By Linda Weiford, WSU News
PUYALLUP, Wash. – The “blood” that Karen Green flung from her gloved hand fanned out in droplets on the wall in front of her. The size, shape and location of blood spatter can reveal a lot about how a violent crime is carried out, she told a CBS correspondent during a recently aired segment of the news program “48 Hours.”
Green, a Washington State University graduate, is a forensic scientist from Puyallup, Wash., who attained a modest splash of fame this year when she testified as a blood spatter expert in a high-profile murder trial of a physician in Syracuse, N.Y.
As she walked toward the courthouse to testify before a jury, a flock of photographers and reporters partially surrounded her. “Who is Karen Green?” read a headline in the Syracuse Post-Standard on March 24. Then came the recent “48 Hours,” where she demonstrated how blood spatter at a crime scene can help lead to an attacker’s arrest and conviction.
Which was just the case with prominent New York physician Robert Neulander. Due in part to Green’s testimony concerning the 100-plus bloodstains found in the bedroom where his wife’s body was found, jurors convicted him of second-degree murder and of evidence tampering to make it look like an accident.
“A blood spatter expert testified this morning that the amount of Leslie Neulander’s blood and the direction it traveled could not have been caused by a shower injury, as her husband claimed,” the local paper reported.
Science goes to court
In two decades, Green rose from a biology graduate at WSU to a nationally known DNA and crime scene analyst who runs her consulting firm, Green Forensics Inc., with her husband, Brian Green, also a WSU graduate. Prior to running her own business, she headed the Washington State Patrol Statewide Crime Scene Response Team.
“I use a lot of science in my work,” she said. “Biology, chemistry, physics – you name it. I apply them to solve crime puzzles. This can mean proving that someone committed a crime, or it can prove that someone did not.”
While a love for science pulled her toward a career that many people steer clear of, one could also say that an aspiration runs in her blood.
“My dad was a Seattle police officer. He believed in his work and the importance of the job,” explained Green, whose calm demeanor contrasts sharply with the brutal crimes she’s called upon to investigate.
“One day when I was a college student, he took me on a tour of the crime lab of the Washington State Patrol and I was fascinated. I knew right then that’s what I wanted to do.”
Behind the crime scene tape
And though her aim is to solve crimes, it’s not done by rounding up suspects, checking out alibis and extracting confessions. Instead, she spends much of her time analyzing the evidence – those puzzle pieces left beyond the DO NOT CROSS yellow crime scene tape.
Blood splashed on a wall, soaked into a shoe or puddled on a floor is enough to make most people’s stomachs churn. But Green views it as evidence that can reveal valuable insights into the mechanics of an attack: where an assault took place, the type of weapon used, the number of attackers and how they moved about, and who the attackers were.
‘CSI,’ for real
“People often ask me, ‘Isn’t it hard doing what you do?’ and the answer is no,” she explained. “In fact, it feels natural because I have the skills and the ability to do it. I’m also a detail person with a lot of patience. In this field, you have to be patient. It’s not like ‘CSI’ where they do all of this forensic investigating and solve the crime in under an hour.”
In reality, Green might scour the inside of a car with a Q-tip for a full hour, searching for a hair strand, a speck of blood, a thread of clothing – anything a killer might have left behind.
Q-tips, cameras, chemicals, tape measures and a 3D laser scanner are among her most-used crime scene tools. But so, too, is her mind: “The key is knowing when and how to use the available resources,” she said.
Another key is to be methodical and patient, she stressed. And whenever people ask which side she speaks for regarding a crime-scene investigation, “I say I don’t speak for the prosecution or the defense. I speak for the evidence.”
See Green demonstrate the dynamics of blood spatter on the CBS News website at http://www.cbsnews.com/videos/the-science-of-blood-spatter/.