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Homicide investigators gather in State College to share ideas

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By Centre Daily Times
Saturday, April 12, 2014, 8:02 p.m.

STATE COLLEGE — They met to talk about murder.

The Pennsylvania Homicide Investigators Association has been gathering in State College for 10 years to share information and learn the best ideas to help them solve the worst crimes.

Last week, police officers, district attorneys, medical investigators and others from Pennsylvania, other states and Canada met at the Ramada Inn for a weeklong seminar in advanced practical homicide investigation.

“You're looking for ideas, tricks, things that can help you,” said Thomas McAndrew, a corporal with state police at Hazleton and PHIA president.

If anyone can help, it is probably Vernon Geberth. He literally wrote the book on homicide investigation, condensing more than 40 years of experience and 8,000 investigations into “Practical Homicide Investigation,” the law enforcement field guide to solving murders.

He brought in experts to spotlight areas of investigation. A forensic pathologist from Florida talked about the newest science — not quite the same things people see on the TV shows “CSI” or “Bones.” Andrea Saferes, an aquatic death investigator, taught about how to handle homicidal drownings.

“There are a lot of bodies of water in Pennsylvania,” said Geberth. “A lot of attendees are going back to revisit old cases after that one.”

They learned about staged crime scenes, how to tell whether someone is trying to make a death look like a suicide, an accident or a murder committed by a total stranger. And they learned how to talk to people.

Richard Ovens, a retired captain from the New York State Police's Bureau of Criminal Investigation and a clinical psychologist, taught interview and interrogation techniques.

“The whole essence of interrogation is about being able to listen,” he said. “If you can do that, it makes it easier to get to the truth.”

For McAndrew, that plays to one of the hardest parts of his job.

“Dealing with the families,” he said. “That's the hardest. They want justice. There is some pressure that comes with that.”

But people close to a victim are often suspects or witnesses or trying to protect their loved one. McAndrew said investigators try to keep one thought in mind: the responsibility to the person who died.

“The victims can't fight for themselves,” he said. “That's our job.”

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