Forensic expert offers scholarship

One lucky member of the Royal Cayman Islands Police Department could get a scholarship to study forensics in the US.

Commemorative pins presented

Dr. Henry Lee presents commemorative pins to Deputy Commissioner Rudi Dixon, observed by Detective Chief Inspector Marlon Bodden. Photo: Submitted

Dr. Henry C. Lee, known internationally for the insights he has brought to high-profile murder cases, met with local police officers last Thursday and during the informal session at Police Headquarters in Elizabethan Square, he casually offered to give a scholarship so that an officer from Cayman could study forensics at the University of New Haven in Connecticut.

He was impeccably placed to make that offer: the Henry C. Lee Institute of Forensic Science is, after all, named for him.

How a police officer from Taiwan rose to such prominence, and why he keeps going back to work after retiring three times is a story in itself. The cases he has worked on are also subjects on which several books have been written.

Dr. Lee’s visit to Cayman was not official, said Detective Chief Inspector Marlon Bodden Jr., who accompanied the forensic scientist and his party on a brief island tour.

But the informal character of his discussions with senior officers and members of the media did not prevent Dr. Lee from making some serious points.

Although he has been consulted in cases such as the OJ Simpson murder trial, the death of child model JonBenet Ramsey and the shooting of Deputy White House Counsel Vincent Foster, Dr. Lee talked more about persons who were crime victims and nobody cared.

‘We have to show the public we do care,’ he said. He referred to a recent cold case – a homicide that happened 30 years ago, but solved just last month. The family of the dead person was happy to finally get an answer, Dr. Lee said.

The public is increasingly familiar with forensic work because of TV shows like CSI that show crime scene investigations. Real crime cases are not like TV, where clues have to be found by the second commercial, he joked.

Real crime cases require teamwork and public trust, Dr. Lee said. ‘If citizens lose trust, our jobs become more difficult.’

He endorsed the comments of Deputy Commissioner Rudi Dixon, who spoke of the tremendous advances in technology that not only enable police to solve cases but also protect innocent people.

As an example, Dr. Lee noted that DNA analysis has led to the release of 142 people wrongfully convicted in the US.

Books and websites devoted to Dr. Lee’s career explain that a forensic scientist is a scientist who deals with items recovered from a crime scene and analyses them for possible use as evidence. He may be consulted by the defence or the prosecution, but his only commitment is to the truth.

Dr. Lee’s degree is in biochemistry, obtained in 1975 from New York University. His career began with the police department in Taipei, Taiwan, where he rose to the rank of captain at 22.

In those days, the early 1960s, one way to solve a crime was to round up all the suspects and keep them until someone confessed. But this approach led to more crimes being solved than had actually occurred – because everybody confessed, Dr. Lee related.

That was when he realised that police needed logic, common sense and scientific tools. He went to the United States to pursue his education, first obtaining a bachelor’s degree in forensic science and then specialising in biochemistry.

He went on to serve as chief of the Connecticut state police and director of that state’s police forensic science laboratory. But it didn’t happen overnight.

He started in 1976 with one microscope and a zero budget, Dr. Lee recalled. Today the lab with which he is affiliated has $40 million worth of equipment.

How can a small island nation like Cayman compare?

There are two aspects of forensic work, Dr. Lee pointed out. One is at the crime scene; the other is in the laboratory.

The Royal Cayman Islands Police Service, with a complement of 347 officers, is a good size, he indicated. By comparison, however, his lab has close to 400 staff.

But it doesn’t matter how small a police department is, it should have a standard protocol for dealing with crime scenes. Scenes-of-crime officers should have training on how to view the scene, how to interview suspects, how to collect and preserve evidence.

Viewing a crime scene includes details – if a window is broken, noting if the glass has fallen inside or outside; if there is a spider web, whether it has been disturbed.

In terms of lab services, every police department should develop some identification capability, including fingerprints and shoe prints. There should be a data base and training in recognition of patterns.

Modern laboratory equipment is expensive, he acknowledged, so there are two approaches to the problem. One is to analyse the jurisdiction’s crimes over the past five years or so to see which are prevalent and invest in equipment accordingly.

Basic equipment might include instruments for the analysis of drugs, fingerprints and body fluids. A computer crime unit would be considered.

But police departments should develop contacts so that potential evidence can be sent to labs in the US or UK, Dr. Lee said.

Although this was his first visit to Cayman, there was a familiar face at the dock to greet him when he came ashore with his wife, Margaret, and Dr. Robert Barsley, who is a forensic dentist.

Dr. Lee and Dr. Barsley were among the teachers of a forensic science course for University of Southern Mississippi students aboard the Carnival cruise ship Conquest.

The party was met by Inspector Bodden, who was a student of Dr. Lee’s in an advanced homicide course. The eminent scientist said he challenged students with some easy questions and some hard. For one tough question, it was Marlon Bodden who came up with the answer and rated an A+.

Along with praise for his student, who he hoped would be the next Henry Lee, Dr. Lee had high compliments for Mr. Dixon and the Cayman police force.

He described the force as probably one of the best in the world. No other country has a crime rate like Cayman’s, he observed. It’s August already and the jurisdiction doesn’t have even one homicide.

How does Cayman compare?

Deputy Commissioner Rudi Dixon was asked to comment on Dr. Henry Lee’s assessment of what forensic capabilities a police department should have.

Item by item, Cayman seems to meet the expert’s criteria:

Identification capability. The Scenes of Crime Bureau encompasses a fingerprint division and Cayman has finger print experts qualified to UK, US and Canadian standards.

There is a database for fingerprints and a limited amount of DNA as well.

Narcotics. Ganja, cocaine and Ecstasy can be tested locally. Other substances are sent overseas.

Serology. Analysis of body fluids is done overseas, with some preliminary blood testing done here.

Computer crime. The Financial Crime Unit deals with this.

Overseas contacts. Cayman has established relationships with two labs in the United States and one in the UK. Occasionally a lab in Jamaica or Barbados is used.

DNA. Attorney General Sam Bulgin has described the DNA lab being established as a microcosm of a larger project, creation of a forensics facility that would offer a wide range of services beyond DNA analysis, including ballistics, toxicology and serology.

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