August 1, 2014

Latent Hit of the Year Award

Massachusetts Examiner Honored

Every year, our Criminal Justice Information Services Division gives its Latent Hit of the Year Award to latent print examiners and/or law enforcement officers who solve a major violent crime using the Bureau’s Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System, or IAFIS.

This year, we honor Massachusetts State Police (MSP) Trooper Christopher Dolan, a latent print examiner in the MSP’s Crime Scene Services Section, for the role he played in identifying the killer in a 1983 cold case.

The victim, 29-year-old Rodney Wyman, and a co-worker had traveled from Connecticut to Malden, Massachusetts, to install windows at a construction site in the summer of 1983. On the night of August 22, the two men settled down in their motel suite to watch television. They heard a noise in a back room, and Wyman got up to check it out. As he approached the door, a gunman fired a fatal shot into Wyman’s chest. The gunman, demanding money from Wyman’s co-worker, brutally attacked the man and then began removing valuables from the room. But when he tried lifting the television set, a tamper alarm was activated, and two hotel employees rushed to the room. One of the employees saw a man exit the rear window of the suite and chased him, but the intruder escaped.

The motel room was processed by the MSP’s Crime Scene Services Section. More than 23 latent prints were recovered—several were deemed of no value, and others were identified as those of the deceased victim and employees of the hotel. The remaining prints were searched against the Massachusetts Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS), which was relatively new at the time. There were no results produced, and eventually, the case went cold

But 27 years later, the MSP—looking to apply newer investigative technologies to cold cases—requested a reassessment of the latent evidence from the Wyman homicide investigation. That task fell to Dolan, who first searched two latent images collected from the television set against the state AFIS, with negative results. He then requested a search of the FBI’s IAFIS and, in less than 10 minutes, received a response containing possible candidates for comparison purposes. Dolan examined the evidence and positively identified the prints to the first candidate in the IAFIS response—Shawn Marsh.

Based on this identification, the MSP reopened the case. Investigators located Marsh and requested additional prints from him, which resulted in an additional match to palmprint evidence recovered from the crime scene. Marsh was indicted in September 2011, pled guilty in April 2013, and was sentenced to a lengthy prison term.

It turned out that some of Marsh’s fingerprints had been available in the state AFIS at the time of the murder. However, the database was fairly new to the MSP, and those processing crime scene evidence at that time considered the prints of the right and left little fingers of limited value, so it was common practice to exclude them from the overall AFIS database in order to conserve resources. Why is that an important fact? Because the original latent prints lifted from the television set in the motel room crime scene came from a left little finger.

The full set of Marsh’s fingerprints contained in IAFIS—which ultimately led to his identification—came from another arrest.

But the lesson was learned, and today, the Massachusetts State Police train law enforcement officers to collect prints from all 10 fingers when processing suspects.

Next Generation Identification to Replace IAFIS

Currently, more than 18,000 local, state, tribal, federal, and international partners electronically submit requests to our Next Generation Identification System (NGI), which is replacing our Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS). NGI, the world’s largest collection of digital fingerprint images and criminal history information, houses more than 77 million criminal identities.

Advances in technology, customer requirements, and the growing demand for IAFIS services compelled the FBI to create the NGI program to bring identification services to the next level. Being deployed incrementally, NGI advances our biometric identification and investigation services, providing new biometric functionality such as facial recognition, improved latent searches, immediate responses related to the Repository for Individuals of Special Concern, and a fingerprint index of wanted persons, sexual offender registry subjects, known or appropriately suspected terrorists, and other persons of special interest.

NGI provides timely and accurate services by identifying individuals through name, date of birth, fingerprint image comparisons and other descriptors, and provides criminal history records on individuals for law enforcement and civil purposes. The system is designed to process criminal fingerprint submissions in two hours or less, and in April 2014 alone, NGI was instrumental in identifying more than 18,000 fugitives.

With NGI, the FBI is dramatically improving all of the major features of the current IAFIS, including system flexibility, storage capacity, accuracy and timeliness of responses, and interoperability with other systems, such as the biometric matching systems of the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense.