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Students step into ‘CSI’ shoes

Boise teacher introduces teens to forensic science

Joe Estrella Idaho Statesman

BOISE – Would you rather learn science in Biology 101 or work a crime scene and study fingerprints, DNA, maggots and blood spatter? Eagle High School students Rhees Stilinovich and David Dionato spent a day examining blood types and DNA at a crime scene.

“A person’s blood type can put them at the scene,” Stilinovich said. “But their DNA can link them to the crime.”

Stilinovich, 16, and Dionato, 17, are not cops on TV. They are part of a class that is getting students excited about science by processing a crime scene, using maggots to determine time of death, fingerprinting, analyzing blood spatters, and determining race and sex based on skeletal remains, DNA testing and ballistics.

Dionato analyzed the blood spatters.

“With a knife wound, for example, a blood spatter indicating a downward trajectory means the attacker was probably right-handed, because with a left-handed person the spatter would be more horizontal,” said Dionato, who plans to major in criminal justice at Boise State University and then wants to work for the Ada County Sheriff’s Office.

“I have my whole life planned out,” he said. “I want to retire a captain with the Sheriff’s Office.”

But student Blake Oren said that while crime scene investigation is a possibility for a career, he likes the class because it “expands your horizons.”

The course is the brainchild of Eagle High School biology teacher Misty Sterk. About another 60 students will take the class next semester. The hope is to turn forensic science into a yearlong course next year.

Sterk became intrigued with forensic medicine as a student at the University of Colorado. She saw daily reports on the investigation into the JonBenet Ramsey murder in 1996 and the Columbine High School massacre in 1999.

She said her first job with the 60 students who signed up for her class this semester has been to emphasize that a career in forensic science is nothing like what they see each week in the various incarnations of the “CSI” television series.

“Interest in the course was clearly inspired by the television show. So my first objective was to show them that crimes are not solved in 60 minutes, minus commercials,” Sterk said.

To prepare for her class, Sterk sought help from local law enforcement.

The Boise Police Department provided a lesson in ballistics.

“I’d fire and then ask, ‘Did I hit it?’ And Detective (Bill) Bones would say, ‘Open your eyes and see,’ ” Sterk said.

No firearms will be used in her classroom instruction, Sterk said. Instead, students will learn about how shots fired into a windshield produce different patterns, and how to determine which shot was fired first.

Don Frickey, a criminologist and latent-print expert with the Ada County Crime Lab in Boise, schooled Sterk on fingerprinting and restoring serial numbers that have been filed off stolen goods.

Sterk learned how to process a crime scene from Detective Jaime Barker of the Ada County Sheriff’s Office, who taught her about blood spatter patterns, type of weapon used, crime scene management, diagramming the scene, prioritizing and documenting evidence.

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