Negligence or Laziness? Why Crimes Scene Should ALWAYS Be Reexamined – 1st Degree Homicide Case Review

iStock_000052071536_MediumTV shows like “CSI” allow viewers to watch as investigators find and collect evidence at the crime scene such as partial finger prints on a shell casings, minute blood drops in-between grass blades, and trace DNA samples that magically appear with special glowing liquid. Viewers watch as all this this biometric information uploaded in the in the state’s sophisticated systems. It then appears to process everyone in the world at a high rate of speed, piecing an individual together on the computer screen and then – pops out a suspect every time! With all this substantial evidence, the suspect gets charged. Case closed (with dramatic music in the background).

We all know this isn’t real, just Holllywood’s spin on crime scenes.

In fact, the defense team rarely has the opportunity to visit a “live” crime scene. It could be days, months, or even years before the defense attorney or investigator has the opportunity to review just the crime scene documents – let alone visit the scene.

Despite the inability to visit a “live” crime scene, defense attorneys and investigators should always re-examine the scene. They should attempt to recreate the events that unfolded at the time of the incident to verify the validity of police reports, witness statements, and evidence collected at the scene.

Here is an example of why:

Brief Case Description:

Defendant and alleged victim (AV) had an argument earlier in the day during which AV fired three shots at the defendant as he was leaving the complex. Later that night, defendant returned to the area to talk with AV. They were longtime friends and the defendant wanted to “fix things.” Defendant approached AV in the parking lot. The AV pulls a gun on defendant and started to search him for a gun. While AV is searching him, the Defendant grabs AV’s gun. They fight for the gun and it goes off killing the AV.

Witness Statements: Only 3 people witnessed the incident. The defendant, the AV’s wife, and an unrelated bystander.

The bystander heard only a gunshot but was not an eye witness to the incident.

The wife of the AV gave a statement that she was able to see the shooting from her friend’s second floor apartment, approximately 50 feet away. She alleged that she saw the defendant walking up to AV with a silver gun in his back at the waist line. When he got closer, defendant was holding the gun with his right hand as he was walking towards the AV. He started shooting at the AV at a distance of 5-8 feet. She saw the defendant leave the scene traveling north and then west. He then got into his car and drove away. The defendant was charged based on the wife’s interview.

Crime Scene Discrepancies: The crime scene documentation had no measurements to identify where the AV was found. The only media made available in discovery were black and white photos and a video. By viewing the photos and video – comparing them to the concrete markings on the ground, cracks in the side walk, and other identifying details- Investigator Alberto De La Paz was able to place exactly where AV dropped to the ground.

Standing at the exact place of the AV and viewing the location where the AV wife’s said she was standing, several discrepancies were noticed:

  • It would be difficult to see what someone had in their waistband or in their hand.
  • The distance appeared much greater than 50 feet.
  • There was a tree obstructing the window.
  • The view from the window was limited to a south east direction.
  • The defendant’s car could not have been in view of the friend’s window.

Defense Investigation:

  • Video reenacted from the window to the location of the alleged victim, revealed that it was impossible for the witness to see a gun on defendant’s back from the window.
  • Being as that it was well over a year before the case was assigned to Investigator De La Paz, he consulted a tree grower to find the how many inches or feet a tree of that kind will grow in a year. The growing rate was verified. At the time the incident, the foliage of the tree was very likely the same height as the window.
  • Investigator De La Paz contacted the management office. He verified that there were no records of the tree ever having been trimmed. Investigator De La Paz took photographs from the window that the witness was allegedly looking through to view the crime scene. The foliage clearly obstructed the view.
  • Investigator De La Paz measured the distance between the window and the crime scene. The distance was 235 feet. (Not 50 feet as alleged by the witness and not 135 feet as alleged by the Detective).
  • From where the witness was standing she was not able to see where the defendant travelled after the shooting. Pictures were taken to show that there was a very limited view to the north and to the west. Investigator De La Paz could not recreate a picture in which he could see the parked car from the window.
  • Verified only one shell casing was found.

Unfortunately, the accounts of the witness’s interview were never verified by the detective or officers that responded to the initial scene.

As a defense investigation firm, we have seen discrepancies over and over again when re-examining crime scenes. This is deeply unnerving. Not only is it our responsibility to gather and reevaluate all the facts (good and bad) but more importantly – we have a zealous obligation to our clients that we look under every rock…and pebble for exculpatory evidence.

This case eventually went to trial. It was a hung jury (4-not guilty, 8-manslaughter, 0-first degree murder). The second time it geared up for trial, the District Attorney subpoenaed defense Investigator De La Paz as a crime scene witness.

Subsequently, our defendant took an 8 year offer to mitigate his risk. The District Attorney called Investigator De La Paz to compliment him on a job well done in re-examining the crime scene. Case Closed.

About Pilum Defense Agency Pilum Defense Agency is an investigation firm specializing in Criminal Defense & Civil Investigation & Corporate/EEO Investigation and Computer & Digital Forensic services. Veteran-owned and veteran-run, founded by former U.S. Marine Corps and Navy SEAL members. Licensed, Bonded, Insured Se Habla Espanol

Read more: Defense Investigation: Is it a modified legal or illegal shotgun?

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