What happens when detectives call you to assist with their murder investigation and all they present you with is poor quality surveillance video because both their victims were killed in cold blood during a robbery? It happened to me once, well actually several time. But in this particular case I did the only thing I could – carefully watch the video and create a composite sketch.
To give you greater context, let’s go back and examine the case.
Baltimore Police patrol officers were called to the scene of a double shooting inside a small market/deli. They arrived to find a male and female inside the store suffering from gunshot wounds. They were immediately transported to a local hospital where the male died from his wounds and the female survived. Surveillance equipment inside the store confirmed that the shootings occurred during an armed robbery.
In the days that followed, the suspect was involved in a string of violent carjackings and an attempted sexual assault. His crime spree ended when he murdered a man during a carjacking and later barricaded himself inside a building. As police surrounded the building and tried to negotiate his surrender, the suspect shot and killed himself rather than face arrest.
As you can see from my composite sketch the suspect disguised himself during the robbery by wearing a hooded sweatshirt and large, dark sunglasses. While the sketch itself doesn’t point towards his guilt, it corroborates his possible involvement in the murder and the gun collected at the scene of his suicide could be the most useful piece of evidence to help detectives clear their case.
But what about a string of serial rapes and murders that occurred over a long period of time where several sketches were completed by different sketch artists? That is what happened during the Golden State Killer investigation. Watch the below videos to hear what I had to say about what the public should be looking for when viewing the sketches.
Crime sprees and carefully executed serial crimes can be challenging for the forensic artist, but not impossible. Video evidence alone or that combined with eyewitness statements can be powerful facial identification tools in the absence of other evidence, or evidence that takes some time to process. The challenge comes in how to best present those sketches. Sometimes you have to make a decision on which sketch to select or those to morph into one representative image.
Ultimately the decision how to proceed lies with the lead detective in the case consulting with police supervision. Sometimes it might involve the department’s medial officer. Don’t be surprised if you’re brought in to render your opinion as a consultant. After all, you have probably spent more time with the eyewitness than detectives, so your opinion becomes equally if not more important when deciding the image selected to become the signature face for the case in question.
The pressure can be intense. If you have experience and trust your expertise the decisions become less painful. You may experience a few sleepless nights, but when they catch the person, with or without your sketch, it’s the most rewarding experience ever. Having experienced the feeling myself a time or two; I can tell you there’s no other experience like it.
Come back next month for an important announcement.
In the meantime, stay safe, be well and keep on sketching!