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Innovative Techniques in Forensic Science; CSI on the TV and in Real Life

Aired May 14, 2005 - 08:30   ET


SANJAY GUPTA, HOST: Good morning, and welcome to HOUSECALL. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta.
We're looking at a different kind of medical science on today's show. How our own bodies combined with forensic investigation can solve crime. Now because of the topic, some of the images you see during the show may be disturbing. Just a warning.

First, though, let's head to Hollywood and find out how a big city CSI is giving a hit show a dose of reality.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Quick rehearsal.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, man. What the hell you doing?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You've been lying to me for months.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't be stupid. Put the gun down.


GUPTA (voice-over): Here is what a day on the job looks like for Elizabeth Devine. In the middle of the Florida Everglades, followed by a CNN news crew.

For this show, the "CSI" crew sets fire to the Everglades, a controlled burn with real firefighters standing by. They go to great heights to get the shot. And air boats race by below. Check out the finished product -- the chase scene.

The story is fictional drama. A serial killer on the loose, but parts of it inspired by real life in Devine's days as a top-notch criminalist. She works closely with the director and the actors, giving them advice from the field.

ELIZABETH DEVINE, "CSI: MIAMI" SUP. PRODUCER: I wanted it to seem like that guy's going to be the problem.


GUPTA: The labs on "CSI" and "CSI Miami" are modeled on this, the L.A. County Sheriff's Crime Lab. DEVINE: So this is my old stomping grounds.

GUPTA: For 15 years, Elizabeth worked on some high-profile and often grisly cases.

DEVINE: This was a blood stain on his shirt. And I was able to prove that it was the victim's handprint. And the victim grab his shirt while she was still alive.

She grabbed it and grabbed it like that.

GUPTA: Blood spatter in the whole...

DEVINE: Yes, yes.

GUPTA: She says that while she doesn't miss dealing with the tragedies or the long hours, the adrenaline rush was hard to give up.

DEVINE: You get out there and you find the key piece of evidence. It's so exciting, because you know, this is it. This is the piece of evidence that's going to tell me who did it.

GUPTA: A lot of "CSI", the original "CSI" is based on some of the stuff you worked on here and you saw here at the crime lab here?

DEVINE: My whole life is on that show. Everything that happened to me. You know, I just would talk to the writers. And we would somehow incorporate little bits, sometimes the whole case, into episodes.


GUPTA: And Ms. Devine is our guest this morning coming to us from Los Angeles. First of all, good morning. Thanks so much for joining us.

DEVINE: Good morning.

GUPTA: Listen, I should point out to our audience, you obviously are the supervising producer. One of the biggest questions we got was about you today. And they wanted to know how you sort of made this transition from being a top-notch criminalist cop in L.A. to Hollywood? How'd you do that transition?

DEVINE: Well I had been asked to do some little movies of the week and a couple of days on some feature films as a technical adviser before. And when "CSI" came along, they had just shot the pilot. And they were looking for someone to advise and help them with the show on a day-to-day basis.

And I had Fridays off. And I said I would come on Fridays and help out on the set. And eventually, they decided they wanted just one person on the set as opposed to the tag team set of TAs that we had. And they asked me to come onboard.

And so after contemplating that for about a month, I said OK. And I did.

GUPTA: And you are now the supervising producer of one of the hottest shows, I should point out, in the world. And we spent a lot of time with you working on this documentary. You can see the whole documentary, everyone, Sunday at 10:00 p.m.

Elizabeth, how accurately does the "CSI" shows capture real life?

DEVINE: Well, obviously, Sanjay, we do have to cheat a few things. One being the time it takes to do the analysis. You know, in the real crime lab, it might have taken me a month or two just to get to a case, because you always are juggling current cases. I would work as many as 20 cases at a time. So you don't just get a case, go out to the crime scene, and then just get to come right back to the lab and work it, which is what we do on the show.

We also speed up the time it takes for the actual analysis. So DNA, the GC mass spec can take a while to actually run. And we do everything pretty quickly, because we have to move that story along and keep the audience interested. So we do that.

We also -- very early on "CSI" I told them that, you know, criminalists don't really get into interrogation rooms. And we don't really talk to suspects and victims. But we found that when we tried to incorporate detectives doing that, which is who usually does do that, it was very confusing, especially if you had more than one story going on at the same time. You couldn't keep track of who they were talking to.

So we just decided we're going to have our criminalists follow it - the case -- through into the interrogation room, so that the audience knew which case they were working on.

GUPTA: Right.

DEVINE: So that is a -- that's a pretty big cheat, because criminalists don't really do that. But it helps keep the story alive. And everybody wants to see our actors, and not just a new detective every week.

GUPTA: Well, everyone's going to get a chance to meet you, Liz Devine, talk to you a little bit more. We've got a lot of stuff coming up. Our special's 10:00 p.m. on Sunday.

Coming up on HOUSECALL today, reconstructing the crime. A fascinating look at the secrets that our bones can reveal.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were at a dead end. We had no way of identifying this person.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A grisly crime with more questions than answers. How does teaming art and anthropology help solve this mystery? We'll show you, plus...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do we have a time of death?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Between 11 a.m. and 1:00 p.m.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's unrealistic, but it makes for a good TV show.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Could TV wizardry be harming real life CSI cases? We'll let you decide.

First, our quiz. It's become a part of the American vocabulary. but what does the term DNA stand for? That answer, coming up.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Before the break, we asked what does the term DNA stand for? The answer? Deoxyribonucleic Acid. It's in the nucleus of every cell in your body and unique to every individual.

GUPTA: And DNA became a part of the American lexicon during the O.J. Simpson trial, but this complex part of medicine has been used to solve crimes since the late 1980s. There are cases, however, where even DNA can't help, at least at first. And that's when forensic science gives way to anthropology and art.


GUPTA (voice-over): In CSI talk, it was a cold case. A body found in this warehouse had been there more than a week. Not enough skin for a fingerprint, no clues to identify who this person was or why he or she was murdered.

ARNOLD YEN, MIAMI, FLORIDA POLICE: We were at a dead end. We were - we had no way of identifying this person.

GUPTA: Enter a crime scene technician Arnold Yen. Sergeant Valazquez and Lieutenant Joe Shalay (ph), all determined to find the killer.

YEN: It's almost like an insult. You know, you can't just have somebody come in to your city or your backyard and kill somebody and expect to get away with it.

GUPTA: On "CSI: Miami", computers often do the heavy lifting. In reality, the human touch is vital. Without other evidence to solve the mystery, investigators turn to the bones and forensic anthropologists at the University of Florida.

To help us understand how it all works, we turned to Kathy Reichs, a forensic anthropologist at the University of North Carolina in Charlotte. She goes to her own closet of bones from her old cases and shows us how to read them.

KATHY REICHS, FORENSIC ANTHROPOLOGIST: This was a homicide. And this may also have involved a decapitation. If you look at the base of the skull here, this is a knife mark running across the base of the skull.

GUPTA: Reichs also uses this science in her best-selling crime novels, including her new one "Monday Morning". There's a lot you can learn from bones.

REICHS: This is a man. Looking at the skull, the brow ridge is here. They're very large and bulbous. The muscle attachment back here is very large. This tends to be a little female, but the brow ridges are small. The orbits are sharp. It's more childlike looking, actually. Has nothing to do with behavior.

GUPTA: The skull can help determine a person's sex or race. Whites, for example, have a flatter profile than blacks. Asians have wider cheekbones. Although with mixed races, it gets more difficult.

REICHS: This little boy was about 12. This is typical black. The low nasal bridge, the projecting lower face.

GUPTA: Anthropologists look at growth plates, areas at the end of the bone. How they deteriorate helps determine a person's age. Back in Miami, forensic artist Samantha Steinberg shows us how she put a face on the warehouse mystery.

SAMANTHA STEINBERG, FORENSIC ARTIST: He says that it's a black male, but it - he might have white mixed in. No younger than 30. About 6 feet tall.

GUPTA: It's a mixture of science and art. 32 so-called markers are pasted on the skull. They vary in size, showing where the skin surface lies. In the warehouse case, the face is round, not long. The cheeks are full, not sallow. Guided by the anthropologist's notes, the face start taking shape.


GUPTA: Really fascinating to watch those artists work. And you can see the whole process of the warehouse case unfold on a special. It's called "Anatomy of Murder," Sunday night. Including the face of that murder victim finally completely revealed.

Well, solving these types of crimes is frustrating work, something our guest Elizabeth Devine is all too familiar with. She's the supervising producer of "CSI: Miami" and a former crime scene investigator in Los Angeles.

Let me ask you something, Elizabeth. How often are forensic anthropologists and their type of science needed?

DEVINE: They're needed any time we discover bones in a case. And obviously identifying a victim is one of the key factors in solving a crime. So they're very, very important. GUPTA: What are - they talk about DNA a lot. When can you not get DNA from something?

DEVINE: Well, it's very difficult to get DNA from bone. You have to get into the marrow. There has to be enough bone marrow left to get DNA from that bone marrow.

But they can also do a new technology called mitochondrial DNA from bones. It lasts a lot longer. The difference is that mitochondrial DNA is passed down through the female side of the family. So you can't necessarily identify someone uniquely. You can identify someone from a family.

GUPTA: I got you, like part -- who the rest of the family members are.

DEVINE: Right.

GUPTA: Let's get going. Some more e-mails coming up in. Lots of them. Shakirah from Pennsylvania writing this. "I was interested in learning about the criteria for becoming a crime scene investigator."

Liz, how did you become one and what are the criteria? Can anybody become a crime scene investigator?

DEVINE: Well, I was actually a criminalist. A criminalist requires a bachelor of science degree and a good deal of chemistry. I had three years of chemistry.

So in order to analyze evidence in the laboratory and do things like DNA, you have to have a science degree. Crime scene investigators that go to crime scenes and just collect the evidence, and don't go back to the lab, can have a variation between a high school diploma and as much as an AA or a bachelor degree. It depends on the jurisdiction.

GUPTA: OK. We're talking with Elizabeth Devine, supervising producer of "CSI: Miami". And we're going behind the scenes of "CSI: Miami", separating fact from fiction. Stay tuned.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Coming up on HOUSECALL, no witnesses? No suspect.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's like he found a ghost. Nobody knows him. Nobody's seen him before. And it's just picking out a face out of millions.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: On "CSI", faces are picked and crimes solved in under an hour. Are expectations too high for real crime solving? That's after the break.

But first, this week's medical headlines in the pulse.


CHRISTY FEIG, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Researchers at Harvard University say regular intense exercise may slow the progression of prostate cancer and reduce the risk of death from the disease. The study in the archives of Internal Medicine found men over 65 who exercise three hours weekly lowered their risk of having fatal or advanced cases of prostate cancer by almost 70 percent. The benefit was not observed in younger men.

And a new report also in the archives of Internal Medicine says men who incorporate low-fat dairy into their diets may lower their risk of Type II diabetes. The study found each serving per day increase of dairy dropped the risk by 9 percent.

Researchers say ingredients in low-fat milk, ice cream, yogurt and cheese may help the body process sugar more efficiently.

Christy Feig, CNN.


GUPTA: Welcome back to HOUSECALL. Combining medicine, cool technology, and crime fighting has become a television franchise. The original "CSI" program is the most popular show in the world. And while people are being entertained, they're also becoming educated, sometimes creating a real life CSI effect.


MOISES VELAZQUEZ, MIAMI CITY HOMICIDE: We have a homicide that not simply was the victim killed, he was bound at the hands, bound at the feet, a sheet wrapped around his head, the bedroom ransacked.

GUPTA (voice-over): It's a murder with no witnesses. Miami city homicide detective Freddy Ponz and Sergeant Moises Velazquez head up the investigation and immediately call on the team of CSI technicians.

They spend the next 10 hours processing the crime scene, finding clues to help detectives piece together what happened the night 60- year-old Thomas Clark was killed.

VELAZQUEZ: This is a person that's desperate. He's not concerned with wearing rubber gloves and you know, making sure he collects his hair samples and everything else. So we got him inside the -- so the eyewitness that he wasn't counting on is going to be forensic science.

GUPTA: On television, "CSI: Miami", the case would be solved within the hour.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We never close, ever.

GUPTA: In the real world, prosecutors are starting to complain that juries expect too much. JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SR. LEGAL ANALYST: Some people are calling it the "CSI" effect. Jurors getting demanding about scientific proof of guilt, or refusing to produce conviction.

GUPTA: Barry Fisher is director of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Crime Lab, one of the biggest and best in the country.

BARRY FISHER, L.A. COUNTY CRIME LAB: What's happened is that courts, jurors, even cops, have this expectation that we can constantly pull rabbits out of the hat. And it's just not possible to do that.

GUPTA: It adds a lot of sex appeal to the percussion as well, doesn't it?

FISHER: Oh, we were sexy before!

GUPTA: Yes, you were.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do we have a time of death?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Between 11:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m..

GUPTA: Dr. Satish Chundru is the medical examiner who did the autopsy on Thomas Clark. He estimates that Clark was killed 18 to 33 hours before he was found.

SATISH CHUNDRU, DR., MEDICAL EXAMINER: The shows on TV, they say, yes, he died between 10:30 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. It's unrealistic, but it makes for a good TV show.

GUPTA: Another myth. Fingerprints are not just fed into computers. Trained eyes and experience are still needed to make a match. But what about DNA? In the Clark case, technicians swabbed every surface, knowing the smallest trace amount could nab a killer.

Unfortunately, getting a DNA profile isn't as instant as the "CSI: Miami" TV show portrays. In real life, it requires sending samples to sophisticated labs. In this case, the Miami-Dade Crime Lab. There's a lot of waiting.

WILLIAM STUVER, MIAMI-DADE CRIME LAB: A sample removed from a crime scene usually takes about a week from the time we first opened the specimen until we actually have DNA profiles coming off the machine.

GUPTA: With no witnesses, no suspects, which piece of evidence, if any, will crack this case?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So it's like hunting down a ghost. Nobody knows him. Nobody's seen him before. And it's just picking out a face out of millions.


GUPTA: And that case has a dramatic conclusion, which you'll see on Sunday night at 10:00 p.m. on the special. Be sure to tune in for that.

We're talking with former L.A. criminalist Elizabeth Devine. She's also the supervising producer of the hit show, "CSI: Miami."

And your old boss, Barry Fisher, you saw him there in the piece. He says sometimes jurors, even police, are expecting criminalists to pull rabbits out of their hats, so to speak. Do you think the show encourages that to some extent?

DEVINE: Well, sure. You know, we show a lot of very cool science that happens very quickly. And I think the audience likes that. So when they get to serve on a jury, they want to see that kind of thing presented to them, because they want to be part of the process. So I understand that.

GUPTA: And it's very good television as well. I mean, obviously, a lot people watch this show. We're going to take another quick break, but more real-life "CSI" coming up in just a moment.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Coming up on HOUSECALL, fiction versus reality, how medicine and police work mix to solve crimes and create great TV.

First, our bod squad shows us that staying up late to watch your favorite show may help you pack on the pounds.


HOLLY FIRFIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When those extra pounds start creeping on, do you head for the treadmill at the expense of a few extra hours for shut eye? Well, a new study shows not getting enough zz's could be what's tipping the scales in an unfavorable direction.

The study showed losing sleep can raise levels of hormones linked with appetite and eating behavior. So getting more pillow time may help with your wait loss.

The average American gets between six and seven hours of sleep a night during the week. That's compared to nine hours just a century ago.

Researchers say adding a mere 20 extra minutes of sleep a night could be enough to drop some pounds. So hit the snooze button one more time, and indulge yourself.

But if you're one of the 70 million Americans that have trouble sleeping, here are a few tips. Exercise more. Avoid stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine. Stick to a sleep schedule rather than attempting to catch up on sleep. And don't rely on sleeping pills.

Holly Firfer, CNN.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK) GUPTA: Welcome back to HOUSECALL. Elizabeth Devine has been our guest today. Really interesting half hour. A final thought, Elizabeth. Is there a critical piece of evidence that our bodies can tell us?

DEVINE: Well, the best evidence to find out a crime scene is blood, because it not only provides an identification of the donor, but can also tell you what happened. So blood is the best thing to find.

GUPTA: What better way to end our half hour show than to talk about blood.

Elizabeth, thanks so much. I know you're very busy. We appreciate it. And unfortunately, we're out of time for today. Tune in Sunday night for my prime-time special. It's called "Anatomy of Murder". You can find out how the cases we've talked about this morning actually unfold. That's Sunday night at 10:00 p.m. Eastern.

Thanks for watching. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Stay tuned now for more news on CNN.


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