Local News

Cumberland Program Makes Forensic Training High Priority

Posted July 31, 2003 2:21 a.m. EDT

— The defense in the

Mike Peterson

trial is putting the Durham Police Department under the microscope for the way officers collected evidence at the crime scene.

Even before the Durham trial began, investigators in Cumberland County started a new program to make sure its evidence collection techniques are rock solid.

As a fingerprint expert, Angela Berry knows what kind of evidence can help solve crimes. She also knows what will and will not hold up in court.

Berry is sharing that information with crime scene investigators in Cumberland County and Fort Bragg.

She said taking solid notes on everything is critical.

"That jury is going to want to know why you didn't do this and you'll have to have it documented as to why," Berry said.

A few months ago, the Sheriff's Office started monthly training sessions in forensic science. With so many new investigators, it does not want to botch a case.

"Even experienced officers will make mistakes. We are all human and we want to try to minimize those mistakes and not have them caused because they didn't know," said Maj. Sam Pennica of the Cumberland County Sheriff's Office.

Christy Booyer has been a crime scene investigator for three months.

"I didn't realize how easily a print could be destroyed depending on the packaging," she said.

The responsibility of collecting prints is not just with the crime scene investigator, but with the jail intake officer. With so many repeat offenders, a print taken could solve a crime years down the road.

Recently, a print in the system matched a partial print found at a murder scene. Berry said the work of a thorough intake officer helped nab a suspected killer.

"I'd never have gotten him," she said.

In the coming months, Cumberland County investigators will hear from experts on DNA, shoeprint casting and toxicology.