Are Those Fingerprints Fresh?

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. — Romans 12:2 (NASB)

Even though I might sound like a rookie, I have a confession to make. When processing a scene for fingerprints (friction ridge impressions), there is little that tickles my fancy more than a crisp clear impression developing before my eyes. Even with a quarter century experience under my belt it’s still exciting!

Each powdered-brush stroke reveals more of the pattern. It forms and widens. Darkened ridges rise and recurve. Some split into bifurcations. Others abruptly stop as ridge endings. The combination of details are unending and amazing. Each unveiled detail feeds my confidence. I will identify the person who left it. Fingerprints can be beautiful.

God, fearfully and wonderfully, formed our bodies in our mother’s womb. He used the amalgam of data encoded in our DNA, gentle movement of amniotic fluid around us, and our touching the walls of our pre-birth home to engrave ridge impressions into our fingers, palms, and foot soles.

DNA is heralded as the ultimate evidence despite its weaknesses. Friction ridge matching is the workhorse, the most widely used source of identification in the world. However a match does not prove a person’s guilt only their presence. Depending on the composition of the print, the surface it is on, and the surrounding environment, it can be viable for minutes or months.

I can identify a person from impressions and testify to his or her presence at a scene. But based solely on the fingerprint I cannot say when the person was there. There are certain signs (e.g., clarity vs. blurring) and environmental situations, which will hint at a time frame, but they would not stand in a court of law. If a suspect in a crime had been at the scene prior to the crime on a legitimate basis, the fingerprint match can be worthless.

An ability to nail down the time an impression was deposited, would be a great boon to crime scene investigation. Now, as explained in the video above, researchers may break this time barrier. They are observing many of the signs that I observe in a fingerprint in the process of validating their findings.

I previously posted an analogy about processing a scene for fingerprints to show the presence of a suspect at a crime scene and processing a person to unveil the God’s presence in a person’s life.

But how fresh are those prints left by God in a person’s life? How long has it been since He touched them?

In Galatians 5:22-23 the Apostle Paul speaks about “fruit of the Spirit“.  These gifts are a free sample of what we will be like in eternity. They are displayed in a person’s behavior and remain the truest evidence that God has touched their life. There is a crisp newness about them.

When people come into a relationship with God, through Jesus Christ, they undergo a transformation that continues the rest of their life. However, if a blurring in that newness is observed in them. If God’s fingerprints are not clear and crisp, it is a good indicator they have stepped away from relationship and His hands.

Through his writing in Romans 12:2 the Apostle Paul urges Christians to continue in transformation, by staying in His hands. The fingerprints of God are beautiful indeed.


A CSI Guy Book Review: God’s Crime Scene by J. Warner Wallace

God's Crime Scene

It will lead to an opportunity for your testimony. – Luke 21:13 (NASB)

Occasionally I will read a book that moves me to write a post from a Crime Scene Investigator’s point of view, a CSI guy book review. I just finished reading one of those books.

Even in my first few days of Crime Scene Investigation training I was taught to prepare for court testimony. The jury is a CSI’s audience. Everything done in a crime scene investigation is ultimately for their benefit. I ingrain this concept into every trainee I have.

The first time I took the stand in front of a jury was as a witness for the prosecution in a burglary case. I had developed and collected fingerprints at the scene. I later matched those prints to a suspect, the defendant.

The judge, jury, and defense scrutinized me. I was nervous. How is it said—as a long-tail cat in a room full of rocking chairs?

After 25 years in the field and many, many, many appearances in court I am not so nervous. Primarily because training and experience give me certainty that what I testify is true and accurate. I also know what kinds of tactics will likely be used against me in cross examination. I am ready.

 In his book Cold Case Christianity, Los Angeles PD detective J. Warner Wallace uses cold-case skills to investigate the claims of Biblical Gospels. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and following the meticulous investigation. I found his writing detailed, understandable, and well researched.

Then I heard in his newest book God’s Crime Scene, J. Warner Wallace continues to use cold-case skills. This time investigating Divine design in our universe. I did not hesitate to pre-order it.

When I received and read it I found no disappointment. Granted, Wallace covers some intellectually deep areas of study (e.g. the origin of life, signs of design, consciousness, free will, and the existence of evil). He uses a precise “inside or outside the room” technique.

However he augments his academic-level thinking, observations, and conclusions with understandable info-graphs and anecdotes from some of his former cold-case investigations. A good example is his use of a murder weapon, a garrote, to explain irreducible complexity and intent of design.

By using the statements of experts (virtual witnesses) who both oppose and support his conclusions he proves-up an unbiased investigation. He also does not take an offensive (attack-dog), tone is his presentation. Juries are favorable to both these characteristics.

As a CSI, I must clearly and convincingly explain to a jury:

  • the techniques and equipment I use at a crime scene investigation
  • the reasons I use them
  • the results of  their use
  • the conclusions I make based on those results

Testimony is given to the jury in the face of a judge, a prosecutor, and a defense attorney. The judge’s responsibility is to ensure that the laws are fairly upheld. The prosecutor presents the case and evidence against the defendant. The defense presents the opposing view of the case and evidence for the defendant.

In my experience defense attorneys usually cross examine the prosecutor’s witnesses with intent to:

  • discredit them, their training, and/or their expertise
  • discredit the validity of the evidence or its analysis

In the end each court case is decided by the conclusions of judge or jury. What they think of the witness and the veracity of evidence presented in testimony make their decision for, or against, possible.

In our culture there are many who will attack the veracity of scripture and belief in a Creator God. I have noted they take very much the same approach that defense attorneys do.

After reading J. Warner Wallace’s newest book I can honestly say he makes a very good case for Divine design. He is obviously aware of the points I made above and executes them well. If I was in a jury box listening to his testimony I would be hard pressed to not decide in his favor.

In Luke 21, Jesus said that His followers would face persecution and trial for their beliefs. He proclaimed this would lead to a chance to witness and give testimony for Him.

This persecution has been consistent since Christ walked in Jerusalem. It is certainly prevalent in our culture today. But do not be nervous. Pray for wisdom, read scripture, read books like Cold Case Christianity and God’s Crime Scene. By doing so you can be certain in what, and why, you believe and be ready to testify on His behalf.

I fully recommend this book and give it 4 out of 5 CSIG stars. It would have been 5 out of 5 but I am envious that I did not write it.

The CSI’s Utility Belt Part 2 – The Anti-Invisibility Wand

Then Elisha prayed and said, “O Lord, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.” And the Lord opened the servant’s eyes and he saw; and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.   – 2 Kings 6:17 (NASB)


In the horror movie classic The Invisible Man the super-villain was only dangerous because he was invisible. He committed fiendish criminal acts but because the police could never see him, the crime spree continued. He was stopped only when his foot tracks in the snow gave away his location.

Unfortunately some evidence is overlooked because bad search practices are used. But some of the most valuable evidence is easily overlooked by even the most astute Crime Scene Investigator because it is invisible to the naked eye. This evidence, referred to as latent (hidden) must be made visible to be of value. In the movie the crime spree was only stopped when the invisibility was eliminated. Similarly, some crimes can only be stopped when the invisibility of the evidence is eliminated revealing the identity of the criminal.

Journalist Charles van Heck interviewed a renowned Criminalist and blood stain analyst, Dr. Herbert MacDonell. In the article MacDonell explains how he created a wand to reveal latent fingerprints. The wand countered the invisibility of the latent prints with an invisible force of it’s own – magnetism. MacDonell recounts that he “felt there should be a better, more gentle, way to process latent fingerprints with powder.”

He assembled a wand using glass tubing, a coat hanger, a bar magnet, and some rubber tubing. The MAGNA Brush™ was born and soon became a very popular tool for Crime Scene Investigators (including myself) across the world. The June 8, 1961, broadcast of THE TODAY SHOW featured an interview of MacDonell by Jane Pauley. The tool was used on live TV to enhance Jane’s latent fingerprints on a 3×5 index card.

not Jane Paully

I am definitely a magnetic brush fan. On many surfaces it provides a cleaner high detail print than traditional brushes do. It allows me to see the invisible and identify the criminal. In the video below you can see the magnetic (iron based) powder take on the shape of the magnetic field around the wand tip. When a traditional fingerprint brush is used the bristles make contact with the latent and can sometimes damage it. The magnetic wand is valuable because the fingerprint powder becomes the brush. The only thing making contact with the latent is the powder, so little to no damage to the latent is likely. In his later years Dr. Herbert MacDonell has come upon some troubling times. However if he never made another contribution to crime scene investigation the MAGNA Brush makes his work worthy of respect. He invented the Anti-Invisibility Wand.

In the second book of Kings the prophet Elisha and his servant were surrounded by a hostile army. The servant was terrified. Despite Elisha’s words the servant needed to see the hidden. Elisha prayed that the latent world would be made visible to the servant and it was. The servant saw an angelic army surrounding and protecting them. What an awe inspiring relief that must have been.

In each of our lives we face dangers seen and unseen. We need to know that as an army of unseen protection surrounded Elisha and his servant they surround us as well. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, the One invisible force of God who lives in you is greater than the one invisible force of evil who is in the world.