Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Back from SleuthFest ...

... and still not caught up. I might have to start doing quick bits and pieces posts. Excuse the ramblings.

Lots of mystery authors at all levels. Luncheon speakers were Rene Balcer of Law & Order fame, and Linda Fairstein. But each day was filled with panels made up of a variety of authors and other experts. I started with the "Scene of the Crime" track, and the first speaker was the Deputy Chief ME of Miami-Dade. She explained how to 'read' a body to determine when and where it might have died. She showed us what her job is (and how it's NOT CSI Miami). There were some who didn't take well to her graphic visual presentation, but having spent 38 years with a biologist, the bloated and maggot-covered corpses didn't bother me much. Her job is to determine manner and cause of death, and much of the time, she determines this by autopsy. She will go to the scene of the crime if she needs to, but most of her time is spent in the lab.

She filled us with interesting tidbits -- like maggot holes can look like bullet holes. She showed us pictures and had us try to determine how someone died.

Manner and Cause of Death are not the same. There are only 5 manners of death: Natural, Suicide, Accidental, Homicide, and Undetermined. Causes of death are not always cut and dried.

The next speaker was a 'real' Miami Criminalist who debunked a lot of the CSI Miami myths. We learned a lot about DNA and how they find suspects. Everything is based on comparing (and matching) an unknown sample (gathered at the scene) to a standard (where the origins are known). No fancy computers spitting out pictures of "the perp" The fastest anyone can get a DNA test done, which means the techs work round the clock and don't do anything else, is 2 days. She showed us the 'real time' for all the steps in the process. And the bottom line is that it's the interpretation of the piece of paper the last machine spits out that makes the determination, and it's always done by a human, and in fact, by two humans working independently. If they don't agree, they take the conservative interpretation.

She said that about 40% of the technology used on the TV show doesn't exist, or doesn't exist the way we see it. (none of those pretty computer shots of the suspect). The tests are expensive, and the backlog is immense.

At this time, only 44 states require DNA samples from felons.

Have to go now. More bits and pieces as I find time. One of the things I did was meet with an agent and an editor, who requested some of my work, so I have to get that ready to go!

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