This case involves a woman who was allegedly sexually assaulted at a resort in New Mexico. The woman was checking into the resort late in the evening and was escorted to her room by a male bellhop. Security video footage showed the woman and the bellhop leaving the lobby together and waiting at the elevator. The next morning, the woman woke up without any recollection of the previous night. Her room was in disarray, she was not wearing any clothing, and there was hair in the bed and fluid on the sheets. She alerted hotel security who advised her to go to the hospital. She asked the hotel not to clean her room as there may have been important evidence for a police investigation. When she returned to the resort from the hospital, where she underwent a rape kit, the room was thoroughly cleaned and the bedding was replaced. It was alleged that the resort improperly destroyed evidence, including all physical evidence in the room and security video footage that was crucial to the investigation. An expert in DNA and fingerprint evidence was sought to educate the jury on how DNA and fingerprint evidence is obtained, how people are identified by DNA and fingerprinting, and what role such evidence plays in sexual assault cases.
Question(s) For Expert Witness
- 1. What is your experience collecting DNA and fingerprint evidence, specifically used in sexual assault cases?
- 2. Briefly, what role does DNA and fingerprint evidence play in sexual assault cases?
- 3. How might the role of DNA and fingerprint evidence change, if at all, in a case with a repeat offender?
Expert Witness Response E-012035
I am a forensic scientist and a former major crime scene detective with a northeast state’s police department. I am active in teaching future forensic scientists and police officers in crime scene investigation and forensic science matters. I have been qualified in crime scene investigation, reconstruction, as well as bloodstain pattern analysis in several northeast states. I can comment on how the room should have been secured as a crime scene even prior to police arrival; what potential physical evidence could have been recovered from it; and how that evidence could have identified who was in the room with the victim. Based on the case information, I am led to believe that the woman does not know the identity of the male with whom she had the encounter. If that is true, the failure of the room to be secured in anticipation of the police arriving and investigating meant the case was much less likely to be solved. I imagine that the woman would be able to identify items that she did not contact or were moved from their original locations which would have potentially been sources for DNA or fingerprints. Additionally, the bedding could have been collected to look for biological fluids. The presence of these items will not shed light on the consent issue but certainly would have helped with the identity of the male in the room. I have investigated sexual assaults where the victim has not known the identity of her attacker and physical evidence was needed to put the perpetrator in the same environment as the victim and that is the primary goal of any crime scene investigation-connecting the victim to the offender and the scene where the alleged incident occurred. If you have a repeat offender, the likelihood that their fingerprints or DNA existing in a database increases greatly. For DNA in most situations, people must be a convicted felon or sex offender to be in the database. For fingerprints, the net is cast wider and almost all arrestees are in the database. What can be helpful is that if this person has committed a similar crime in the past and left physical evidence, that can be compared to the evidence collected in your case. Even if no person can be identified in the database, the two cases can now be linked because of the same unknown DNA or fingerprint. If no person can be identified by DNA or fingerprints because they are not in the databases, the investigators would have to start contacting hotel or conference guests for interviews and asking for DNA or fingerprint samples with consent. A thorough investigation might uncover some other information that could narrow down the potential perpetrators.