Campus programs team up on mock crime scene, court case
A semester-long investigation of a staged crime scene culminates today (April 29) as testimony in a mock court case concludes in the Sherman S. Welpton Courtroom.
The case is a collaboration between students in the UNL forensics program and the University of Nebraska College of Law. Professors Larry Barksdale, Ashley Hall and Steve Schmidt lead the project, which allows forensic students to collect and analyze evidence from the mock crime scene, while College of Law students conduct direct and cross examinations of witnesses in the fictional case of State of Nebraska vs. Rodney Cliffe.
Barksdale, assistant professor of practice and the former head of the Lincoln Police Department Crime Scene Investigation Unit, supported the CSI option students as they managed and processed the mock stabbing scene. The students collected evidence that included blood spatter, fingerprints, hair and fibers, footprints and bodily fluids. The students documented the scene, performed presumptive tests, interpreted the blood spatter patterns and prepared a crime scene reconstruction report.
The students each selected a specialty and conducted the scientific analysis of the evidence. Their analyses were written into a report as the basis for their testimony as an expert witness.
CSI option students submitted biological evidence to forensic biochemistry option students. Hall, assistant professor of forensic studies, assisted the students with performing body fluid identification and DNA analysis.
The biochemistry students calculated the probabilities associated with the DNA evidence which allowed them to make determinations that, for example, one would expect to find a particular profile in one in a quadrillion people. Students wrote reports that were the basis for their testimony as expert witnesses.
The experience culminated in trial testimony over six sessions held in the College of Law’s Welpton Courtroom. Schmidt, associate professor of law and former deputy county attorney for Lancaster County, assisted senior law students from the criminal clinic course as they worked as prosecutors and defense attorneys.
The students helped prepare expert witnesses and conducted witness examinations.
The courtroom testimony opened with Bryan Warner, a real-life UNL Police Department investigator, on the stand. The case closes today with DNA witness testimony from 3 to 5 p.m. During the courtroom sessions, various Lancaster County judges and attorneys presided over the hearings, ruling on objections and providing feedback to the participants about their performance.
Students who participated in the project said the experience pulled their years of education together, giving them a sense of the application of their education in a real-world setting.