AIKEN - Candice Gilliland, Aiken County's resident forensic scientist, says her job isn't quite as glamorous as portrayed in the latest TV crime dramas.
"CSI never shows all the paperwork," says Mrs. Gilliland, who has tested 812 illegal-drug samples in the nine months since Aiken County's Regional Forensics Lab opened.
A recent recipient of a $94,000 grant distributed by Gov. Mark Sanford's office, the lab has been called a godsend for area prosecutors, who once had to wait one to two years for routine drug lab results to come back from the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division's crime lab in Columbia.
"It's made a tremendous amount of difference in the time delay in getting cases available for court," said Deputy Second Circuit Solicitor Bill Weeks, who estimates that as many as half of the office's 1,000 to 1,500 cases annually in Aiken, Bamberg and Barnwell counties are drug-related. "We're getting the drug reports before we're getting the investigative reports, which is just unheard of."
Mrs. Gilliland works out of a spacious, two-room, cinderblock laboratory converted from unused space in the old Aiken County jail. The most sophisticated piece of equipment is a $90,000 gas chromatograph mass spectrometer that can analyze as many as 100 samples at a time.
Of the 595 cases she has worked, 271 involved marijuana, 208 crack cocaine and 128 powder cocaine. Mrs. Gilliland also has analyzed samples of the designer drug Ecstacy, a variety of prescription narcotics, heroin and methamphetamines.
"There are still some new drugs out there that we're waiting to hit us," Mrs. Gilliland says.
Mrs. Gilliland, a graduate of Wingate University with a bachelor's degree in biology and a minor in chemistry, got her master's degree in forensics at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and trained at the SLED crime lab for five months after graduation.
In the time it's been up and running, Mrs. Gilliland can see that the lab - one of eight regional drug analysis labs in South Carolina - is appreciated by law enforcement officials.
"I think they love it," she said.
Reach Stephen Gurr at (803) 648-1394.