The Science of Crime: Behind the scenes at the Crime Lab
It's the science behind solving a crime.
Last month, Rapides Parish experienced three of its most gruesome murders in recent memory. A brother and sister, Matthew and Ebony Sonnier, were arrested and charged for an alleged killing spree that stretched from Pineville to Boyce.
As investigators began to unravel the details and tell the public what they knew so far, Sheriff William Earl Hilton specifically thanked the North Louisiana Crime Lab for their help with the case.
We wanted to learn more about that crime lab that is headquartered in Shreveport and how they're using science to help our local law enforcement solve some of their toughest mysteries.
The staff at the lab was kind enough to let us inside to take a look at their brand new $26 million building for a tour behind the scenes.
When a crime occurs, the real work at solving the mystery of what happened, happens once you take down the crime scene tape.
Police conduct interviews and process evidence, but there's a team of scientists who are just as essential at getting to the bottom of who committed the crime and how.
"Lets go down here," said Jimmy Barnhill, the director of the North Louisiana Crime Lab, as we began our tour.
The North Louisiana Crime Lab is headquartered in Shreveport. There are satellite offices in Alexandria and West Monroe.
Staff moved into the glistening 86,000 square foot building just two months ago. It serves 29 parishes.
"If a murder happens in Alexandria, lets say there are latent fingerprints and firearms involved, that evidence can be worked there in Alexandria," said Barnhill.
But, if there is DNA or biological stains involved, they come here. Evidence is first checked in, from there its off to temperature controlled, locked storage rooms.
"These files, these are our case files and back there is where all the evidence is," said Barnhill, showing us around.
The new building comes will some advanced features. There's a room that now allows staff to video conference in to a court room for some testimony. And, for the first time ever, there's a morgue inside that holds 100 bodies.
The idea for the morgue was hatched 8 years before they broke ground in 2013 for this building. Many bodies had to be sent out of state previously, and that was costly.
"They hatched this idea of seeking state funding, capital outlay money to create a forensic sciences center where we could offer autopsies and forensic pathology and forensic toxicology services, as well as house current operations," Barnhill said.
Katie Traweek is one of eight DNA analysts who works about 100 cases a year.
"Sometimes we can rush a case if it has a high priority, but we do have to work our other cases at the same time," she said. "From start to finish, if we rush a case, it would take at least a couple days to get the analysis part done."
Funding for the lab comes solely from each parish's criminal court fund when fines are collected from speeding tickets and DWIs.
While they have 20 employees now, Barnhill hopes soon there will be even more staff on hand to fill the massive building and help solve crime.
One more thing to add: it's not just homicides that the crime lab is helping law enforcement with. They also work sexual assaults, burglaries, drug cases, arson cases, and do toxicology.