Forensic Science Insight

Posted on Friday, April 25, 2014

Last fall, Sasha Borenstein '14 had the rare opportunity to attend an invitation-only seminar for roughly 200 of the top homicide investigators in the world. The event has never been open to students or the public. Her participation was made possible by Dr. Lowell J. Levine '59, a board-certified forensic dentist and the director of operations for the New York State Police Medicolegal Investigations Unit. He has been Borenstein's mentor since she was a prospective student.

The Annual Colonel Henry F. Williams Homicide Seminar, presented by the New York State Police, is a program for homicide investigators, detectives and other police officers from around the world who are nominated by their departments and then invited to attend. Levine was instrumental in developing the Seminar, and was one of the presenters.

"Lowell knows I want to be a homicide investigator and thought it would be an excellent opportunity for me to attend one of the talks on forensic psychology," says Borenstein. "Once he made that happen, he decided he really wanted me to be able to meet other attendees, learn more and network. Ultimately, I was given the chance to attend because of the respect and appreciation the New York State Troopers have for Lowell and his career."

Levine is recognized internationally for his participation in the identification of Nazi war criminal Joseph Mengele, was an expert witness in the Theodore Bundy case, and has served as a consultant to the Commission investigating the MOVE conflagration and the U.S. Army's Central Identification Laboratory identifying MIAs of Vietnam. Additionally, he has served as the President of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, trained scientists in many countries including Indonesia, Panama, Costa Rica, and Ecuador and been published in numerous national and international journals.

Borenstein was given Levine's contact information by Herons basketball coach, Lindsay Sharman, when she was a prospective student-athlete.

"When I told her I was interested in forensics, she put me in touch with him so he could answer questions I had about whether I wanted to attend a liberal arts school or one that would enable me to focus more specifically on science, which I thought was my primary interest," says Borenstein. "He told me I definitely wanted a liberal arts school because I wanted to have options, to see what aspects of the field I liked."

As it turns out, Levine's advice to research her options proved valuable. Borenstein realized she was more likely to be "the student who blew up the lab" than one to conduct investigations from within one. She became a psychology major and social justice and sociology double minor and would like to work toward becoming a homicide investigator. She hopes to eventually become an FBI profiler.

"I'm happy to have had the liberal arts perspective to be able to discover my niche, rather than throwing myself into science early on and not having a way out," she says.

At the conference, Borenstein met and spoke with many presenters and attendees during meals and at breaks and was able to speak at length with Richard Ovens, Ph.D., an expert in interrogation and interview who retired from the New York State Police after a nearly 30 year career. Additionally, as a participant in the seminar, she was provided with the contact information for all attendees and presenters and has kept in touch with a number of them.

In addition to Levine, presenters included Dr. Michael Baden, a board-certified forensic pathologist who has been involved as an expert forensic pathologist in the re-examination of the JFK assassination, the re-autopsy of Medgar Evers and autopsies of the victims of TWA Flight 800; Thomas D. Holland, Ph.D., the scientific director of J-PAC, the largest skeletal identification laboratory in the world; and Zhongxue Hua MD, Ph.D., the forensic pathologist for Rockland County, N.Y., who is a featured commentator on Headline News (HLN) and has appeared on Fox News.

"Just to be able to sit and learn from these investigators and detectives was more than I ever could have asked," says Borenstein. She notes some of the attendees had just solved a cold case and explained their cases in detail to her. "It wasn't just a bunch of vague information. It was clear why these investigators do what they do and why they're so good at it. It was real-life learning."

While she acknowledged graduate school is likely in the future, her career path starts at the ground level, working as a patrol officer. Borenstein is currently participating in an internship with the Geneva Police Department that includes sitting in court, going on ride-alongs and shadowing a detective.

She notes her internship has allowed her to understand police procedures and what day-to-day duties entail.

"I have gotten to experience the police culture firsthand which has allowed me to see if I could see myself working within an environment such as a police department," says Borenstein. "Getting the opportunity to work with the detectives has been an invaluable experience."

She is researching different police agencies back in her native state of California to prepare for her first step into an investigative career. She will apply to a police academy upon graduation in May.


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