Sept. 23, 2013 – As crime labs, police agencies, sheriff’s departments and other public safety organizations look for ways to increase the speed and reliability of documenting crime scenes, 3D laser scanning is increasingly proving to be a powerful tool, both outside and inside the courtroom.
Laser Scanning the Crime Scene
Detective Sgt. Jim Pissott of the Ocean County (New Jersey) Sheriff’s Department, who uses a Leica ScanStation laser scanner, credits the technology with helping him completely destroy a claim of self-defense in the murder trial of Jay Goldberg, who was charged with shooting and killing his neighbor after an argument at Goldberg’s home. Five shots were fired, with all five of them hitting the victim; four of the shots exited the victim and struck the walls behind him.
Upon arriving at the scene, detectives set up their ScanStation in the living room where the body was found and laser scanned the victim, creating a vivid 3D data set. In addition, the investigators carefully placed ballistic trajectory rods into the four bullet perforations in the wall. Then, using a technique involving the 3D laser scanning of the rods, Pissott used Leica software to extend the virtual versions of the rods’ trajectories back toward the shooter’s alleged location in 3D.
The results on four of the bullet holes provided clear forensic evidence that did indeed support Goldberg’s claim of self-defense. But it was the fifth shot that was the key.
After the body had been removed, Pissott noted a bullet perforation in the floor directly under the body. He carefully placed a ballistic trajectory rod into the hole and laser scanned it as well. The resulting bullet trajectory path clearly illustrated that the fifth and final shot had to have been fired while the shooter was standing directly over the victim as he was lying on the floor.
Bringing 3D Evidence Into the Courtroom
This finding proved devastating to the defense’s case. When Pissott testified, he used a 52-inch TV monitor to show an image of the victim’s body lying on the floor with the scanned ballistic trajectory rod protruding from his body. Goldberg was found guilty of aggravated manslaughter. The fact that the jurors could clearly see the evidence in 3D was largely responsible for their finding.
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