Cumberland Times-News

Local News

January 22, 2012

Goodwin touts Marshall University crime lab

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (AP) — U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin visited the Marshall University Forensic Science Center recently to see what is happening in the labs that are helping law enforcement on a national level put suspects behind bars.

Goodwin said he was particularly interested in seeing the digital forensics lab, citing the drastic increase of technology involved in crimes. That has created backlogs at forensic labs nationally, he said, and Marshall’s facility is counted on to process evidence in its state-of-the-art facility.

“There are tools here that the feds are only starting to use,” said Chris Vance, a digital forensics specialist who is heavily involved with retrieving evidence from mobile devices.

Goodwin said Vance and Cpl. Robert Boggs with the West Virginia State Police also are allowing prosecutors to make headway in child exploitation cases.

“They’re clearing the backlog in child exploitation cases,” Goodwin said. “We just had two plead guilty ... in a case where the forensics was done here.” Boggs gave a presentation about how prevalent child pornography is and how much is being viewed and shared in West Virginia. The public, he said, doesn’t realize how pervasive it is.

But, they are able to track it, right down to the residence where it is being downloaded. However, a lack of resources both locally and nationally hinders the fight.

“It’s not a matter of developing a target,” Boggs said. “It’s a matter of having the resources to go after them.” It’s not just crimes against children where digital forensics comes to the rescue. Boggs said the list includes embezzlement, computer fraud, identity theft and murder, in which evidence can be found.

While the tools to fight the criminals can be expensive — Boggs mentioned a pair of machines that cost about $60,000 — Goodwin said it is not government pork.

“We are in the information age and this is how we catch the bad guys,” he said.

Terry Fenger, director of the Forensic Science Center, also showed Goodwin the DNA laboratories, where backlogs of sexual assault kits are being processed for law enforcement agencies nationwide. Fenger said they are nearly finished processing hundreds of kits from New Orleans that survived Hurricane Katrina, while they finalize an agreement to take on thousands from Detroit’s backlogged system.

They also have helped the West Virginia State Police catch up their backlog, which he said is almost cleared out.

“This program really is a model for the nation,” said Marshall President Stephen Kopp.

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