The Evidence Cascade

Elkton house burglars leave clues at crime scene – Cecil Daily: Local News.


 The one condemned to die is to be executed on the testimony of two or three witnesses. No one is to be executed on the testimony of a single witness.         –Deuteronomy 17:6

I believe an acceptable punishment for certain crimes—after a swift, just, and objective judicial process—is death. I also firmly agree with Deuteronomy 17:6 regarding the testimony of a single witness.

The Silent Witness

Truth-be-told, cases with only one witness are extremely rare because there are many kinds of witnesses. Eyewitnesses are good but the silent witnesses are better. Evidence, physical and otherwise, has often been called the silent witness.  These can be:

  • Documentary – photo/video, digital (computer), actual documents
  • Physical – fingerprint, DNA, ballistic, hair & fiber, fracture, etc…
  • Circumstantial – logical conclusions drawn from known facts surrounding an event

Witnesses to any crime add up if the investigators can find them.

My realm of expertise lies in physical evidence. But all evidence must be studied under the same standards.

  • Evidence must be scrutinized through an impartial lens.
  • All evidence, laid side-by-side, should draw the same conclusion.
  • Any differences must be considered and form a logical explanation.
  • The intent of such an examination is not to determine guilt or innocence, but fact (truth).

The Evidence Cascade

I affirm the testimony of a single witness should not justify a conviction. However, one piece of evidence of seeming minimal value can start what I call an evidence cascade. In the news story linked above, a single piece of evidence (store receipt) found in the crime scene did just that.

Having worked similar cases, I can make an educated guess about the possible cascade of evidence that followed:

  • The receipt at the scene bore a store location, date, and time.
    • Provides the suspect location at a date and time
    • Provides DNA and fingerprints (of suspect or story employee)
  • The store security video at the location identified on the receipt
    • Provides documentary evidence (one suspect wearing the t-shirt at a specific location, date, and time)
    • Provides documentary evidence (second suspect associated with the first in the eyewitness testimony)
  •  An item handled by the suspects at the store provides physical evidence (fingerprints, DNA, etc…).
  • DNA or fingerprints on receipt of store employee who gave suspect the receipt.
    • Provides additional eyewitness by store employee.
  • The t-shirt left at the scene, and evidence from it enters the cascade.
    • Matches physical description of eyewitnesses
    • Hairs and fibers
    • DNA
  • Locating the suspects by examining evidence above lead to an arrest.
  • Additional evidence is provided by the arrested suspects.
    • The suspect wearing or in possession of victim’s clothing provides physical evidence
    • A knife in possession of the suspects provides physical evidence (fibers from the cut screen at the crime scene).
    • Other items stolen from victim in suspect’s possession provide physical and documentary evidence.
    • Testimonial and documentary (verbal and written confession)

I am not privy to the investigative details of this case. I do know that if the knowledge, time, and equipment are available, the smallest piece can spearhead an overwhelming case against a criminal. Then the future of the suspect lies solely in the hands and mercy of the court.

The Burden of Proof

As is my tendency, I evaluate what I know about a particular crime scene investigation, my knowledge of physical evidence, and what I read in biblical scripture. Then I form a conclusion based on them.

  • First, I have objectively examined evidences that prove to me biblical scripture teaches truth about the spiritual and behavioral nature of humans.
    • I am human.
  • Second, if the first is true—and I use the same examination standards—do I see any other teachings in the bible that I cannot logically accept as true?
    • I do not.
  • Third, would the smallest piece of evidence I have left behind in my life cascade to prove my innocence or guilt before God?
    • After considering this question I can only conclude:
      • I am guilty.
      • Being guilty, my future lies solely in the hands and mercy of God.
  • Fourth, if the first and second are true
    • God has already deliberated my case and ruled on it.
      • See John 3:16
      • Jesus Christ has taken my punishment for me.

I greatly encourage everyone to undertake the same investigation I did. Determine the validity of the first and second points. If you come to the same conclusion you must ask yourself:

  • Would an evidence cascade of your life prove guilt or innocence?
  • How many witnesses would testify against you?
  • What hope do you have?

For Goodness’ Sake – Don’t Forget – You Are Being Watched


Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us…     Hebrews 12:1

The intent of the video highlighted above was prankish at worst; but the story makes a good point. In today’s world of Internet video-voyeurism, anyone with a smart phone is a potential video journalist. The video would rack up more views had the officer made an ethical, rather than physical misstep. This should serve as a warning for anyone who seeks a career in law enforcement or public service.

Mainstream media provides a feeding tube for the world’s footage-hungry appetite. Now, more than ever, the greater the perceived uprightness, the greater the world expects failure. People who actually live the life they preach actually impress most people. Others relish the sight of a hero figure ousted from public favor as a hypocrite.

The once common tendency to hold a higher view of good (even if only perceived) for goodness’ sake and mourn its loss has faded. As a people we have grown to love when the mighty fall, particularly when we feel they deserve it. I do not claim superior knowledge of the goings-on in heaven but I cannot imagine the angels rejoiced when Lucifer fell. I envisage mourning among them that day though the punishment fair. One who held an exceedingly upright status chose rebellion; and for goodness’ sake had justly been cast out.

Law enforcers and public officials should strive for—and hang onto—an upright status. The dark desire to see good proven evil makes them popular targets. I will not lie and say we automatically deserve a righteous status. We share the common flaws all humans have. However, a life in law enforcement or public office demands a higher standard and rightly so. Positions of authority lie under a higher standard of judgment as well. Anyone in law enforcement who knowingly fails the trust placed in his or her position deserves just and swift punishment. We should all—for goodness’ sake—mourn when this happens as well.

A Crime Scene Investigator’s actions will be recorded, questioned, and critiqued by supervisors, judges, juries, media, and public opinion. They will suffer malice for making a mistake and extreme retribution for negligence. But if you desire a career in C.S.I. do not give up hope.

I teach investigators four practices, which can sustain them throughout their career.

      1. Always feel like you are being watched.

          – This tends to keep you honest and attentive to do your job right.

       2. Your professional and ethical reputation leads to success.

          – A good reputation makes you a trusted adviser and associate.

           – A bad reputation makes you a distrusted outsider.

       3. A task properly done, and documented, will stand up against any objective scrutiny.

           – Truth will eventually prove itself.

        4. The decision to do the job properly lies in your hands.

            – No one can make you do a good job. You reap what you sew.

I try molding my instruction in the style of Hebrews’ author. He taught people the way in a kind and caring manner. In truth, he taught the bad and the good of life. He gave them the knowledge to do well and warned them of the consequences otherwise.

The four practices I teach investigators can greatly help them become the best C.S.I. or Christian (or both) you can. After all, both jobs have the common goal of revealing the truth.

Let the video also serve as warning for Christians. The writer of Hebrews 12:1 accurately stated, there is a great cloud of witnesses watching us. Many hope you will stumble and fail at living out what you speak. This empowers their denial of God. If you make a mistake they will deride you. Intentionally not living what you preach will cause you to be raked-over-the-coals as a hypocrite. Others do yearn (albeit secretly) for your success. It strengthens those who already believe and lends others hope that what you represent just might hold truth. They will listen more intently to what you say.

Society quakes at news reports about government surveillance and documentation of our lives. We fear because the world’s authorities have not always proven trustworthy with the information they gather. Remember—the world always watches, waiting to discredit you and what you believe. Sounds dire, but still true. In contrast God watches over you, ready to guide your every step for your goodness’ sake. This surveillance we should really have no problem with.