- The Washington Times - Monday, April 21, 2008

HAGERSTOWN, Md. (AP) — Bank employees weren’t trying to give police bad information by misidentifying a robbery suspect; they just had faulty memories. But a Maryland forensics investigator’s work prevented a wrongful arrest.

All three bank employees identified the same blond man with a goatee in a photo lineup, but Hagerstown Police Department forensic scientist Jeffrey Kercheval knew something wasn’t right.

Surveillance footage showed the robber was not much taller than the window at the teller’s booth he approached to carry out the robbery, but witnesses identified the suspect as a man well over 6 feet tall.

So Mr. Kercheval and other investigators performed some extra work to have the suspect stand at the bank counter where the robbery occurred. The man stood nearly a head taller than the robber. They used the same surveillance camera to compare the robber’s height to the man they had standing at the window.

“In this case, we got someone unarrested based on the evidence,” Mr. Kercheval said.

He spoke at the Washington County Free Library in Hagerstown last month to help people better understand how forensics is used in police investigations, compared with what is often seen on TV shows such as “CSI.”

He discussed the bank robbery from 2006 and other cases to illustrate how physical evidence should be used to corroborate eyewitness testimony.

“People don’t intend to mislead us,” Mr. Kercheval said. “They just make observations that aren’t correct.”

He and two other forensics investigators work at the Western Maryland Regional Crime Lab.

A discussion of someone trying to break into four military tanks, a fatal beating at a Hagerstown McDonald’s and the investigation into the discovery of a body near Funkstown were also part of Mr. Kercheval’s presentation.

Nathaniel Laye, 12, of Smithsburg said he attended the presentation because he wants to be a forensic investigator when he grows up. He said he was inspired by “CSI.”

“I thought it was going to be like the show,” Nathaniel said.

Mr. Kercheval knows his job is nothing like what is shown on television.

“They drive around in Hummers,” he said. “I drive around in a 1997 Chevy Astro van.”

He said he spends a tremendous amount of time processing drug evidence for about 1,000 cases a year, but his lab also works on robberies, homicides and other violent crimes.

It’s not as quick or exciting as TV shows can make it seem, he said, because he spends 90 percent of his time on paperwork and reports used as evidence. When the case goes to trial, the paperwork and reports will be essential to faithfully represent the memories and the facts surrounding the case.

Still, Mr. Kercheval said, the work never gets boring.

“Every day’s exciting,” said Mr. Kercheval, who is on call 24 hours a day. “You kind of feel like a pinball bouncing in a pinball machine.”


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