Sunday, June 07, 2015

Weekend Wildcard - Working a Case from the Crime Scene to Prosecution

This post contains references to violence and rape that may distress readers. 

The Pink Heart Society are delighted to welcome back Margaret Daley as she talks about the Writer's Police Academy...

I'm a romantic suspense writer and always looking for ways to make my stories as accurate as possible. As a writer, first hand knowledge is invaluable or having people in the area you are writing about to answer your questions. 

Two years ago I attended the Writer's Police Academy and signed up to take a class over five hours that took us from the beginning of a sexual assault case (based on a real case) to taking it to the DA to prosecute. 

nurse explaining the components in a rape kit. 
The first thing we did was interview the victim (I'll name her Sue) at the hospital where she showed up saying she had been raped. 

We asked her questions, and she told her someone came through her first story window (which was open because it was hot). He wore a black mask so she couldn't get a good look at his face, and his build was average. She said she kept her eyes closed. He also used something to cut upside down Vs all over her (not on her back, soles of her feet or face). These wounds weren't deep. 

After we interviewed Sue, we talked with the nurse who would process her and do the rape kit. 

Next we went to the crime scene where we examined the bedroom, the window the assailant came through, the back door she said he must have left through and the area outside the window. 

The weapon used on the victim. 
While we were inspecting outside the window, the neighbor across the street came over and asked what we were doing. 

In the course of our conversation with the older lady, she said she saw the neighbor next-door to Sue go into her bedroom through the window at about the same timeframe as Sue said she was assaulted. There were parts of Mrs. Olson's timeline that didn't quite synch with Sue's. 

We asked her why she didn't call the police. She said she thought maybe Sue was having an affair with Tom, the next-door neighbor. She could tell Tom was interested in Sue, and since her husband was gone a lot because he was a long haul trucker, something might be going on. Sue was very unhappy about her husband being on the road a lot. 

After that we looked into Tom's background. 

Had he been arrested before? Had he been in jail? 

The bedroom where the crime took place. 
He had for six months for assaulting a man in a bar fight. Tom, hearing about the police's interest in him, came voluntarily to the police station, and we interviewed him. 

He admitted to having sex with Sue and even cutting her with a bottle opener (found at the crime scene near the bed--had blood on it that was Sue's--no usable fingerprints, though) because she wanted him to, but only on her torso. 

His timeline of the visit matched a lot of what Sue and Mrs. Olson said. We asked how Tom knew to go over to Sue's. He said she called him. But we couldn't find a record of the call on his cell phone or on hers. Another thing that stood out to us was that Tom said he had never been in jail, but we knew he had. 

Because we had enough evidence of sexual assault to take it to the prosecutor, we did. Although there were still some questions and concerns, the DA took it before a judge. Tom was charged with sexual assault and his trial was set to begin in a few months. 

Some of us weren't convinced Tom did it. Yes, he had sexual intercourse with her, but we weren't convinced it was mutual. It was clear that Sue didn't want her husband gone all of the time. 

This records the interview session so
the detective can go back and review the tape.
In the end in the real case, Tom was days away from going to trial when the police detective decided to go back and talk with Sue. In the end, she admitted she made it all up, that she had invited him over because she wanted her husband to stay home. Tom was freed. 

The whole time we were working the case the instructor, a police detective, told us not to form opinions but to gather evidence. If we think it was someone early on, we might not look at all the evidence as we should to build a good solid case. 

That was important for a detective to do, but it was hard not to speculate what happened. 

Also, the paperwork we were filling out was A LOT. Everything had to be documented and the chain of evidence had to be maintained--like the bottle opener found at the scene of the crime. 

Another thing I learned besides the procedure was how much legwork a police detective had to do to put together a case. 

The art of interviewing a person is also not easy and if not done right could change the course of an investigation. 

I think it takes years to hone those skills. Even where the detective would sit in the interview room isn't like what we see on TV. 

It's usually best not to have a table between you and the person you are interviewing. Also it is much better to make the suspect think you are on his side and can understand what happened than to be hostile with the suspect. 

I’m excited after this experience to do it again. I’m going in August to this year’s Writer’s Police Academy. This is a great place to get information from people who work in law enforcement. 

How do you do in-depth research?  Do you go to events like this, or are you a library and internet research kind of writer?

One of Margaret Daley's most recent romantic suspense books is Deadly Countdown, the fourth book in Strong Women, Extraordinary Situations Series. This will be out at the end of June.

 Also published in June, is Security Breach, a Love Inspired Suspense novel that is part of the K-9 Capitol Unit Series.

When Margaret isn’t traveling, she’s writing love stories, often with a suspense thread and corralling her three cats that think they rule her household. To find out more, her website or follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

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