The C.S.I. Syndrome
Ripped from Headlines
On October 27, 2001, a battered male body was discovered in a park in Fort Worth, Texas. Investigators initially believed the thirty-seven-year-old homeless man, Gregory Biggs, had been the unfortunate victim of a hit-and-run, and his death was declared an accident.
Four months later, a bizarre story began to emerge. Chante Mallard, a nurse's aide, had driven home one night under the influence of drugs and alcohol, and she struck Biggs while he was walking along the road. She confided this to an acquaintance, who then notified the police. Under questioning, Mallard admitted that she had hit the man, but insisted it was an accident.
Detectives searched Mallard's home and found her Chevrolet Cavalier, clearly damaged, still in her garage. The windshield was mostly knocked out and a seat was gone, but crime scene investigators with special tools got to work on the interior and soon found what they needed. Blood spatters inside the car proved to be from Biggs, as was the blood that filled a side-door pocket compartment. Not only did it prove he was there but the various stains offered a map of what had occurred that night. One area of blood was consistent with spatter that had been wheezed or coughed out, and there were fragments of hair and flesh from a Caucasian on remaining edges of the shattered windshield. In addition, a hammer left in the back seat was proven with trace analysis to have been used against glass, an indication of evidence tampering. It all added up to a man twisting around and bleeding in that space.
From the accident, Biggs had sustained broken bones and a nearly-severed leg. At the trial, the medical examiner who conducted the autopsy stated that none of the injuries was consistent with instantaneous death, which meant that with medical assistance Biggs could have survived. He believed that Biggs had struggled for several hours and that Mallard had enough expertise to have saved him. At the very least, she knew how to call for help, instead of letting him die and dumping him in a park.
Mallard was convicted of murder and sentenced to fifty years, with another ten-year sentence for tampering with evidence. Not surprisingly, because it was bizarre and required the expertise of crime scene analysts for accurate interpretation, this case inspired the writers of C.S.I., but other shows offered a rendition of it as well.
Crime dramas have also incorporated into their plots elements other high-profile cases, such as the Scott Peterson case, the Buddhist Temple massacre, the disappearance of Natalee Holloway, and Peter Braunstein, the stalker who posed as a fireman to gain entry to an apartment. The problems with this rush to find grist for entertainment are now becoming clear.