CSI -- More than TV
Investigating a murder takes more than high-tech science.
Judges and prosecutors talk about the "CSI effect" -- jurors who seem skeptical when a murder case does not include forensic evidence such as DNA, hair and fibers found using high-tech tools of science.
Well, "As Seen on TV," is not reality.
Take this week's murder trial of Glenn Hansen, the 47-year-old Overbrook man found guilty Tuesday by a Philadelphia jury and sentenced to life in prison for the 2005 killing of girlfriend Taneke Daniels, 27.
According to trial testimony, Hansen smothered Daniels on May 12, 2005, fearing her testimony against him at an impending domestic abuse hearing would return the convicted sex offender to prison for an extended stay. After Daniels was dead, Hansen wrapped her body in a painter's tarp, covered her head with a plastic shopping bag and drove to New Jersey's Pine Barrens.
Daniels' body was not discovered until April 24, 2006 when construction workers excavating a cranberry bog in a remote part of the Brendan T. Byrne State Forest, in Woodland Township, Burlington County, saw part of a head and arm protruding from the sandy soil. A year in the ground, exposed to the elements, had mostly skeletonized Daniels' body.
But one of the New Jersey State Police detectives on the scene, Sgt. John Garkowski, noticed skin remaining on two fingers of the body's left hand.
This is where the CSI stuff comes in. Garkowski testified that he took the fingers with him that day to the state police lab and began a "rehydration process." First the fingertips were washed of dirt and debris with distilled water and then soaked in alcohol, which Garkowski told the jury dried out the skin and "fixed the ridges and furrows" of the fingerprints.
Garkowski testified that the layer of skin with the fingerprints slid off the finger tips. He carefully inked and photographed the prints with a macro lens that let him obtain two usable close-ups of the fingerprints.
Impressive as the work was, the resurrected fingerprints only got Garkowski so far. A lot of bodies have turned up in the Pine Barrens and there are even more missing persons reports in Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and Delaware.
The lead to the corpse's identity was unwittingly provided by Daniels herself.
On Sept. 24, 2004, Daniels was arrested for shoplifting by Lower Merion Township police. It was her first and only criminal charge. The fingerprints recovered by Garkowski matched those taken by Lower Merion police. Daniels' family confirmed that she had broken her ankle in an old auto accident, which corroborated surgical pins holding the corpse's ankle together.
The identification led detectives to a domestic abuse charge Daniels filed against Hansen following a fight they had on April 7, 2005. A court hearing on the charge had been set for May 23, 2005 but by then Daniels was missing. Hansen, long suspected by Daniels' family of causing her disappearance, became the prime suspect.
The final link in the case came from Hansen's sister, Kelly Hansen, 41, who testified that her brother called two days after Daniels' disappearance and confided that he had killed her and buried her in the Pinelands. Hansen testified about twice joining her brother in trips to Daniels' secret grave site, where he went to reassure himself that she was still buried.
The defense put forth by his attorneys was that Hansen panicked and buried Daniels after she died of a drug overdose, though toxicology tests on her body yielded no evidence of illicit drugs.
Hansen never confessed and did not testify at his trial. He chose to make no statement before he was sentenced by Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Shelley Robins New.