By R. Scott Belzer
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — Imagine you’re sent to investigate a crime scene. It involves a fire in a small, cramped apartment. A woman also died here from a gunshot wound. Two experts are available to help, along with two primary suspects. What do you do?
This was a situation presented to students at the Citizen's Police Academy, sponsored by the Kentucky State Police Post 11, on Monday. Five detectives and three troopers guided participants through the process of the crime scene investigation.
The 16 attending the Monday class were guided through a scenario in which a young woman – played by Det. Tracy Haynes – who lives by herself was found dead inside her burning residence. She died from a single gunshot wound to the right temple.
Students were broken into groups and first asked to inspect the charred crime scene that still reeked of smoke. A giant metallic box that served as the apartment was provided by KSP, a training device used by local fire departments.
Det. Jeff Senters played the role “Jethro Centerpiece,” an aged and bitter detective that was playfully resentful to any questions from students. Det. Brian Lewis assisted him, playing a friendly but ego-filled fire chief, “Brian ‘Smokey the Bear’ Luthor.”
“That’s not something I want to answer at the moment. I’ve answered enough over my career,” said Det. Senters with half a grin, when questioned by participant Logan Gay.
Detectives Mark Allen and John Barnett continued the charade by playing the boyfriend, “Marco ‘Greedy’ Annel," and neighbor “John Wayne Bobbitt," respectively. Students found themselves holding back laughter while watching the two KSP detectives play stereotypically uncooperative witnesses and suspects.
“I just want to go back inside and watch ESPN in my house,” said Barnett to a laughing audience. “Sure, I have an arson charge but that was blown way out-of proportion by my ex-wife.”
Students were finally ushered into a dark room of the Laurel County Health Department that served as the morgue in the scenario. Det. Tracy Haynes, in full theatrical makeup, laid out on a table for students to examine. Becky Patton of the Laurel County Health Department served as the coroner and answered any students’ questions.
The scene served as a somber reminder as to why participants were being taught such a scenario in the first place. Det. Billy Correll, who led students through the overall process, was quick to point out how important it is that detectives wade through the static and get the facts they need.
“It’s hard for people not to jump to a conclusion and blame people like the boyfriend or neighbor,” Correll said. “But it’s important to answer why any victim is dead, according to the facts.”
As students learned, that process is not always ideal. Answers to questions don’t come swiftly and are often the opposite of what’s expected.
“This isn’t ‘C.S.I.,' we can’t solve a crime in 45 minutes and we can’t tell you what you ate and who you ate with. That’s just not realistic,” said Det. Correll.
Correll went on to explain that most modern juries suffer from what he calls the ‘C.S.I.’ effect. There’s a certain amount of expected evidence from detectives that at certain points borders on the absurd. The detective claims that most juries wish to be entertained or at least intrigued throughout the judicial process.
Although troopers and detectives may be tasked with an alarming amount of emergency calls, auto accidents and criminal cases, Correll insists that taking your time and collecting the right amount of evidence is key to building a case and doing the job correctly.
“The scene is the most important thing to me after a crime has been committed,” Correll continued. “I slow my roll when there’s a death present, as long as there are others pursuing suspects.”
Monday evening’s class marked the sixth week of Post 11’s Citizen's Police Academy. For more information on the CPA or KSP Post 11 in general, contact the post directly at (606) 878-6622.