SA April Pearson at 1:03 p.m. to assist the Sheriff’s Office with investigating the murder of Jenkins and the attempted murder of Marshall. SA Pearson interviewed key witnesses who lived in the immediate area within proximity of the crime scene, while SA Moss began drafting a search warrant. Although the Sheriff’s Office had secured the scene around the house, SA Pearson secured an additional larger area that extended into the street. Both the interior and exterior barriers were secured with crime scene tape. The Sheriff’s Office arranged to have the suspects’ car towed to a secure location for processing.
SA Moss completed the search warrant, and Superior Court Judge Bradley signed it after reviewing it for format, technical legal aspects, and probable cause. SA Moss returned to the residence to execute the warrant so SA Pearson could begin to process the scene. SA Pearson started taking notes when she started taking photographs. She photographed the scene from the overall and close-up perspectives. She used a scale (ruler) with each item of evidence for the second close-up photograph. She conducted a grid search, placed evidence markers beside certain items of evidence she thought were important, and rephotographed those items—close-up and close-up with scale perspectives this time. She maintained notes about various aspects of the scene throughout the photographing process. SA Pearson drew a sketch with every item of evidence in the sketch and measured everything secured in the immediate barrier. She did not sketch the second barrier that included the road. She drew several sketches of each room of the house independently.
SA Moss enlisted the help of the Sheriff’s Office detectives to assist with the lead sheet development. Three leads came in. SA Moss assigned each lead to a detective for follow-up. Detective Mark Rolland followed up on information about the Jenkins’ family. Detective Erin Norse checked out a lead about Jenkins talking about killing Smith. Detective John Roberts followed a lead about Fish selling drugs from the car repair shop. Each detective interviewed his witness and typed up his notes. They threw away their notes after they were finished because they didn’t need them anymore and what the witnesses said was in their typed-up versions now. SA Moss checked off the witnesses one by one and shredded the lead sheet once all witnesses had been accounted for.
The investigation revealed that Smith was seen running after Marshall while shooting at him and that Jones was driving the getaway car. Numerous witnesses reported hearing several gunshots before they saw Smith running and shooting at Marshall. The crime scene evidence appeared to indicate, upon cursory review, that Jenkins was shot once in the chest in the doorway of his home. It also appeared that Jenkins was conscious for a period of time after suffering the gunshot wound, because SA Pearson observed swipe bloodstain patterns in the blood near his head. SA Pearson used a gridding method to map the bloodstain evidence, labeled the stains, and took at least two swabs from each stain she selected. She photographed the bloodstain evidence; took notes of the stains she swabbed, along with specific measurements; and took gel lifts of particular stains. No projectiles were recovered at the scene or from the autopsy. No shell casings were recovered at the scene.
SA Pearson also recovered the large, clear plastic bag containing a white, powdery substance that Marshall dropped on the floor as he ran from the house. The crime laboratory recovered Marshall’s fingerprints from the plastic bag and matched them to his Ten-Print Card from a previous arrest.
SA Moss attempted to interview Smith, but Smith asked, “How much time can someone get for something like this?” and then asked for a lawyer. Agent Moss responded, “A significant amount of time.” Smith laid his head on the table and went to sleep. Jones and Fish gave the same account of what happened by claiming that Smith got out of the car and walked up to the door. Then, they heard several shots, and then Smith ran back to the car with a gun and said someone tried to “smoke” him. The trio was booked into the local jail. Jones and Fish posted bail, but Smith was denied bond.
SA Pearson recovered the Ruger SP101 .357 Magnum from the rear floorboard the next day, pursuant to a second search warrant issued for the suspects’ car. She noticed a reddish-brown substance on the barrel of the firearm. SA Pearson placed the firearm in a plastic bag, sealed it, put the bag in a plastic tote, and put the tote in her trunk. Then, SA Pearson noticed a brownish-red substance consistent with the color of blood on the passenger side door. SA Pearson took two swabs of the stain using a sterile swab and distilled water. One tested positive for blood by a presumptive test called phenolphthalein. SA Pearson allowed the other swab to dry thoroughly and placed it into a sterile envelope for confirmatory testing and DNA testing at the crime lab.
Here’s What You Need to Do . . .
You have been asked by the sheriff to evaluate the investigation: What was done correctly, what was done incorrectly, what is missing from the investigation, what was done well, what wasn’t done well, what can be done better next time, why what was done incorrectly, not at all, etc., is a problem, and other aspects relevant to evaluation.
- Murder investigations are extremely complex. They demand forward-thinking, analytical-thinking investigators who understand what it takes to do things right at a crime scene. Identify, define, describe, and examine the terms related to a criminal investigation that are used throughout the story and investigation sections of the LASA.
- Research criminal investigation processes. First, compare your research with the process described above. Then, evaluate the process these investigators used to investigate this murder and attempted murder—what they did well versus what they did not do well, etc.—and offer suggestions for what they could do to improve their investigatory process.
- Analyze the crime scene investigation conducted by SA Pearson. What aspects of her investigation were performed properly? Improperly? Why?
- Illustrate and explain how documenting a crime scene relates to the courtroom presentation of a case. What happens if a case becomes a cold case and it is not solved for thirty years? What components would you as a prosecutor want to have to show a jury if you had to prosecute this case thirty years after it happened?