Forensic science and crime

The true-crime genre of story-telling, whether it be through popular podcasts like Crawlspace or even television dramas like CSI is captivating and opening a whole new public awareness on how science can help solve crime. It’s almost impossible to miss daily headlines related to forensics science being used to solve cold cases, many after decades of sitting dormant but never forgotten by investigators and victims’ families.

One such story of is right here in Nashua. It’s often referred to as the “Barnaby Case” and was discussed recently with Lt. Daniel Mederos of the Criminal Investigation Unit at the Nashua Police Department. The Science Cafe asked for his guidance on panelists for the upcoming March 13 discussion on Forensic Science. He shared that the Barnaby Case, dating back to 1988 was finally solved over the past few years through the Nashua Police Department’s cold case investigators along with US Federal and Canadian law enforcement – where the suspects were from and returned to after initial trials did not lead to a conviction.

The crime took place over 30 years ago when two Nashua women were murdered on Mason Street. Over the years, the two suspects in the case went through three trials, all ending without a conviction. While initially, prosecutors didn’t plan to pursue another trial, modern DNA techniques and new witnesses linking the two suspects to the murders created the opportunity for a fourth trial, where one suspect agreed to testify against the other. The trial never took place because the suspect submitted a guilty plea due to the new, overwhelming DNA evidence against him. This resulted in two convictions and a level of closure for the victims” families after three decades.

The thing many people don’t realize is that cold cases like this aren’t open and shut and solved in an hour, as you might see on a program like CSI. In real life, cases involving forensics can take years or even decades to solve for proper justice to be served.

While many of these cases are focused on missing persons, such as the Maura Murray case that has been featured in the popular Crawlspace podcast series, ‘Missing Maura Murray’, forensic science is also used to solve many other crimes that you may not even consider.

You may be surprised to know that forensics is important in hospital emergency rooms, including right here in Nashua. According to Dr. Elizabeth Karagosian, an Emergency Department (ED) Physician with Southern New Hampshire Medical Center in Nashua, SNHMC is one of the only hospitals in New Hampshire with 24/7 on-call forensic services. She shared that SNHMC sees approximately 150 to 200 cases each year that include domestic assault, domestic violence, as well as child and elder abuse.

The use of forensics to solve crime is not new. Digital forensics has been used for many years before we started to read about recent advances in DNA forensics. The Nashua Police Department has

And finally, there’s the case of ‘Florida Four’ from the 1990s. This was a gun running case tied to the Irish Republican Army that took place between Florida and Ireland and had influence on the Good Friday Peace Agreement. Forensic tied to fingerprints and ammunition were used by the FBI to help solve this international case where Mark Hastbacka, Special Agent, Department of Justice, FBI testified to secure multiple convictions in the case.

This month’s article was written and contributed by Sandy Belknap, one member of the Science Cafe Nashua team – thanks, Sandy!

Please come to Science Cafe on March 13 to learn more about the Science of Forensics. As always, Science Café is FREE, open to the public and offers a unique place where the community can engage in civil discourse, talk science, have a beer, ask questions, learn from each other and enjoy a safe haven for the geeks among us. Come join the conversation!

Hosted at The Riverwalk Cafe and Music Bar, you can learn more about Science Cafe New Hampshire at www.ScienceCafeNH.org.

Dan Marcek is co-founder of Science Cafe New Hampshire and can be reached at dan@vetflix.org.

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