Photo and story by Emily Blalock / Contributing Writer
Internationally-recognized forensic scientist Paulette Sutton gave a lecture, titled “Murder in the Mountains… Or Was it Really Suicide?”, to students and community members Tuesday night at 6:30 p.m. in the Student Union Ballroom.
The lecture, hosted by the Forensic Institute for Research and Education, better known as F.I.R.E., was part of the William M. Bass Legends in Forensic Science Lectureship, which has hosted a new speaker every semester since 2007.
Hugh Berryman, the director of F.I.R.E., began the event by thanking other organizations and people on campus that made the lecture possible, including the Distinguished Lecture Committee, the Office of the University Provost, the College of Liberal Arts, the Middle Tennessee Forensic Science Society, and the Department of Criminal Justice Administration and the Department Sociology and Anthropology.
He then introduced Sutton.
“She started out as a forensic serologist working with body fluids from forensic cases. She then became involved with blood pattern analysis at crime scenes. Paulette became the Director of Investigations and the Assistant Director of Forensic Services for the Division of Forensic Pathology,” he said. “It is just amazing what a skilled person like Paulette can do at a scene that looks like total chaos, and then piece from total chaos something that makes sense, something that’s used in court.”
Sutton is an expert in bloodstain analysis and used a case she worked as an example of what her job entails.
She started by defining bloodstain patterns as a group of spatters created from the same activity.
She used a PowerPoint presentation to show all of the crime scene photos she was given to solve the case. These images included measurements of bloodstain patterns that she said were not as exact as she would have liked, but they gave her the information she needed.
The presentation also detailed the math involved in her process.
“The whole world is a series of right triangles,” Sutton said to describe how she can measure the angles of the patterns to determine if a body has been moved after death. “You work backwards.”
Kasey Bowe, a senior Anthropology student and member of F.I.R.E, explained what she learned from the lecture.
“Training is important,” she said. “Making sure things are tested until proven, even if the case wasn’t convicted, you know it’s still about really doing all you can do to make sure you get justice.”
Anthropology major and F.I.R.E. member Hannah Newcomb detailed how the lecturer is chosen for these events.
“Usually we choose very highly experienced professionals in the field of forensics. They’re usually really widely known,” she explained. “We just look for really qualified professionals to branch out into different fields so we can get a wide variety of people.”
Sutton ended her lecture by thanking everyone for the invitation to speak. She then opened the floor to the audience for questions.
The next William M. Bass Legends in Forensic Science Lecture will be held in the fall semester of 2019.
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