Forensic Science Insight
Posted on Monday, July 21, 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 knew I wanted to be a homicide investigator and thought it would be an excellent opportunity for me to attend one of the talks on forensic psychology," said 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," said 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.
"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 said.
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," said Borenstein. She noted 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."
Borenstein also participated in an internship with the Geneva Police Department that included sitting in court, going on ride-alongs and shadowing a detective.
She noted her internship 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," said Borenstein. "Getting the opportunity to work with the detectives has been an invaluable experience."
Borenstein is currently applying to work as a patrol officer at departments in her home state of California. Her long-term is to become a homicide investigator.