Renowned forensic scientist and professor, Fred Smith, told a crowd of about 150 people Tuesday night at the University of the Virgin Islands that a lot more crimes would be solved if there was more money dedicated to the subject.
Smith, who spoke as the first guest lecturer in UVI’s “Open Doors” lecture series, said that there are usually only two reasons that money gets poured into forensic science: public outcry or new technology. However, Smith pointed out during the lecture that the importance of good forensic science can be the difference between an unsolved crime and one which results in justice being served.
To illustrate his point, Smith used several different cases to show how forensic science prevailed in solving cases, like Pan Am Flight 103, which used forensics to trace the debris from the crash to Libyan terrorists. He contrasted solved cases with those like the disappearance of Natalee Holloway in Aruba, which virtually had no forensic evidence to go on.
“What the [Natalie Holloway] case shows is that the lack of forensic evidence can fail to result in the prosecution of a crime,” Smith said. “If you have more money in an investigation, than you can do a better job and attack the problem more.”
The lecture began just after 6 p.m. at the Great Hall of the St. Croix Campus, and students from the Chase Auditorium on St. Thomas tuned in by video-conference to hear the scholar speak. UVI Associate Professor of Journalism Gillian Royes, who coordinated the lecture, said that the “Open Door” series provides an opportunity for any scholar to come and speak on topics of interest.
“The difference with this lecture series is that it really means we can invite any person from around the world who is an expert in his or her field and their lecture does not need to be limited to the Virgin Islands or the Caribbean,” Royes said.
Although UVI does not currently have a full Criminal Justice program, Royes said their will likely be a program offering an associate degree within the next year, and hopes that Smith’s lecture will bring added interest to the field.
Several students, a handful of police cadets, and others showed up to watch the series. Even an interested 13-year-old student from the Seventh-day Adventist School came to watch the lecture. Antoine, who opted not to use his last name, arrived to standing-room only and came because he wants to be a forensic psychologist when he grows older.
“I thought the lecture was extremely interesting and I asked him about entry and exit wounds in a body and the professor was very helpful,” he said.
Alan Lewit, who is a professor of computer science, as well as a sergeant with the V.I. Police’s forensics department, was very pleased with the lecture and said that he hopes he can get Smith’s help on a few cases.
“The presentation was very nice, and I actually learned quite a few things,” Lewit said.
The “Open Doors” lecture series is presented by the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences. Also speaking at the event were Royes, and professors Simon Jones-Hendrickson and Dion Phillips.
Smith has an extensive background in forensic research, publishing and court testimony, and is a professor in the Department of Forensic Science at the University of New Haven in Connecticut, and professor emeritus at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Smith is also the editor of the highly respected “Handbook of Forensic Drug Analysis,” and has produced or contributed to more than 90 other books and articles in his field.
Smith waived his fees to UVI and plans to offer his free services to help out the VIPD while he is here. His brother lives on St. Croix and he visits often.
“You know, you have to feel like you have a purpose in the world, and I feel like my purpose is to help see that justice is served,” Smith said. “Maybe in the future UVI will need help setting up a forensic science department and I can be here to help,” he said with a smile.