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Harris County Grand Jury Visits 'Body Farm,' Crime Lab

Oct. 10, 2011
SHSU Media Contact: Beth Kuhles

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Representatives from the grand jury, district attorney and arson squad in Harris County recently toured the SHSU Regional Crime Lab in The Woodlands.

Members of the Harris County Grand Jury, District Attorney’s Office and the Houston Fire Department Arson Squad recently visited the Regional Crime Lab and Southeast Texas Applied Forensic Science facility at Sam Houston State University.

“The tours gave us the opportunity to see close-up the outstanding work being done at the SHSU Crime Lab and the fascinating research being conducted at the STAFS facility,” said Trisha Pollard, an SHSU alumna and foreman of the Harris County Grand Jury. “The crime lab tour gave us a better understanding about controlled substances and the expense and complexity of running the tests as well as the enormity of the problem.”

“We’ve had some cases where it has been a long time before homicide victims were discovered," Pollard said. "The 'Body Farm' tour gave us an insight into the investigator’s role in trying to determine the time of death and methods used to determine the cause of death.”

Pollard, who also serves on the Texas State University System Board of Regents, arranged the tours for the grand jury to provide a first-hand look at the investigation and research processes that go into drug and homicide cases. She also invited members of the criminal justice community in Harris County to participate.

Pollard was instrumental in getting STAFS, also known as the “Body Farm,” located at Sam Houston State University. It’s one of only four willed-body donation centers for forensic science in the world. The donations are a tremendous resource for education and research in various fields of science, such as anthropology, pathology, biology and chemistry. Research conducted at STAFS aids in solving crimes by discovering evidence on and in the body and studying the timing of processes after death.

“This is one of our most cost-effective research facilities,” said Vincent Webb, dean of the College of Criminal Justice. “We appreciate Mrs. Pollard’s efforts to bring it to Sam Houston State University.”

Opened in 2009, the nine-acre facility also provides summer courses in crime scene investigations, pattern evidence, forensic anthropology, and entomology to law enforcement personnel, forensic science experts, high school teachers and students. The facility is also used for research by other universities in Texas, such as Texas A&M and the University of Houston, and there are plans to expand opportunities for scientific study via the Internet.

Among the courses taught at STAFS are forensic anthropology; the recognition, recovery and analysis of human remains; the recognition of evidence associated with a crime scene involving human remains; and the necessary collection, preservation and transportation of evidence so contamination and compromise of evidence is eliminated.

Participants can earn credits for attending these programs from the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Education and the International Association for Identification.

The Regional Crime Lab, which opened in November 2010, is an independent, accredited crime lab that offers fee-based services for law enforcement agencies, medical examiners, attorneys, other laboratories or organizations, and the general public. It provides testing for controlled substances and toxicology in criminal, civil and death investigation cases. The lab provides analytical, testimonial and support services in these cases.

The lab was created to address a backlog in cases at state and Houston area crime labs and to provide a facility for outlying rural counties in Southeast Texas. It provides timely processing of controlled substances and blood alcohol tests as well as a secure internet reporting system that provides access to the results 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The lab is capable of processing 5,000 cases annually, and is currently handling cases for Montgomery County and other counties in the region.

 

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