What did your job entail at Indiana State Police?
I was a forensic scientist in the biology unit at the Evansville, Indiana, (District 35) post. My duties entailed the examination of evidence for the presence of body fluids that could be used for potential DNA profile development. I then would take any findings from the evidence and create a report that could then be used in court for legal matters pertaining to criminal cases. Prior to the work with the ISP, I was with a private microbiological laboratory (Hoosier Microbiological Laboratory) in Muncie. There I performed ‘food forensics’ if you will, where I routinely analyzed food, waste water, drinking water and biosolids for the presence of bacterial, fungal or viral pathogens that could jeopardize human health. During my time there, we worked on helping the EPA develop new bacterial detection methods and worked on some pretty high-profile cases involving consumable contamination from major pet and human product vendors. I eventually moved into the role of quality assurance and quality control manager and DNA analyst for the company before leaving to teach.
What brought you to Indiana Tech?
My decision to leave the ISP lab wasn’t easy; I had a great job working in a field I love. However, all my time on the road away from the family was simply not a feasible venture anymore and I heard through the grapevine about Indiana Tech. Now, I’m a part of a fantastic criminal justice program.
I personally am thrilled to work with the likes of (associate professor and director of the Center for Criminal Justice) Dominic Lombardo and (associate professor of criminal justice) Kim Spielman. I love that the program has branches with experience across the three major core constituents of the modern criminal justice system (law enforcement, law and forensic science). Professor Lombardo is an immensely supportive director for our program and has great vision for expansion into current, ground-breaking curriculum. I’ve come to really appreciate the Indiana Tech community and the collaborative elements of the faculty I’m working with, as well. I’ve recently worked with our English department on some report writing exercises for our crime scene investigation course, and I’m now working with an ad-hoc biology committee to help flesh out what such a program would look like for future Indiana Tech students.
I am having a phenomenal time getting the opportunity to create this program. As a scientist, I’ve come to really enjoy the thrill of pushing the envelope to create new things and exploring new facets of research and education. Indiana Tech has afforded me the opportunity to not only continue pursuing my professional goals as a forensic scientist, but the university has granted me with the ability to explore other areas of the discipline that I wouldn’t have been afforded in a traditional laboratory setting.
Why did you get into forensics?
It’s actually a personal story, and I don’t mind sharing it because I think personal stories and experiences are what drive us to become who we are as adults in our working lives. My uncle, James Counsil, was found dead of what was allegedly a self-inflicted gunshot wound, and my father always lamented the fact that I was never able to meet him.
Growing up my father would, from time to time, discuss going to identify the body at the morgue; I think it was a way for him to keep the memory of my Uncle James alive and to help him process the grief of his unexpected death. When my father recalled the facts of the case, he always noted things that seemed unusual and that were out of place regarding the circumstances of the death. Some of the things my father noted were the baseball cap my Uncle allegedly had on him at the time of death. Being one of the few ‘Counsil-men’ with a full head of hair in adulthood, my Uncle James allegedly never owned a baseball cap. So, why would one be in the car where he was found? The biggest thing that sticks in my father’s mind was the purple bruise marks on my Uncle’s wrists. Why would he look like he was tied up when he was supposed to have committed suicide? It was these questions that really made me think about forensics and question the ultimate fate of my Uncle James. Forensic science had been around in the 60s and 70s, albeit in a much-abbreviated form than it is now. In fact, the development of forensic DNA analysis didn’t really make waves until around 1986-87 with the Colin Pitchfork case in England.
Needless to say, my educational pursuits were propelled by the burning questions left unanswered regarding my Uncle’s death – questions that have haunted my father to this day. As a result, I know from my education and training that perhaps the death investigation would have panned another way if we had new forensic tools sooner in my Uncle’s case. I know, for example, that bruise marks like the ones found on my Uncle’s wrists are typical of a person who had been restrained and was left restrained post-mortem (after death). That makes my Uncle’s death more of a mystery than we’d once previously considered. That understanding and appreciation for being able to look through the lens of my family’s loss and to see how forensics could have helped them has propelled me to go further into forensics and to explore fringe or novel concepts. I hope to help discover even newer tools to combat crime for future generations and those left asking the same lingering questions my family has been asking for decades.