August 28, 2014 – The Ocean County Sheriff’s Office was the first public safety agency in New Jersey to acquire a high-definition 3D laser scanner, the first in the state to utilize the technology in a forensic capacity, and the first to have scan data admitted in a New Jersey court. These last two firsts occurred in a single case: State of New Jersey v. Jay R. Goldberg. Our experience from scene to courtroom to verdict shows that preparation is key.
Detectives Put Laser Scanning Technology to the Test
Our Crime Scene Investigation Division acquired its Leica ScanStation in January 2009. Shortly after being instructed by Leica trainers in scanning for public safety applications, we had our first homicide of the year.
The crime involved a residential marijuana-grow operation between Jay Goldberg and his neighbor Sarkis Shahinian. The defendant, Goldberg, financed the operation and kept the plants in the basement of his two-story home. The victim, Shahinian, cultivated the crops. Ultimately, Goldberg became paranoid and began dismantling the operation without Shahinian’s permission. When he found out, a confrontation ensued at Goldberg’s house where Shahinian was fatally shot. This crime scene provided the perfect scenario to apply what they’d learned about ballistic trajectories and the creation of ballistic cones from Leica’s trainer.
When the CSI unit arrived, the victim was found lying face down on the floor of the foyer at the entrance to the living room. Early determination was that he had been shot five times, but detectives had only been able to find four defects (bullet holes) in the walls throughout the house. After they scanned the victim, the body was removed and a hole was revealed in the floor—the fifth shot. The bullet had passed through the victim and the floor and was ultimately found in the basement. As they had learned in manufacturer training, the detectives inserted a trajectory rod and rescanned the area.
The investigation concluded that the argument, which began somewhere in the house, escalated in the master bedroom where the victim received the first shot in the chest. As the victim turned to flee, he was shot two more times in the back and another time in the left arm as he proceeded down the hallway. When he collapsed in the foyer, he was shot the fifth and final time. Based upon the autopsy report and photos, the first shot was determined to be the fatal shot. However, the scan data of the final shot would prove key in dispelling the defendant’s claim of self-defense when the case came to court three years later.
This is the point where I enter the case. I came over to the CSI Divison in January 2012, and the case was scheduled for trial in March with the defendant claiming the use of deadly force as self-defense against an intruder. Because the detectives who were initially trained on the scan data software were no longer available, I was tasked with learning Leica TruView visualization software and creating the scan-data exhibits for court.
Leica TruView and Cyclone Software Create Compelling Exhibits
Both TruView and Cyclone were brought into the courtroom, and each proved very powerful. The fact that the jury could see the evidence, everything in that three-dimensional view, was very important.
Within Leica TruView, we were able to take the jury into the crime scene. We could show the jury what the whole house looked like by orienting the data to different perspectives. We were able to bring the jury into the master bedroom where the first shot was fired, go from room to room within TruView, and show the progression from the back bedroom down the hallway to where the victim was found when we arrived. You can show a jury photographs, and you can show a jury a video, but having the capability to navigate through the house, pan around, zoom in and zoom out, and even produce measurements on-the-fly was very compelling.
Once we were done with the TruView, Cyclone was opened to reveal the point cloud data. In Cyclone, we were able to show the jury two key factors relating to the fifth and final shot: 1) that the trajectory rod passed directly through the victim and 2) the angle of the projectile as it passed through the victim.
Cyclone’s layer feature was particularly helpful to the jury’s understanding of the evidence. With the victim and the trajectory rod on separate layers, we were able to clearly demonstrate to the jury, “OK, this is the victim. We’ll turn off the victim. Here’s the floor. This is what the floor looked like after the victim was removed, and you can see the outline of the blood.” We turned the layer on to show the rod and explained to the jury, “This is now the scan data with the rod in place.” And then from there, we explained, “We can now take the data from the first scan, which was the victim, and turn that on. Now you can see the rod passing directly through the victim.” That visual was stunning. At that point, I think the light bulb went on for everyone—they got it.
Within Cyclone, we were able to generate a ballistic angle of approximately 68 degrees that showed the defendant standing directly over the top of the victim, not face-to-face. The victim had already collapsed onto the floor when the defendant put the final shot right into his back.
We had a 52-inch television that we utilized for the monitor, so everything was right in front of the jury. It produced a compelling visualization of what everything looked like that day.
Court Admits the Scan Data Without Dispute
The State of New Jersey v. Jay R. Goldberg case was the first time laser scan data had ever been introduced in a New Jersey court, and both TruView and Cyclone were admitted without dispute for several reasons.
Prior to this going to trial, we had sat down with the assistant prosecutor and explained what the technology was—that it has survey-grade accuracy, that it’s a piece of surveying equipment used all over the world in a gamut of industries. We explained that Leica Geosystems has a nearly 200-year history in measuring technology and has a long-standing reputation for quality. This technology has already been validated; it’s been presented in front of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences; it’s gone to court in other states. If something was questioned, we were definitely prepared to back it up.
When it came to testifying in court, the sergeant who performed the scanning (now my lieutenant) was confident in what he did that day. He testified to his knowledge and operation of the scanner. He explained to the jury how the scanner operates and how it’s used. When the defense asked what kind of training he had on the equipment, he responded that the CSI unit had its initial manufacturer training when the equipment was purchased and that Leica Geosystems trainers came out and provided more than 80 hours of hands-on training. Additionally, the unit had in-house training and attended two user conferences where they received more training. So that helped, as well.
Laser Scan Data Plays a Role in the Conviction
In this case, the verdict wasn’t solely based upon the scan data. Obviously, Goldberg helped secure his own conviction with other elements of the case—the marijuana grow operation; the use of firearms; the fact that the defendant himself called 911 and said, “I shot my neighbor” (he even tried to stage the house and make it look like a robbery). However, without the scan data and the ballistic trajectory it revealed, dispelling the claim of self-defense and obtaining the conviction of first-degree aggravated manslaughter would have been much more challenging.
Update: On June 27, 2014, Jay R. Goldberg was found guilty of two first-degree crimes for the conspiracy to commit and the attempted murder of former Assistant Ocean County Prosecutor Steven N. Cucci. Goldberg plotted Cucci’s murder from the Ocean County Jail in 2012 while awaiting sentencing for the Aggravated Manslaughter of Sarkis Shahinian and related drug charges. For more information, follow this link.
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