Forensic science — FBI Bullet-Lead Technique Dead Wrong — Intel Today

 

Forensic science — FBI Bullet-Lead Technique Dead Wrong

“For over thirty years, FBI experts testified about comparative bullet lead analysis (CBLA), a technique that was first used in the investigation into President Kennedy’s assassination. CBLA compares trace chemicals found in bullets at crime scenes with ammunition found in the possession of a suspect. (…) Although the FBI eventually ceased using CBLA, the Bureau’s conduct in first employing the technique and then defending it after it was challenged provides an insight into how forensic science sometimes works.”

Paul C. Giannelli

“We cannot afford to be misleading to a jury. We plan to discourage prosecutors from using our previous results in future prosecutions.”

Letter from Dwight E. Adams — then FBI lab Director — to FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III

Since the 1960s, testimony by representatives of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in thousands of criminal cases has relied on evidence from Compositional Analysis of Bullet Lead (CABL), a forensic technique that compares the elemental composition of bullets found at a crime scene to the elemental composition of bullets found in a suspect’s possession. Different from ballistics techniques that compare striations on the barrel of a gun to those on a recovered bullet, CABL is used when no gun is recovered or when bullets are too small or mangled to observe striations. Follow us on Twitter: @Intel_Today

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A True Story — In 1995, former Baltimore police Sgt. James A. Kulbicki was convicted of first-degree murder. The prosecutor convinced the jury that, in 1993, Kulbicki had killed his mistress —  22-year-old Gina Nueslein– with his off duty .38-caliber revolver.

The scientific evidence was “irrefutable”. The bullets recovered from the victim’s body and from the crime scene had been fired by his gun.

“I wonder what it felt like, Mr. Kulbicki, to have taken this gun, pressed it to the skull of that young woman and pulled the trigger, that cold steel,” the prosecutor asked rhetorically during closing arguments.

Forensic Science — In order to move along a stable straight trajectory, a bullet must spin on itself. To achieve such spin, spiralling “grooves” are machined in the inside of the weapon barrel.

The size of these “grooves” as well as the “lands”, the angle of the grooves, their number per length and the direction of rotation — clockwise or anticlockwise — generally permit to identify a type of weapon. For instance, Colt traditionally uses a left-hand twist while Smith & Wesson uses a right hand twist.

Moreover, specific imperfections of a barrel may allow in some case to match one bullet to a particular weapon. In the best-case scenario, two bullets fired by the same gun will not look alike but they are likely to show areas of resemblance.

When such test is not conclusive or not possible — because the bullets fragments are too small or because the gun is not recovered — it is still possible to analyze the lead content of the fragments and compare it to bullets known to belong to a suspect.

The Scientific Evidence Against Kulbicki

Maryland’s top firearms expert told the jury that the size of the bullet was compatible with Kulbicki’s gun and that he had cleaned the gun.

He added that he had not been able to identify the marks from the barrel.

Last, he testified that the lead content of the bullet that killed his mistress was identical to the content of bullets from a box belonging to Kulbicki.

“Out of the billions of bullets in the world, is this just a coincidence that this bullet ended up in the defendant’s off-duty weapon,” a prosecutor asked.

A prosecutor told the Jury that the evidence presented by the forensic experts was “a significant piece of evidence” and a “major link” to establish Kulbicki’s guilt.

The jurors agreed. Kulbicki was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

False Testimony

Joseph Kopera, one of the forensic experts who testified at the trial, presented the formal reports to the defense.

But his working notes were not given to them either at the trial, or at the appeal, which Kulbicki lost.

These notes conflict with the report on all grounds.

Kopera testified that the fragments were consistent with a large-caliber, probably a .38.

His notes tell that the first fragment came from a medium caliber and that the origin of the second fragment could not be determined.

Kopera testified that the gun had been cleaned. His notes read, “Residue in barrel: Yes. Bore condition: Dirty.”

Kopera testified that he could not identify the grooves and lands on the fragments. His notes reveal that the fragment’s land width was 0.072 inches and its groove width was 0.083 inches.

Bullets fired from Kulbicki’s Smith & Wesson revolver had a land width of 0.100 inches and a groove width of 0.113 inches.

The difference is significant enough to state beyond doubts that Kulbicki’s gun did not fire the bullet that killed his mistress.

Kopera testified that he could not identify the twist. His notes indicate that he had detected a “slight left twist” while Kulbicki’s off-duty weapon makes right-twist markings.

Kopera testified that the lead content of the bullets were identical. It was not.

The amount of arsenic in the fragments significantly differed from the one contained in the bullets belonging to Kulbicki.

No Degree — At the trial, Kopera testified that he had an engineering degree from the Rochester Institute of Technology and a mechanical engineering degree from the University of Maryland. Neither institution has ever heard of him.

A Widely Used Technique

“Every critical part of Kopera’s testimony was false, misleading, based on improper assumptions or ignored exculpatory information,” Suzanne K. Drouet, a former Justice Department lawyer, told the judge in her recent motion seeking a new trial for Kulbicki.

“If this could happen to my client, who was a cop who worked within this justice system, what does it say about defendants who know far less about the process and may have far fewer resources to uncover evidence of their innocence that may have been withheld by the prosecution or their scientific experts?”

Following a 2004 National Academy of Sciences report that sharply criticized the FBI’s bullet-lead technique, the agency no longer relies on this method.

After retiring from the firearms section of the Maryland State Police, Kopera  committed suicide.

For more than 30 years, his expertise has helped secure countless convictions.

Nationwide, it has been estimated that the method has been used in more than 2,000 cases over four decades.

Several former FBI employees believe that a review of all cases where the CBLA method was used in testimony should be urgently conducted.

“It troubles me that anyone would be in prison for any reason that wasn’t justified. And that’s why these reviews should be done in order to determine whether or not our testimony led to the conviction of a wrongly accused individual,” said Adams, the former FBI lab director.

The second in command agree.

“I don’t believe that we can testify about how many bullets may have come from the same melt and our estimate may be totally misleading,” declared deputy lab director Marc LeBeau in a May 12, 2005, e-mail.

So far, the FBI has rejected such reviews on the basis that it would be very expensive. A sum of US$70,000 was mentioned.

Since 2005, the nonpartisan Forensic Justice Project, run by former FBI lab whistle-blower Frederic Whitehurst, has tried to force the bureau to release a list of bullet-lead cases under the Freedom of Information Act.

In academic circles, some experts have not hidden their anger toward the program and what seems to be an attempt to cover-up decades of fraudulent forensic sciences.

Clifford Spiegelman is a statistician at Texas A&M University. He reviewed the FBI’s statistical methods for the science academy.

“They said the FBI agents who went after Al Capone were the untouchables, and I say the FBI experts who gave this bullet-lead testimony are the unbelievables.”

Conclusion

Several lessons can be gleaned from the CBLA experience. In the conclusion of his excellent paper on the subject, Paul Giannelli wrote:

First, the failure to publish the empirical data that supports scientific conclusions is unacceptable. Scientists “are generally expected to exchange research data as well as unique research materials that are essential to the replication or extension of reported findings.”

Second, defense attorneys were unable to successfully challenge the evidence until William Tobin, the retired FBI expert, became a defense witness. This is not surprising because no defendant, no matter how rich, can conduct extensive empirical studies. A defense expert in a particular case can critique the bases of a prosecution expert’s opinion but can rarely replicate the research upon which that opinion rests.

Forensic Science: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)

  Forensic science used in criminal trials can be surprisingly unscientific. Maybe a new television procedural could help change the public perception.

REFERENCES

Comparative Bullet lead Analysis: A Retrospective — Paul C. Giannelli

Comparative bullet-lead analysis – Wikipedia

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“For over thirty years, FBI experts testified about comparative bullet lead analysis (CBLA), a technique that was first used in the investigation into President Kennedy’s assassination. CBLA compares trace chemicals found in bullets at crime scenes with ammunition found in the possession of a suspect. (…) Although the FBI eventually ceased using CBLA, the Bureau’s […]

via Forensic science — FBI Bullet-Lead Technique Dead Wrong — Intel Today

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Run, hide, fight: how to survive an active shooter situation

Who is Stephen Paddock? Police say suspect responsible for deadliest shooting in US history

via Fox2 News:

At least 50 people were killed late Sunday night in a mass shooting during a concert on the Las Vegas Strip. Here’s what we know about Stephen Paddock, the man police identified as the shooter:

Paddock, 64, is from Mesquite, Nevada, authorities said. Police stormed his hotel room from which they believe he fired the shots on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino.  They say he had over 10 rifles when police found his body.  The believe he killed himself prior to entry.  He checked into the hotel on September 28th.

Paddock was apparently targeting a crowd of 30,000 people attending the Route 91 Harvest music festival below.  Police believe he killed himself prior to entry into the hotel room.

Police are also at his home in Mesquite, Nevada.  They are methodically investigating the property.  The Mesquite Police Department had no prior contact with him, according to spokesman Quinn Averett, nor had there been any calls to Paddock’s home in Mesquite, which is about 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas. Officials did not know how long he had been living in the area.

This mass-shooting is not yet considered an act of terrorism.  Police are looking into a motive for the shooting before they can call it an act of terror.

So far, the massacre has no known link to overseas terrorism or terror groups, a US official with knowledge of the case said.

And a woman described as a “person of interest” after the attack is not believed to be involved in the shooting, police said in a statement.

“Marilou Danley is no longer being sought out as a person of interest,” the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department said. “LVMPD detectives have made contact with her and do not believe she is involved with the shooting on the strip.”

The suspect:

• Police have identified the shooter as Stephen Paddock, a 64-year-old man. He was earlier described as a “local resident.”

• Officers said they engaged the suspect at the Mandalay Bay hotel, and he was killed.

• Police do not believe there are additional shooters.

Casualties:

• Police report there are now at least 50 dead and some 200 injured, making this the deadliest shooting in modern US history. The 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida, was previously the deadliest, with 49 killed.

• Two off-duty Las Vegas police officers were killed in the shooting, Sheriff Joseph Lombardo said at a news conference.

• Two other officers responding to the scene were wounded, the sheriff said. One of them is in critical condition.

Investigation:

• Police said they are confident they have located Marilou Danley, who was traveling with the suspect. She had been sought for questioning in connection with the shooting. She is not named as a suspect.

• Police also said they have located two vehicles they were searching for: a Hyundai Tucson Nevada with a Nevada plate, and a Chrysler Pacifica Touring with a Nevada plate.

• Police are urging patience: “I think it’s very important that you understand this investigation is going to be long and contracted before we get to the bottom of everything associated with it,” Sheriff Lombardo said.

How shooting unfolded:

• Just after 10 p.m. Sunday local time (1 a.m. ET Monday) the Route 91 Harvest Festival — a country music concert — was interrupted by the sound of gunfire, witnesses said.

• Police said the gunman fired on the crowd of about 30,000 people from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel, several hundred feet southwest of the concert grounds.

• Country music singer Jason Aldean was performing when the gunshots began, according to eyewitness cell phone video.

• “The gunshots lasted for 10 to 15 minutes. It didn’t stop,” said eyewitness Rachel de Kerf.

Reaction:

• President Trump tweeted, “My warmest condolences and sympathies to the victims and families of the terrible Las Vegas shooting. God bless you!”

• Las Vegas Airport diverts two dozen flights due to the shooting. Travelers are being urged to check with their airlines for flight status.

• Performer Jason Aldean released a statement that said: “Tonight has been beyond horrific.” On Instagram, Aldean said that he and his crew were safe.

 

After a deadly mass shooting in Las Vegas, local security experts are sharing advice on how to survive an active shooter situation.

A gunman opened fire on a crowd on the Las Vegas strip Sunday night, killing at least 58 and injuring hundreds more.

The best advice from law enforcement in an active shooter situation: run, hide, or fight.

If possible, experts say the best way is to run away from the threat. Always try to escape and evacuate, even if others are insisting on staying.

However, in certain situations it may be better to remain in place and try to avoid detection.

The last option, though the least preferable, is to fight the shooter with whatever means necessary.

In August, the Virginia Beach Police Department’s Crime Prevention Unit provided it’s Active Threat Citizen Defense in a public setting for the first time.

Master Police Officer David Nieves talked to News 3 after the training about surviving an active threat situation.

“You’ve got three choices. You either need to run, hide or fight. You just need to keep your head about yourself and understand that you only have a few seconds to understand what you’re going to do. You better have a plan before you need that plan because there are no seconds, you aren’t going to have time to make a plan,” he explained.

Experts say it’s also important to remain aware of your surroundings when in public.

“Things can happen anywhere. We don’t want [people] to have the mindset that it will never happen here. It will never happen to me. If you have that mindset then you’ve already lost,” MPO Nieves stated.

Police are searching for a woman named Marilou Danley who was traveling with the suspect, Lombardo said. He described Danley as an Asian woman, 4 ft 11 inches tall and 111 pounds. “We have not located her at this time and we are interested in talking to her,” he said.

Related: 

Class teaches how to survive an active shooting situation

Mass casualty drill takes place in Norfolk in preparation for the worst

In an active shooter situation, don’t just stand there…

This is how the FBI says civilians should react in an active shooter situation

via Latest updates: 58 killed, 515 hurt in Las Vegas Strip massacre — WTKR.com

Likely Mental Health Issues for Man Accused of Md. Shootings

CBS DC

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — The attorney for the Maryland man accused of at least nine random shooting incidents said he is exploring a not criminally responsible plea.

William Davis, Anne Arundel County public defender, said Monday there were some “substantial mental health issues” at the time of the incidents.

RELATED: Police: More Incidents Linked to Man in Maryland Shootings

Davis would not elaborate on the details of the mental health of 35-year-old Hong Young.

Young, a Prince George’s County resident, was arrested in early March and charged with attempted murder and assault in a Feb. 24 shooting that injured a man. Court documents show that Young told police that he heard voices telling him to shoot at a random driver.

Police have linked Young to eight other shootings in central Maryland, including one at the National Security Agency.

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