NC State forensic sciences: Research for the real world

January 23, 2012

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NC State researchers don’t just work in the lab. Here are some real-life case files featuring their work.

THE CASE: Anthony Bowling, 18, was found shot to death in a vacant lot in Raleigh in December 2008. Police suspected that the homicide was gang-related.

THE EVIDENCE: Soil samples were collected from the crime scene and from the sweatpants and shoes of the suspect. Billy Oliver, a teaching associate in the College of Textiles, and Kim Hutchison ’03 MS, a research specialist with the Department of Soil Science, worked with other experts to analyze mica grains in the soil samples. Because micas are minerals composed of basic elements in varying concentrations according to the type of conditions at the time the mica formed, it is possible to say when two micas are likely from the same source. The mica found at the crime scene near the body was consistent with the mica found on the suspect’s shoes and sweatpants. Examination of mica collected from other areas in central North Carolina showed different characteristics.

THE OUTCOME: The suspect, Jordan Glenn Peterson, was convicted of first-degree murder in March 2009. The headline in The News & Observer read: “Gang Retaliation Trial Turns on Soil Sample.”

THE CASE: The body of Nancy Cooper of Cary was found in a drainage ditch in July 2008, two days after her husband, Brad, reported her missing. Brad Cooper said his wife had never returned home after she went jogging on the morning of July 12.

THE EVIDENCE: Investigators found evidence that Brad Cooper had looked up the site where the body was found on Google maps the day before Nancy Cooper went missing. NC State entomologist Wes Watson testified about his analysis of insects found on the body. Reviewing the stage of development of the larvae and considering ambient temperature, Watson estimated that Nancy Cooper died between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. on July 12.

THE OUTCOME: Brad Cooper was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison in May 2011.

THE CASE: The body of 19-month-old DeVarion Gross was found in his mother’s closet in Garner in November 2008. His mother, Sherita McNeil, said he had hit his head falling off a couch.

THE EVIDENCE: Ann Ross, assistant professor of anthropology and sociology, prepared a report for the state medical examiner’s office in which she found that Gross had suffered three rib fractures that were evidence of abuse. She noted that rib fractures in children are uncommon and that the fractures had likely occurred at different times, indicating a pattern of abuse. The autopsy listed the cause of death as “undetemined homicidal violence.”

THE OUTCOME: Sherita McNeil was convicted of first-degree murder in August 2010 and sentenced to life in prison.