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Mon, Jul 28, 2014

CSI: MTSU gives students insight into forensic science

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A dorm room on MTSU’s campus was transformed into a crime scene last week.

Blood drops littered the floor, bullet holes scarred the walls, a girl was missing and possibly abducted.

Luckily, it wasn’t a real crime scene but a recreation for the second annual CSI: MTSU, a three-day workshop for 10th-12th grades from Rutherford and surrounding counties designed to impart an understanding of forensic anthropology.

The program is the brainchild of Hugh Berryman, an anthropology professor and forensics specialist at MTSU, and Amy Phelps, an MTSU chemistry professor. With the help and expertise of Berryman and Phelps, 25 high school students got to work the crime scene and experience something they only see on television.

The name CSI: MTSU is derived from the hit TV show CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, a Las Vegas-based CBS crime-drama about murder-solving forensic investigators.

“CSI’s had a tremendous effect, not just on forensics, but also on jurors,” Berryman said.

Berryman added the “CSI Effect” has been a topic at recent forensic science lectures he’s spoken at and criminal cases have run into trouble from jurors who know enough to be dangerous.

“There have been cases with hung juries with a juror who questioned why the expert didn’t do X, Y or Z test, because of some hokey thing that’s come out of Hollywood,” he said.

The “CSI Effect” has also been positive because of an increased understanding of science in crime investigation and increased interest in a younger crowd, Berryman said.

Like the TV team on CSI, student-investigators examined a recreation of an actual crime scene, collected and processed evidence, conducted interviews and formulated their own theories of the crime.

The students were presented with a recreation of an actual crime scene and were taught the fundamentals in collecting and processing evidence including DNA, fingerprints, hair and fibers, simulated blood spatter, and shoe prints.

Several of the student-investigators, like Emma Foster, Darci Brandon and Kandice Taylor, returned to CSI: MTSU from last year and are considering studying it in college.


Brandon said she came last year because of the television show, but she came back because it was fun.

“I came back after learning what we did last year and coming back and applying it this year,” Brandon said.

Foster, also a returning investigator, said she fell in love with forensics at last year’s CSI: MTSU, and she’s considering studying it in college.

Taylor enjoyed working with the nationally-known Berryman.

“He’s very hands-on and knows how to explain it in our terms, but he uses the big words, too,” Taylor said.

Berryman has plenty of experience teaching the basics of forensics by holding workshops for law enforcement professionals as well as high school and college students.

In Berryman’s two years at MTSU, he has started the Forensic Institute for Research and Education (FIRE) and the Forensic Anthropology Search and Rescue Team (FASR), which assists local law enforcement in crime scene investigations.

Michelle Willard can be contacted at 615-869-0816 or mwillard@murfreesboropost.com.
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