"Elementary, my dear Watson"
Opened in January, an exhibition of the advances of forensic science has been getting a lot of attention of late
By David Momphard / STAFF REPORTER
While riding with his procession, Sun Deng (孫登), a prince of the Kingdom of Wu, was nearly knocked from his horse by a shot that passed within a hair's breadth of him. One of Sun's guards was no sooner off his mount than he'd apprehended the alleged villain, slingshot and pellets in hand. The man protested his innocence and the guard pummeled him for a confession, but Sun ordered the guard to stop and search for the pellet. It was retrieved and the prince examined it closely, compared it with others in the suspect's bag, and determined the pellet came from elsewhere. The man gained his freedom and forensic science gained a foothold in ancient China.
\nThat story from the History of the Three Kingdoms (三國志) is said to be among the first accounts of the state employing science to deliver justice. It's recounted by Meng Hsien-hui (孟憲輝) in the exhibition catalogue for "The Return of Sherlock Holmes: The Advances of Forensic Science" (神探再現科學辦案) at the National Science and Technology Museum (國立科學工藝博物館) in Kaohsiung. Meng is director of the science laboratory at Central Police University (中央警察大學) and his tale provided a prescient illustration in the exhibition that began in January and has seen a spike in attendance numbers since the March 19 shootings of President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and Vice President Annette Lu (呂秀連).
\n"We've seen quite a bit of recent interest in the exhibition for obvious reasons," said David Chang (張崇山), curator for the exhibit, which was produced with the cooperation of world-renowned forensic investigator, Dr Henry Lee (李昌鈺).
\nA former police captain in Taiwan, Lee left in the mid-1960s for further education in the US and went on to become a pioneer in his field in the US. He's worked on over 6,000 cases and rewritten the way police investigators go about their work. He has authored some 20 books and dozens of articles on forensic science. The department of criminology at the University of New Haven bears his name. He hosts his own TV program.
\nHe's also most recently been asked to lead the investigation into the March 19 shootings. While he is attending a seminar in New Zealand and was unavailable for comment, the exhibit he helped design offers unique insight into the job he and his hand-picked team of investigators have in front of them.
\nJoining Dr Lee are his colleague and protege, Major Timothy Palmbach, supervisor of the state police forensic laboratory in Connecticut, noted pathologist Cyril Wecht, who famously disputed the findings of the Warren Commission investigating the assassination of US President John F. Kennedy, and ballistics expert Michael Haas. The three of them arrived in Taiwan last Sunday and worked with local investigators in Taipei and at the scene of the shooting in Tainan before returning to the US on Tuesday evening.
\nBecause of the high-profile nature of the case and the fact that many people believe the whole event was staged in an attempt to garner "sympathy votes" for Chen, the investigators held a press conference before departing where they stressed the independent nature of their work and suggested that their eventual report would not respond to conspiracy allegations.
\n"Forensic science many times cannot provide all the answers that you might be seeking in an investigation," Palmbach said. "As to why and who and from what consequences did this [assassination attempt] develop, that cannot and will not be answered by the physical evidence.
\nSo exactly what questions will they be trying to answer? The Kaohsiung exhibit offers several clues as it introduces almost every imaginable aspect of criminology; crime-scene investigation, fingerprint identification and the identification of various fibers, fluids and materials, DNA testing, and firearm examination.
\n"The most popular part of the exhibit is the firearms," Chang said.
\nNo surprise there. A wall in the middle of the room is lined with plastic boxes, each containing a handgun of a different make and model, and visitors can reach in and get a feel for each piece.
\n"We wanted to give people a chance to see what these guns look like and to feel them," Chang said. "Handguns aren't available in Taiwan."
\nWell, not legally, at least.
\n"Take the Glock 17 pistol as an example," Meng from the Central Police University writes. "It is the firearm most frequently used in crime in Taiwan and is a semi-automatic pistol with a caliber of 9x19mm, hexagonal rifling and a right-hand twist. Its operation mechanism is short recoil with a tilted barrel. It's equipped with a plastic, double-rowed magazine with a capacity of 17 rounds. ... Revolvers and Derringers are also frequently confiscated."
\nBut the identification of a handgun used in a crime is done by examining the bullet fired from it, or casings found at the scene.
\n"Characteristic marks of rifling are imparted to the bullet while it is forced down the barrel during discharge," Meng explains. "The diameter of the bullet, number of rifle engravings, direction of rifling twist, width of the engraved area, degree of twist, and depth of groove can be used to narrow down the candidates of type of firearm involved."
\nIn Taiwan, the Criminal Investigation Bureau under the National Police Administration uses the Integrated Ballistic Identification System -- the same system used by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms in the US for automatic comparison of fired bullets and spent cartridges.
\nBut pretend for a moment that you wanted to kill the president. The clever criminal, wanting to avoid detection, would be careful in choosing not only his weapon but his ammunition as well. The home-made bullets that hit Chen and Lu present one of the biggest challenges for investigators.
\n"Some of the evidence, by its very nature, is going to make this task much more complicated," Palmbach said at last Tuesday's press conference. "The ammunition used in this case is not commercially manufactured. It is of the homegrown variety. That will create many difficult challenges for us as forensic scientists."
\nIn addition to the ammunition, police also believe the gun that fired them may have been somewhat "homegrown."
\nWhile there is a black market for genuine Glocks, Derringers and revolvers in Taiwan, criminals more frequently visit sporting goods stores to inquire about replica handguns. These items are inexpensive and, with the right know-how, can be retooled to fire live ammunition.
\nOther evidence that the investigators will be looking at include the windshield of the jeep -- the study of shattered glass, exhibit-goers learn, is a discipline unto itself -- Chen and Lu's wounds, the clothing they were wearing, and photographs and videotape of the event.
\n"It is a complex case," Palmbach said. "There is perhaps additional evidence that we would like to see and have made available to us. ... We have every confidence to believe that it will."
\nThe National Museum of Science and Technology is located at 720 Chiuju First Rd. in Kaohsiung (高雄市九如一路720號). The Return of Sherlock Holmes: The Advances of Forensic Science runs until July 11.
Henry Lee has said he will help in the investigation into the assassination attempt on President Chen Shui-bian and Vice President Annette Lu. An exhibition at the National Science and Technology Museum in Kaohsiung looks at the advances in forensic science, in which Lee is considered a pioneer.
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