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State, Murray CSIs hone techniques

MURRAY — It has all the appearances of a tragic crime scene spread out over a wide area near a public park.

Yellow police tape surrounds the front half of Willow Pond, 6059 S. Murray Parkway Ave. (1100 West). Four bodies, spread about 100 yards apart, are found both in and near the water.

To figure out what happened to the victims, crime scene investigators will have to methodically go through the area looking for any potential clues: a gun shell casing, a cigarette butt or even a water bottle.

In this scenario, the "bodies" are actually mannequins. But the police officers and the techniques they are using to figure out what happened are very real.

On Thursday, members of the Utah State Crime Lab teamed up with the Murray Police Department for a joint training exercise. Five CSI members from Murray and nearly a dozen State Crime Lab employees were taken to a large crime scene at the park, broken into teams and given a different area to investigate while a supervisor observed.

In one case, a mannequin was found partially submerged in the pond. Next to the body, resting in underwater sand was a knife. On the shore, a shell casing.

Soon, investigators put numbered yellow markers next to anything that potentially could be a piece of evidence. A water bottle. A shoe. Footprints. Drag marks. A pair of broken glasses. The detectives slowly uncovered clues or anything that potentially could carry a fingerprint, DNA, ballistics evidence or other important pieces of information that would tell them how the woman ended up dead in the pond.

"The more realistic, the better," said State Crime Lab coordinator Justin Bechauer.

For crime scene investigators, Thursday's drill focused on techniques used to collect and preserve evidence found near a water crime scene, which is different from a regular crime scene, he said. For instance, investigators have to learn how to preserve the knife without it rusting and losing valuable pieces of information.

The other goal was to open a better line of communication between the State Crime Lab and local agencies.

"So we're all on the same music sheet," said Murray police crime lab manager Tom Kern.

Thursday was the first time the state has conducted such an exercise with a local police agency.

Supervisors followed each group, marking down what they did right and what they might have missed. The groups marked and preserved evidence and practiced making records of the crime scene in measurements and photographs.

The advantage of having the State Crime Lab send its investigators for local departments is if a crime scene becomes too big or overwhelming for a small police force, the state can provide resources to help.

For the state, Bechauer said good communication with local departments could ultimately result in a reduction in the amount of time it takes for evidence to be sent to the crime lab and processed.