DOBSON — “Summer Explosion” participants got to gather clues and try and solve a murder mystery in the 4-H investigates camp.
The group prepared for this with some real world experience in the courtrooms at the Surry County Courthouse on Wednesday in the second day of the camp. Participants also toured a diagnostic laboratory and Surry County Jail. Campers traveled to East Wilkes Middle School daily for the three-day “investigation.”
Judge Charles M. Neaves Jr. explained briefly about the court system and answered questions from campers about the courts and the judges that preside over them. Assistant District Attorney Joshua Simmons also spoke with the group.
A camper asked him if anyone was ever convicted but was actually innocent. Neaves’ explained that the state must prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt.
“Even though I may be suspicious, that’s not good enough to convict someone,” said Neaves. “It has to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt which is a higher burden of proof. It is possible to find someone guilty who is not proven innocent and it is also possible to find someone innocent who has not been proven guilty.”
Next, Surry County Sheriff’s Office Detective J. Turner spoke with the campers about crime scene investigation and procedures. Turner told the campers that there were two resident crime scene technicians and an arson investigator in Surry County in addition to the county being able to use the resources of the North Carolina State Crime Lab and the State Bureau of Investigation.
He said SBI, for instance, is called in to help with homicide cases because of the resources it can muster to help local law enforcement. Turner polled the group on their favorite “CSI” television programs.
“Unfortunately, as investigators we wish we had the time frame they do on the television shows to get everything processed,” said Turner. “Our time frame is from a few hours to months to resolve for some cases.” As an example, he told the students the find of human remains near Lambsburg, Va., in Carroll County earlier this month could be a case that began in Surry County as a missing person case two years ago.
Turner said that, like many in the group, he appreciates a mystery. He demonstrated some of the equipment of his trade. Turner also discussed how changes such as digital photography and DNA tests have had an impact on processing a crime scene.
“What I do is not glamorous like you see on television,” said Turner. “There’s a lot of reporting and writing in what I do. Everything must be documented. You cannot rely on memory. Some of these cases don’t go to trial until years later.”
He told the group they also use math and drawing or sketching in their line of work. Many officers continue on to college after basic training to improve their skills.
“I believe everything has a picture and collecting all the evidence helps me paint that picture,” explained Turner.
Detective Jeremy Luffman of the Surry County Sheriff’s Office talked with the group about protecting themselves from predators on the Internet.
“We in the department are passionate in what we do,” said Luffman. “We want to keep children safe. I am not your parent, but I want to take what I’m going to tell you to heart.”
Luffman showed the group equipment used to collect evidence against sexual predators online. The chief tool in his arsenal is his laptop computer that can allow officers to plug in to a suspect’s computer and look “inside” at pictures without the suspects computer realizing it. He explained to the campers it was important to capture illegal pictures for evidence without modifying them so that suspects could be charged.
In addition to the devices that allow the location and capture of digital evidence, technology also allows Luffman and his colleagues to be in contact with other officers nationwide. He told the group many predators frequent public websites. In response to this, officers have deployed technology that can track the transmission of data worldwide to identify illegal images.
“Digitally, pictures are even better than DNA evidence in some ways,” commented Luffman.
He told the group not to share their password or put personal information, pictures of themselves or of their friends on sites such as Facebook. He said that individuals are always out there “fishing” for personal information and photos which they use to establish phony credit cards and IDs.
Luffman said the biggest mistake many make is accepting as many friends as you can on sites such as Facebook. He said if they do not know or have met someone do not accept them as a friend. Finally, he cautioned the campers about impersonating someone they are not online.
“Do not do this. It can get you into trouble,” cautioned Luffman. “Your age doesn’t matter. It is not a defense.
“Once you put in on the Internet or text or email, you can’t take it back,” said Luffman. “Even though you delete it, it does not go away. Don’t believe television or movies. It’s not real life.”
Reach David Broyles at firstname.lastname@example.org or 719-1952.