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Crime Scene Unit helps solve cold cases

Sunday, June 10, 2012 7:32 PM
Last updated Monday, June 11, 2012 1:33 AM
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About five weeks ago, Richmond County sheriff’s Investigator Ashley Pletcher came to Crime Scene Unit investigator Tom Johnson with Pauline McCoy’s murder case file from 1986.

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Sgt. James Gordon of the Crime Scene Unit packages a weapon Tuesday afternoon at their office.  ZACH BOYDEN-HOLMES/STAFF
Sgt. James Gordon of the Crime Scene Unit packages a weapon Tuesday afternoon at their office.

Although Johnson said he could not speak about McCoy’s case specifically, McCoy’s grandson told The Chronicle that investigators told him they were able to get a positive ID from fingerprints left at the scene more than 25 years ago.

“Technology is always changing,” Johnson said. “Things are a lot different now.”

Jimmy Lee Riley was arrested the morning of June 4 on charges of armed robbery, burglary, possession of a knife during the commission of a crime and murder in connection with McCoy’s slaying.

The Crime Scene Unit has powders, digital cameras, chemicals and numerous other tools they use to re-examine old evidence, Johnson said. The team spends much of its time on cold cases.

“We all have a few on our desks,” Johnson said. “When we aren’t out at a scene, we are looking at a cold case.”

For CSU Investigator Steve Fanning, one case in particular has bothered him for years. In April 2006, Deborah Fortunato Dill, 48, was reported missing from her home in the 2300 block of Woodbine Drive. Recently a family member contacted him after there was some activity on one of Dill’s bank accounts.

“No matter how old a case is, you never know when new information might come in,” Fanning said. “You let different people look at it; sometimes something connects.”

The Richmond County Sheriff’s Crime Scene Unit consists of three people, Johnson, Fanning and Sgt. Jim Gordon, the department supervisor.

All three started as road patrol officers and moved into investigations and eventually to homicide.

“There is no way you could hire someone in here who hasn’t worked homicide,” Gordon said. “You have to know what you’re doing.”

When the CSU investigator is called to a scene, the main job is to make sure the evidence is preserved and documented.

“Documentation is our most important job,” Fanning said.

Fanning said knowing the best way to secure the evidence is key. For example, a bullet should not be secured with tweezers because it will affect the striations that can potentially match the bullet to a gun.

New technology plays a part even at the scene, Fanning said. There are some fluorescent powders that can make fingerprints visible, or different chemical compounds that will tell if a liquid is blood or another biological fluid.

The collection of evidence is tedious and painstaking, Fanning said.

The investigators can be at the scene for days collecting pieces of carpet, sheets, and whatever else they feel is necessary to the case.

And they continue to change. Currently, the crime scene unit works out of the same building as the Richmond County coroner on Eighth Street, but it will be moving into the new sheriff’s office being built across the street from the current one at 401 Walton Way.

The new building will also come with new equipment, including a large blood-drying locker, a chemical fuming hood for mixing chemicals, a down-flow work station for processing powders and a new cyanoacrylate fuming chamber for fingerprint enhancement.

For Fanning, the evidence is why he moved from homicide to the crime scene unit.

“I was sick of being lied to,” he said. “People make up stories. But evidence doesn’t lie.”

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Khan'tB4Real 06/11/12 - 09:13 am
Thumbs up guys

All three of these guys do a wonderful job! Like most departments within the RCSO they do it with limited resources which says a lot about their dedication to the job and the community. They have also come out to assist other local counties in their investigations.

One thing a lot of people do not realize is the sacrifice these guys make. With only three of them they are each oncall 121+ days a year. They get called out when most of us are at home sleeping, celebrating birthdays and holidays, and spending time with our families. It doesn't matter where they are they must leave immediately and arrive on the crime scene to preserve the integrity of that scene. Their personal relationships suffer and they miss out on a ton of special moments in the lives of their love ones. How many of us would be willing to do that?

It is not for the paycheck but for their love of a mystery and their concern for the families of the many victims. They see things that none of us could imagine.

A big thumbs up to all three for a continued job well done. A thank you would never be enough.

HighSociety 06/11/12 - 10:58 am
KB4RL, I agree, and if the

KB4RL, I agree, and if the job was about money 95% of the officers would be working somewhere else.

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