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Forensics panel gives a glimpse of real crime scene investigation

Last Thursday, UMass' law school campus was able to welcome two experts, a husband and wife team both known as talented practitioners in their respective fields.

As attendees first entered the courtroom normally used for trial practice by UMass' law students, they were treated to the jazzy strains of songs from the musical movie “Chicago.” Numbers that included lines such as, "We both reached for the gun!" and "He had it comin’!" seemed oddly appropriate; the music was a whimsical way to set the mood for what was to come.

What was to come was a series of slides - some of them quite graphic - accompanied by the experiences and insights of the experts who displayed them. Dr. Michael Baden, of HBO's “Autopsy” series, spent a year as Chief Medical Examiner in New York City. He has written several books about his experiences and his methodologies regarding the demands of being a forensic pathologist and the rigors demanded by forensics in general. The most recent of his books were written cooperatively with his wife, Mrs. Linda Kenney-Baden. Mrs. Kenney-Baden holds a J.D. and is a practicing criminal defense lawyer, working with Project Innocence when she is able.

Dr. Baden was the first to speak, and the focus of his presentation remained on his own work. Despite having been in an interview with CNN just before the panel began as a commenting expert on a jawbone found in Aruba, Dr. Baden's demeanor was approachable and jovial. Behind him, slides displayed a parade of exhumed bodies, murder scenes, and blood spatter. He described being asked to assist in the re-examination of Medgar Evers, who had been dead by that time for nearly three decades.

The original autopsy report had been misplaced, and the prosecutor wanted Dr. Baden to compile a new one. "For a pathologist, burial is just another word for long-term storage," he joked, then went on to describe the amazing condition in which Mr. Evers was found upon exhumation, and the evidence that could still be uncovered. Dr. Baden described, too, his experiences at trial. He noted in particular that the accused assassin, Byron De La Beckwith, not only fell asleep during Dr. Baden's (substantially damaging) testimony, but began to snore loudly. Dr. Baden also recounted his role in the O.J. Simpson trial, as well as his work with much older crimes.

When Mrs. Kenney-Baden took the podium, it was to approach the subject matter from a different angle. She spoke of a wider scale, using her experiences as a trial lawyer to illustrate greater difficulties in the justice system. She was hired as co-counsel on the famous New Jersey Four case, where NJ State Troopers were accused of shooting four unarmed minority teens that had been pulled over for speeding. This case not only sparked an investigation into racial profiling among state troopers, but made it policy for police officers to carry video cameras mounted on their dashboards. Her message was clear from beginning to end: defense lawyers are not always out to get guilty clients off. She is clearly very passionate about changing and improving the law from the defendant's side of the courtroom.

The couple was pleasant and down to earth. They provided insight into two very different parts of the justice system. While many of the posters were put up on short notice, a fair amount of people were able to attend and glean information from these experienced professionals.

Dr. and Mrs. Baden remained afterward for questions and a book signing, and it was indicated by Dean Robert V. Ward, Jr., that these would not be the only experts invited to the law school. He hopes to bring in a forensic anthropologist, a vocation made popular by the television series “Bones”, as well as a forensic psychologist (fictionalized in “Criminal Minds,” “Silence of the Lambs,” etc). For those interested in a career in forensics, all eyes remain on UMass Law.

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