This Week in Forensic Science

No one has hours to scour the papers to keep up with the latest news, so we’ve curated the top news stories in the field of Forensic Science for this week. Here’s what you need to know to get out the door!


This Week in Forensic Science


Why Prosecutors in Bill Cosby’s Case Focused on Addressing Misconceptions About Rape (NPR – 4/27/2018)

  • NPR’s Ailsa Chang talks with Dr. Barbara Ziv, the forensic psychiatrist who testified at the retrial of Bill Cosby, about the focus that the prosecution put on educating the jury about common misconceptions around rape.


How Familial DNA Searches Work (Los Angeles Times – 4/27/2018)

  • If the DNA left at a crime scene does not precisely match a profile in a criminal database, state authorities may look for similar profiles to find relatives of the perpetrator.


Use of DNA in Serial Killer Probe Sparks Privacy Concerns (CNBC – 4/27/2018)

  • Investigators who used a genealogical website to find the ex-policeman they believe is a shadowy serial killer and rapist who terrified California decades ago call the technique ground-breaking.But others say it raises troubling legal and privacy concerns for the millions of people who submit their DNA to such sites to discover their heritage.


Familial DNA Puts Elusive Killers Behind Bars. But Only 12 States Use It. (NBC News – 4/28/2018)

  • The DNA testing technique uses genetic material from relatives to track down a suspect and solve crimes. Why isn’t it used more widely?



The Brave New World of Genetic Genealogy  (MIT Technology Review – 4/28/2018)

  • The combination of DNA and genealogy is a potentially huge force for good in the world, but it must be used responsibly.


Love TV Forensic Science? Keep in Mind It’s Fiction, Macon County Law Enforcement Says (Herald & Review – 4/29/2018)

  • Television fantasy messed up crime scene forensic science expectations so much there is even a term for it: the “CSI Effect.”

    Named for the 15-season-long CBS series “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” which hatched various spin-off shows, CSI is one of a number of crime dramas that, Central Illinois experts say, ridiculously inflate forensic capabilities and the speed of results.


From Golden State Killer to Grim Sleeper, DNA Helping Break Serial Killer Mysteries from 1970s and 1980s (Los Angeles Times – 4/29/2018)

  • Crime sprees on the scale of the Golden State Killer’s are more difficult to pull off nowadays, some experts say: The same technology that helps solve such cold cases can thwart a modern-day criminal before he accumulates enough victims to earn a nickname


What Biometrics Can Do: The Hidden Data in Your Fingerprints (Qrius – 4/29/2018)

  • Fingerprints have provided key evidence in countless cases of serious crime. But there are still some situations in which it can be difficult or impossible to recover fingerprints and this can cause a headache for forensic investigators. In seeking a solution to this problem, researchers like myself have started to realise that a fingerprint can be used for a lot more than just its unique ridge pattern.


A Forensics Lab in Guatemala Puts Together the Pieces of the Past (CGTN – 4/29/2018)

  • Anthropologists in Guatemala are using forensics to try and determine what happened during the country’s 36-year Civil War. Families have been looking for loved ones “disappeared” from the war for decades.


How the Supreme Court Could Rewrite the Rules for DNA Searches (The New Republic – 4/30/2018)

  • The arrest of the alleged Golden State Killer and a case currently before the court both raise questions about Fourth Amendment rights in the digital age.


The DNA Data We Have Is Too White. Scientists Want to Fix That (Smithsonian – 4/30/2018)

  • The vast majority of participants in worldwide genomics research are of European descent. This disparity could potentially leave out minorities from benefitting from the windfall of precision medicine. That’s about to change with the “All of Us” initiative, an ambitious health research endeavor by the National Institutes of Health that launches in May. Originally created in 2015 under President Obama as the Precision Medicine Initiative, the project aims to collect data from at least 1 million people of all ages, races, sexual identities, income and education levels


Post-Mortem CT Angiography Illustrates Causes of Death (Forensic Magazine – 5/1/2018)

  • CT angiography is a useful adjunct to autopsy that is likely to increase the quality of post-mortem diagnosis, according to a study appearing online in the journal Radiology. Researchers said the findings could have important implications for criminal investigations and hospital quality control efforts.



Kirk Bloodsworth’s New Passion: Championship Rings for Those Who Won Freedom (The Baltimore Sun – 5/1/2018)

  • Bloodsworth took classes at the Revere Academy of Jewelry Arts in San Francisco, and he now has a line of handcrafted pendants, bracelets and earrings called Bloods Stones.And among his designs is a sterling silver “exoneration ring,” one that he’s had cast, engraved and presented to 85 former inmates who were found to have been wrongly convicted. Some of the recipients were once, like Bloodsworth, on Death Row.



NYC’s DNA Crime Lab Can Analyze Anything We Touch (FOX 5 – 5/1/2018)

  • Fox 5 got an exclusive look inside the largest DNA crime lab in North America. It is found New York City’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in the Kips Bay section of Manhattan.



Police Use DNA Tool to Identify the Dead, Find Suspects (The Washington Post – 5/1/2018)

  • A new technology can take any DNA sample from a crime scene – from a drop of blood to bone tissue – and read tens of thousands of genetic variants to predict a facial image. It’s called Snapshot.Through a computer-based 3D algorithm, Snapshot can predict ancestry, eye color, hair color, skin color, freckling and face shape.



Vallejo Police Have Sent Zodiac Killer DNA to a Lab. Results Could Come In Weeks. (Sacramento Bee – 5/2/2018)

  • Investigators searching for the Zodiac Killer have submitted evidence to a private DNA lab in the hopes of obtaining a genetic profile of one of California’s most elusive criminals — then tracking him down using the same kind of family-tree tracing recently used in the East Area Rapist case.



Rape Kit Audit Says Oregon State Police Addressing Backlog (Eugene Weekly – 5/2/2018)

  • Secretary of State Dennis Richardson announced that an audit of the SAFE kit (Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence) backlog showed that the Oregon State Police “has taken actions consistent with statutory requirements and national best practices to address the SAFE Kit backlog.”In a May 2 press release Richardson also said that the audit also found that “OSP officials estimate they will largely eliminate the backlog by the end of 2018.”



DNA Facial Prediction Could Make Protecting Your Privacy More Difficult (Medical Xpress – 5/2/2018)

  • This is the world of “DNA phenotyping” – reconstructing physical features from genetic data. Research studies and companies like 23andMesometimes share genetic data that has been “anonymised” by removing names. But can we ensure its privacy if we can predict the face of its owner?



Golden State Killer Suspect Joseph DeAngelo’s DNA Can be Collected, Judge Rules (NBC News – 5/3/2018)

  • A judge has ruled authorities can collect DNA, fingerprints and body photos of the man suspected of being California’s Golden State Killer.



The Cold Case That Inspired the ‘Golden State Killer’ Detective to Try Genealogy (New York Times – 5/3/2018)

  • Before investigators in California say they solved a decades-old case of rape and murder using a genealogy website, the only other known case to use that method to identify a serial killer involved a gruesome series of murders in New Hampshire in which the bodies of a woman and three young girls were stuffed into metal drums and buried in a state park.

    The pioneering approach used in that case would become the inspiration for the detective who finally found the so-called Golden State Killer.