2nd Annual

BJA Forensics Programs Grantees Meeting

Virtual | June 10-11, 2024

About

On behalf of the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), the Forensics Training and Technical Assistance (Forensics TTA) Team, led by RTI International, is hosting the 2nd Annual BJA Forensics Programs Grantees Meeting, on June 10-11, 2024!

This year’s meeting will be virtual and will feature educational case studies and sessions on multidisciplinary approaches to criminal investigations, accreditation for forensic genetic genealogy, preparing for mass casualty events, resources available to support cold case investigations, soliciting leads for unidentified human remains cases, trauma awareness for postconviction staff retention, and much more.

Program specific breakout discussions will also be featured to provide grantees with a unique opportunity to learn more from respective BJA staff and other grantees.

Who should attend?

Grantees from the following programs are eligible to attend this conference:

Recipients of FY2022 and FY2023 funding for CEBR (Formula), ME/C, COLD, and Postconviction are required to attend per the BJA solicitation. Recipients of FY2023 funding for MUHR are also required to attend per the BJA solicitation. All other grantees are strongly encouraged to participate. Please note, this conference is optional for all Coverdell grantees.

All awardees may register up to three representatives for the meeting.  These representatives should be key site team personnel to include the individual responsible for overseeing the grant management of the award. We encourage grantees to review the list of topics and draft agenda to determine which additional team members should attend.

This training will be archived for on-demand viewing for those who are unable to attend this live event.

Conference Agenda

All times listed are in Eastern Standard Time.

Monday, June 10, 2024 | 11:00 am – 5:00 pm ET

11:00 – 11:10

Opening Remarks

Presenters:

Erin Forry, Conference Emcee, RTI International  

Thurston Bryant, Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA)  

Dr. Angela Williamson, BJA  

11:10 – 12:50

Keynote Session: The Bear Brook Murders

Presenters:  

Chris Elphick, New Hampshire State Police 

Kim Fallon, New Hampshire State Medical Examiner’s Office 

Peter Headley, San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department 

Dr. Barbara Rae Venter, Forensic Genealogist 

In 1985, the bodies of an adult female and a young child were found  

inside 55-gallon drums in Bear Brook State Park in Allenstown, New Hampshire. The bodies of two additional children were recovered in the same vicinity in 2000. A decades-long investigation into their deaths began to unravel with the identification of a living jane doe from California through the first application of forensic genetic genealogy (FGG) to a criminal case. Attendees will hear how multiple agencies collaborated to connect cases across the country to identify a transient serial offender known as the “Chameleon Killer” and how kinship analysis was used to connect him to the crime scene in New Hampshire. Attendees will also hear about the various forensic disciplines used during the course of this investigation including DNA and anthropology.

12:50 – 1:00

Break

1:00 – 2:00

A Multidisciplinary Approach to Criminal Investigations

Presenters: 

Jessica Weber, Minnesota Department of Public Safety, Bureau of Criminal Apprehension Laboratory 

Bryan D. Fischer, Montana Law Enforcement Academy  

Christina Warren, Hennepin County Attorney’s Office 

This session will discuss the vital collaborative relationship between laboratory personnel, law enforcement investigators, and attorneys seeking to resolve criminal investigations. Presenters will discuss common communication challenges between the disciplines and will offer effective communication strategies to prevent unnecessary delays in the investigation.

2:00 – 2:10

Break

2:10 – 3:10

Workshop Sessions

Track ATrack BTrack C
“Fully Accredited for Forensic Genetic Genealogy” – What Does that Actually Mean for Laboratories?

Presenters:
Daniel Hellwig, Intermountain Forensics
Dr. Michael Coble, University of North Texas Health Science Center – Center for Human Identification
Erin Sweeney McBride, Bode Technology
Rachel Oefelein, DNA Labs International

Accreditation is the formal recognition earned by laboratories acknowledging they are qualified and competent to perform specific tasks. Recently, public and private laboratories have announced they are accredited for forensic genetic genealogy (FGG), but what does that actually mean? Attendees will hear from laboratories that are accredited for FGG and will learn how the use of an accredited FGG laboratory can impact criminal investigations and prosecutions.
Mass Casualty Events – How to Be Prepared

Presenters:
Julie Conover Sikorsky, Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office
John Fudenberg, Fudenberg and Associates, LCC

During the chaos and uncertainty of a mass casualty event, accurate and timely identification of victims can pose a critical challenge. Swift decision-making becomes imperative and Forensic Science Service Providers (FSSP) must be poised to respond. From pre-deployment process setup to sample tracking and reporting to communication and analyst wellbeing, a robust plan, incorporating policies, procedures, and effective communication channels, is essential. Beyond preparedness, an understanding of previous mass casualty event responses, gained through studying the challenges and extracting the lessons learned, will enhance our ability to navigate the intricate landscape of identification. Join this panel discussion to explore real-world examples, learn from past experiences, and discover strategies for readiness in such critical scenarios.
Military Resources for Cold Case Investigations

Presenters:
Leah Harmon, National Archives and Records Administration
SA Mark A. Platt, Naval Criminal Investigative Service
SA Jessica A. Veltri, Army Criminal Investigation Division Cold Case Unit

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is an independent agency of the United States government within the executive branch charged with the preservation and documentation of government and historical records. In this session, the presenters will discuss NARA's comprehensive search process, detailing how investigators can request records pertinent to missing persons with a military background. The presenters will also highlight additional military resources including internal assets within the Army and Navy. From fingerprint cards to medical records, this session will explore the breadth of information available and guide attendees through the process of accessing these crucial records.

3:10 – 3:20

Break

3:20 – 4:50

Program Specific Workshop Sessions

Track A - CEBRTrack B - MUHRTrack C - PostconvictionTrack D – ME/C, COLD, and Coverdell
Recovering DNA from Fired Cartridge Cases

Presenters:
Glenn Fahrig, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Crime Laboratory
Michael T. Ambrosino, Former Special Counsel for the U.S. Attorney’s Office & George Washington University

Improving methods to recover DNA from fired cartridge cases can impact the ability to prosecute violent crime cases involving firearms. This presentation will discuss two methods pioneered by laboratories, the number of cases tested using these methods, and their average success rates. This presentation will conclude with the impact this type of testing has on a criminal case.
Leveraging the Media to Solicit Leads for Unidentified Human Remains Cases

Presenters:
Carol Schweitzer, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children
Dr. Angela Soler, New York Office of the Chief Medical Examiner
Julie Bolcer, New York Office of the Chief Medical Examiner

This session will delve into advanced facial reconstruction resources used in forensic anthropology, emphasizing the significance of sharing images via media channels to aid in victim identification. It will also discuss forensic media outreach strategies, focusing on networking with local and national media outlets to amplify the reach of investigations. Additionally, the importance of visual aids in unidentified human remains cases will be highlighted, along with effective strategies for utilizing social and traditional media platforms to gather crucial information.
Trauma Awareness for Postconviction Staff Retention

Presenters:
Dr. Adina M. Thompson, Quattrone Center
Suzy Salamy, Innocence Project
Maya Prabhu, Yale University

This session will discuss the impact of primary and secondary trauma on postconviction practitioners; the unique challenges of dealing with DNA testing cases; how to prepare new staff members for the work; and best practices for staff health, retention, and career longevity.
Grant Management for Forensic Practitioners

Presenters:
Caroline Shriver, BJA
Andrea Borchardt, BJA

This session will provide an overview of the requirements for federal grant recipients, and your entity's roles and responsibilities related to your award. Attendees who are not full-time grant managers are also highly encouraged to join for guidance on how to manage your forensic grants effectively and maintain compliance with federal requirements.

4:50 – 5:00

End-of-Day Wrap-Up Within Workshop Sessions

Tuesday, June 11, 2024 | 11:00 am – 5:00 pm ET

11:00 – 11:01

Welcome for Day 2

11:01 – 12:00

Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Resources and Technologies

Presenters:  

Karen Wilson, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives 

Jodi Marsanopoli, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives 

Charles Giblin, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives 

SA Darren A. Solomon, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives 

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) strives to partner with law enforcement and other public safety agencies to safeguard communities through information sharing, training, research, and the application of the latest technologies. During this session, presenters will provide an overview of the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN), the ATF National Firearms Examiner Academy, and the ATF Fire Research Laboratory and discuss free resources available through ATF related to firearms, toolmarks, cartridge cases, and more. Additionally, presenters will discuss ATF’s capabilities in the realm of fire investigation and the forensic science behind the violent crime of arson.

12:00 – 12:20

National Institute of Justice’s Research and Evaluation in Publicly Funded Forensic Laboratories Program

Presenter:  

Tracey Johnson, National Institute of Justice 

Starting in 2015, National Institute of Justice (NIJ) initiated an annual solicitation specifically aimed at providing funding to public forensic laboratories titled Research and Evaluation for the Testing and Interpretation of Physical Evidence in Publicly Funded Forensic Laboratories. The goal of this solicitation is to support research to evaluate current laboratory methods or emerging methods. Awards under this solicitation produce deliverables that include best practices to improve efficiency, accuracy, reliability, and cost-effectiveness as well as protocols that can be adopted by the community. Over the last eight years, this solicitation has provided funding for thirty-eight awards across multiple disciplines including DNA, impression and pattern evidence, seized drugs, and toxicology. Historic output from these awards will be highlighted as part of presentation. In addition, NIJ will recommend and provide resources to encourage public laboratories engagement with research and contributions toward building a positive research culture within the forensic sciences. NIJ will explain how these activities can assure improvements to both scientific integrity and quality within the forensic DNA discipline.

12:20 – 12:30

Break

12:30 – 1:30

Workshop Sessions

Track ATrack BTrack C
DNA from Rootless Hairs

Presenters:
Dr. Richard (Ed) Green, Astrea Forensics & University of California, Santa Cruz
Erin Sweeney McBride, Bode Technology
Sudhir Sinha, InnoGenomics

Rootless hair shafts, frequently encountered as crucial forensic evidence, present obstacles for conventional forensic DNA analysis due to their extensive degradation and limited nuclear DNA content. Traditionally, mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) testing has been the preferred method for such samples. However, mtDNA, with its maternal inheritance patterns, has limitations for forensic DNA testing and human identification. To overcome this limitation, our panel will explore alternative strategies centered around extracting nuclear DNA from rootless hair shafts and highlight their success as it relates to human identification.
Utilizing Familial DNA Searching as Part of the Forensic Genetic Genealogy Process

Presenters:
Thomas Kohlbeck, Virginia Department of State Police
Bradford Jenkins, Virginia Department of Forensic Science

In states where applicable, National Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (SAKI) and Prosecuting Cold Cases Using DNA (COLD) Program grantees using BJA funding for Forensic Genetic Genealogy (FGG) must first complete a familial DNA search (FDS) for unknown offender cases. The process of FDS can be time-consuming, costly, and create delays for agencies seeking to move forward with FGG. This session will provide attendees with an overview of how one BJA grantee identifies cases that are potentially eligible for FDS and FGG. This session will cover the process of exhausting investigative leads leading up to this process; identifying cases where there is enough DNA for both FDS and FGG; how law enforcement and the state laboratory work together to review and complete the FDS process; and, if there are no viable leads from the FDS, moving the investigation to FGG. Case examples and specific examples of how BJA funding can be leveraged to support FDS will also be shared.
Technical Leads: What They Need to Succeed

Presenters:
Matthew Gamette, Idaho State Police Forensic Services
Tina Walthall, Idaho State Police Forensic Services

The title and role of Technical Lead is no longer reserved for DNA. This session will focus on disciplines aside from DNA and discuss the importance of this role and what knowledge, skills, and abilities those who serve in the Technical Lead role must have such as their role in the quality management system, validation management and implementation of technology, developing robust training programs, and standards implementation. Competence in these topics is necessary for a Technical Lead, and your laboratory, to succeed.

1:30 – 1:35

Break

1:35 – 2:35

Workshop Sessions

Track ATrack BTrack C
Getting Ready for Trial

Presenter:
Anne Marie Schubert, Former Sacramento County District Attorney & Forensics TTA Consultant

Since 2018, the emergence of Forensic Investigative Genetic Genealogy (FIGG) has revolutionized law enforcement's ability to solve violent crime, identify missing persons and exonerate the innocent. With this new tool in investigations and prosecutions comes a variety of legal implications and court considerations for prosecutors. This session will discuss these legal considerations, including discovery, pre-trial motions, admissibility hearings and presentation of evidence. This session will provide resources and input on best practices to ensure that privacy concerns are appropriately balanced with trial court considerations.
The Landscape of Laboratory Variability: Assessments of Suitability, Interpretations, and Statistical Analyses for DNA Mixtures

Presenters:
Tracey Johnson, National Institute of Justice
Dr. Austin Hicklin, Noblis
Dr. Robert Bever, Bode Technology

During this session, presenters will discuss their research findings through a large-scale study investigating the variation among participating laboratories of policies, procedures, suitability assessments, interpretations, and statistical analyses using probabilistic genotyping for mixture analysis.
Project FORESIGHT – Standards for Forensic Laboratory Benchmarking and Analytics

Presenters:
Dr. Paul J. Speaker, West Virginia University
Erin Reat, Bexar County Crime Laboratory

Project FORESIGHT is a business-guided self-evaluation of forensic science laboratories across the globe. Participation in FORESIGHT is voluntary. Each participating laboratory receives (at no charge) a detailed analysis of their performance relative to all ISO/IEC 17025 accredited laboratories in the project. A participating laboratory must submit their data using the project’s Laboratory Reporting and Analysis Tool (LabRAT), a Microsoft Excel-based tool.

Faculty from the West Virginia University John Chambers College of Business and Economics analyze the data from forensic crime laboratories from around the world to identify trends across laboratories and performance of individual laboratories. Laboratory managers can then assess resource allocations, efficiencies, and value of services—the mission is to measure, preserve what works, and change what does not. In this session, attendees will learn about Project FORESIGHT and how to participate. Bexar County Crime Laboratory, a FORESIGHT Maximus Award winner, will share their experience with FORESIGHT and how it has improved operations in the laboratory.

2:35 – 2:45

Break

2:45 – 4:15

Program Specific Workshop Sessions

Track A - ME/CTrack B - COLDTrack C - CoverdellTrack D – CEBR, MUHR, and Postconviction
Creating and Managing Multi-Level Educational Engagement Opportunities

Presenters:
Lauren Bucci, DeKalb County Medical Examiner’s Office
Patrick L. Bailey, DeKalb County Medical Examiner’s Office
Juniper Fedor, DeKalb County Medical Examiner’s Office
Dr. Gerald Gowitt, DeKalb County Medical Examiner’s Office
Claire Waliczek, DeKalb County Medical Examiner’s Office
Gail Parker, DeKalb County Medical Examiner’s Office

Early engagement with medical students can help bolster forensic pathology awareness and pursuit of study. This session will feature multi-level engagement opportunities medical examiner/coroner (ME/C) offices can implement including job shadowing, advanced undergraduate internships, and elective rotations with medical students and pathology residency programs. Presenters will focus on creating partnerships with schools in your area, staffing considerations, expectations of responsibilities, and discuss the benefits these programs can bring to ME/C offices.
Strengthening Cold Case Prosecutions with Non-DNA Evidence

Presenters:
Dawn Webber, Denver District Attorney’s Office
McKenna Burke, Denver District Attorney’s Office

While DNA can be invaluable evidence in a cold case prosecution, there are many other kinds of evidence that should not be overlooked. DNA evidence is the beginning, not the end, of an investigation. This session will explore the use of evidence such as the Violent Crime Apprehension Program (ViCAP), National Crime Information Center (NCIC) Offline searches, finger and palm prints, and other corroborative evidence to strengthen prosecutions.
Emerging Forensic Research

Presenters:
Dr. Frances Scott, National Institute of Justice
Dr. Igor K. Lednev, University at Albany, State University of New York
Dr. Natalie L. Adolphi, New Mexico Office of the Chief Medical Examiner
Jeremy S. Triplett, Kentucky State Police

The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) is the research, development, and evaluation agency of the U.S. Department of Justice. Within NIJ, the Office of Investigative and Forensic Sciences (OIFS) is the lead federal government agency for facilitating forensic science research and development through academic, federal, state, and local entities. OIFS mission is to strengthen the quality and practice of forensic science through research and development, testing and evaluation, technology, and information exchange. OIFS funds research in areas such as forensic DNA, trace evidence, forensic anthropology, seized drugs, forensic toxicology, crime scene investigation, and more. During this session, attendees will learn from three NIJ-funded researchers about their innovative research in nondestructive body fluid identification; performance data on seized drug analytical schemes; and applying advanced imaging methods for postmortem examination.
Grant Management for Forensic Practitioners

Presenters:
Caroline Shriver, BJA
Andrea Borchardt, BJA

This session will provide an overview of the requirements for federal grant recipients, and your entity's roles and responsibilities related to your award. Attendees who are not full-time grant managers are also highly encouraged to join for guidance on how to manage your forensic grants effectively and maintain compliance with federal requirements.

4:15 – 4:25

Break

4:25 – 4:55

Federal Bureau of Investigation Behavioral Analysis Unit Cold Case Unit Resources

Presenter: 

SSA Nathan Whiteman, Federal Bureau of Investigation 

Shows like Criminal Minds, Mindhunter, and Silence of the Lambs can limit what investigators believe the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU) capabilities to be. Outside of the unknown offender profile presented in these shows, this block of instruction will provide insight into how the BAU is organized, how to request BAU assistance, and the various resources and services available from the BAU. From cold case subject approach and engagement to prosecution strategies, the BAU is available to your cold case unit.

4:55 – 5:00

Closing

Presenter: 

Dr. Angela Williamson, BJA 

Event Access

After submitting your registration, you will receive an email from the Forensics TTA Team within 3-5 business days with your registration confirmation.

This event will be accessible to approved attendees only, and each attendee is required to have their own Single Sign-On (SSO) Account. To expedite post-approval processing, please follow the steps outlined below. When completing your profile information, please do not include any special characters.

First Time Attendees

  1. Create your new user SSO Account by navigating to https://sso.forensicac.org/register/.
  2. Activate your SSO Account. After creating a new user account using the link above, you will receive an automated confirmation email. You must click the ACTIVATION LINK in this email to verify your account.If you do not receive this confirmation email, please check your spam/junk folder. If you do not receive or are unable to locate this automated confirmation email, please contact the Forensics TTA Team at ForensicsTTA@rti.org.
  3. Log in to your Learning Profile using your new SSO Account credentials by navigating to https://academy.forensicstta.org/. Please ensure that you use the exact same email address in your Learning Profile as you used when creating your SSO Account. You must scroll down and complete all the blank fields to develop your Learning Profile. When complete, click SAVE PROFILE which will grant you eligibility to access the Forensics TTA event platform.

Returning Attendees

  1. Confirm that you have created and activated your SSO Account by navigating to https://academy.forensicstta.org/. If you forgot your password, please reset it here.
  2. Complete your Learning Profile during login. Some additional profile fields have been added since your last access. You must scroll down and complete all the blank fields to complete your Learning Profile. When complete, click SAVE PROFILE which will grant you eligibility to access the Forensics TTA event platform.

Contact Forensics TTA

Please reach out to the Forensics TTA Team (ForensicsTTA@rti.org) with any questions or concerns.