- Associated Press - Sunday, July 27, 2014

TULSA, Okla. (AP) - Harvey Pratt’s long career as Oklahoma’s leading forensic profiler happened almost by accident.

Pratt, who has done forensic art for much of his nearly 50-year career in law enforcement and now does composites for agencies across the country, was a young Midwest City officer when he got his start. At the time, artwork was a hobby, and Pratt, who had just returned from a Marine Corps tour in Vietnam, was trying to find his footing as an officer.

“There was a case that somebody was doing drive-by shootings and home invasions. … A woman was wounded, a guy killed her husband at Christmastime at the house,” Pratt said. “She came running down the hall, and he shot her in the face. They didn’t think she was going to live and (my boss) said, ‘Do you think you can go over there and make a drawing of the guy that shot her?’?”

Pratt said he talked to the woman and came up with a sketch. When the man was ultimately arrested, he felt the joy that came with combining his two passions for the first of many times.

“Probably if I had failed that very first time, I would have never done another one,” Pratt said.

Pratt, who has been with the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation since 1972, estimates he’s worked on thousands of cases since that first sketch.

But forensic sketches don’t always go that well. There’s an art to the art, so to speak, something Pratt has honed over his long career.

When Tulsa police were searching for a serial rapist last month, they quickly discovered that the man would not be easy to identify. He was attacking at night, often at knifepoint, and would target older women who lived alone, telling them not to look at him. Most of the victims were blindfolded and forcibly placed face-down in bed.

So it was little surprise to investigators when victims gave different descriptions. The man was either in his 20s, 30s or 40s, and was either light-skinned and black, Hispanic or white. His height varied and so did his weight - one victim said 120 pounds, while another said 180 pounds.

The sixth woman attacked in June told police she felt she could give authorities enough information that they could issue a sketch of the assailant, something Pratt said expedites an investigation considerably. So Sex Crimes Sgt. Mark Mears called Pratt, who met the victim in Tulsa and worked up a detailed drawing of a “white male in his 40s” that police immediately cautioned was “not to be taken as a portrait.”

One problem: When DNA evidence connected Desmond Campbell - who was black (and has since died from complications following a car crash) to the crimes - people who ignored instructions to not treat the sketch as an exact image began to fear that there was a second suspect on the loose.

“We heard people say that, too,” Mears said. One fact many of those people ignored, he said, was that the victim who helped provide police with that sketch also helped provide officers with DNA, which was tied to Campbell.

“If I could talk to a victim and draw a perfect portrait of the suspect, well, I’d be worth a million dollars,” Pratt said. “It doesn’t work like that because no one remembers a person perfectly from memory, never mind a terrified, traumatized person who has had a knife to her throat.”

The fact that Pratt can get as much out of victims as he does is almost a miracle, Mears said. Even law officers struggle with the type of recall it takes to describe someone they only barely witnessed.

To illustrate that, Mears said the police academy will have someone walk into the officers’ classroom for a few seconds and then walk out. The instructor will ask the class to describe the person they saw, and the results often vary widely.

“And this is people who are supposed to be focused (on that),” Mears said.

Gary Lee Graham was arrested in 2006 after sexually assaulting a number of young children and young women over a nearly three-year span. Mears provided the World with a series of sketches Graham’s victims helped create over the years.

While some of the sketches resemble each other, none of them particularly resembles Graham himself - other than a few details like the facial hair in a couple, or the eyes in some others. All seven sketches show Graham wearing a hat, and in six of the sketches the hat is backwards.

It’s details like those, Pratt said, that the public needs to focus on when a sketch is released, because it’s usually those details that stand out.

In Campbell’s case, Pratt said that while certain aspects of the drawing don’t match up, some, such as hairline, nose, ears, eyes and eyebrows, do. When police sent out that sketch, they said that while the victim wasn’t 100 percent sure of all aspects of the suspect, she did say that he “had a bad odor.”

Sometimes, Pratt said, facts like that can crack a case. He mentioned one investigation where he was interviewing a woman who was struggling to describe a suspect - her memory was foggy, and Pratt was asking for specific details. Finally he asked her if the suspect was left- or right-handed.

At first, the woman couldn’t see the point of the question, but Pratt pressed on. Finally, her eyes lit up as she remembered something she didn’t even realize she knew.

“He was missing part of his little finger,” she told Pratt.

“Someone’s recall of a face may not be perfect, or it may not even be very good,” Pratt said. “But if you get them to think about specifics, to focus on little details over and over, sometimes they can give you something essential.”


Information from: Tulsa World, http://www.tulsaworld.com

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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