2006-03-17 / News

CSI: Columbia With a trace

By Amanda Taylor

Lt. Alex Layton, a trace evidence expert with SLED.Lt. Alex Layton, a trace evidence expert with SLED.

Due to great interest in crime show dramas like CSI: Crime Scene Investigation , the Shepherd's Center of Columbia is holding a nine-week class called CSI: Columbia. The class features a different speaker each week who specializes in a particular field of criminal investigation.

A criminal almost always takes something from or leaves something at a crime scene. The evidence is sometimes easy to see, like weapons and clothing. But often, the evidence is almost invisible, unless you know how to find it.

These small and varied pieces of evidence, called trace evidence, range from fibers, gunprimer, gunpowder, paint, explosives and other miscellaneous items. Forensic analysis of trace evidence can positively place a criminal at the scene of a crime or at least add strong supporting evidence.

Lt. Alex Layton, a trace evidence expert with SLED for over 34 years, was this week's featured CSI: Columbia speaker. Layton is a graduate of Clemson University with a degree in chemistry. He has three children, ages 24, 22, and 20.

Layton has been working with forensic trace evidence for the last 14 years, and has seen a lot of changes in the science. Infared spectrometers, plasma-mass spectrometers, and scanning electron microscopes with up to 100,000 times magnification are just some of the high-tech tools Layton uses at SLED.

Layton and other forensic trace analysts have some cases they may work on for months or even years.

"Don't believe everything you see on CSI," Layton said. "Those guys have an hour; we may have several years."

SLED had in Orangeburg about four years ago that took nearly a year to solve. It was trace evidence that finally cracked it, Layton said.

This case involved rape attacks of more than six women in the Orangeburg area. None of the women could identify their attacker or give any strong clues to his identity. The one thing several of the women did say is that he smelled strongly of oil.

This small bit of information led investigators to look at the victims' clothing for oil residue. Some oily residue was found and analyzed.

Under the microscope, investigators found tiny traces of a metal used only in the manufacture of automobile racing parts.

It turns out that there was a manufacturing plant of that kind in Orangeburg, and one technician who used a thick oil to lubricate the newly made metal parts.

When presented with the evidence, the man confessed to the crimes.

The final CSI: Columbia class will feature Lt. Roy Paschal, Forensic Artist with SLED, next week in The Columbia Star .

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