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Home >> Life
UPDATED: 10:18, April 07, 2006
'Modern-day Sherlock Holmes' to help China crack cases
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"We only process evidence, objectively and without prejudice."

Are you reading a pet phrase of Gil Grissom, the forensic pro of CBS's lucrative TV serial CSI: Crime Scene Investigation? Yes, or no. So said Dr Henry Lee, perhaps one of the most famous forensic scientist in the world.

Having worked on big cases involving football star O J Simpson and former US president Bill Clinton, Lee has been dubbed an "ingenious detective" by US media and enjoys a high reputation in the US police force.

But after his recent trip to the Chinese mainland, the 68-year-old man can add one more title to his prolific career as a modern-day Sherlock Holmes a messenger of forensic science.

Last Friday, Lee announced in Beijing the inauguration of a culture exchange centre named after his Chinese name Li Changyu, which will commit itself to promoting the development of forensic science in China.

To fulfil the goal, a series of high-profile training on forensic science will be given by Dr Lee to senior Chinese police officers.

Although the centre still hasn't come up with a timetable, it insisted that it is simply a matter of time, as "we have received a slew of such requests all over the country," said Zhang Congmi, secretary-general with the Beijing Changyu Culture Exchange Centre.

However, for Dr Lee, "training" is not the appropriate word for what he is going to do. He would rather call it a brainstorming "seminar" where Chinese and American scientists can exchange experiences and ideas.

"On my first trip to China in 1985, I saw primitive forensic science here. Policemen heavily relied on fingerprints or appearance of suspects to crack a case," said Dr Lee last Friday at a press conference in Beijing.

When DNA fingerprinting started in the United States in 1989, China was still ignorant about the technology, he said.

But, he added, the country had an outstanding history of forensic science to boast.

The first masterpiece about the science Xi Yuan Ji Lu (Collected Cases of Injustice Rectified through Forensic Science) was introduced in 1247 in China's Song Dynasty (960-1279), and written by Song Ci (1186-1249), one of the country's famous forensic medical experts.

"Limited by the conditions centuries ago, the book has some loopholes. But the main spirit is there, handed down generation by generation, to handle a case in a scientific way," Lee said.

The veteran scientist said he had met many famous forensic experts in China and was surprised at the rapid advance of its forensic technology in recent years.

"China is catching up to the global trend of applying DNA technology to zero in on suspects," he said.

A state-of-the-art DNA database, developed in 2004 by the Beijing Hisign Information Technology Company, is now working for more than 80 per cent of laboratories in the country's public security system. At least 400,000 DNA samples are being shared between labs and the number is still growing by 30,000 samples per month.

Tracing evidence

Although DNA has the power to help authorities track down suspects, Lee noted that it still couldn't provide all the answers to a case. Deduction and interrogation continue to play an important part in solving crimes.

"For example, in a case involving sexual harassment, we can spot who did it by DNA comparison, but DNA cannot tell us whether it was a voluntary sexual behaviour or a rape," the scientist said.

Nevertheless, Dr Lee affirms DNA fingerprinting testing is undoubtedly the primary means to process evidence today, and that it has also been widely used in the United States to solve old cases.

"Trace Evidence: The Case Files of Dr Henry Lee" is a 36-part TV series similar to CSI. Lee's series will be circulated domestically by the new centre.

The first episode is about an old case shelved for 30 years before Dr Lee and his team solved the case through DNA technology.

"The victim was a woman, who was stabbed and deserted at the end of a stairway in a parking lot of a shopping mall," Lee recalled. "Witnesses identified three suspects, but all of their blood types were inconsistent with what was found at the crime scene. So the case was tabled."

In despair, the victim's father resorted to Lee and his team. The scientists reanalyzed the evidence.

They collected half a fingerprint from a tissue box and a DNA sample from a smirch of nasal mucus on a handkerchief.

"We didn't find a match until years later, a man was accused of domestic violence and had his DNA and fingerprints sampled. The computer told us he was the murderer on the run for years," Lee concluded.

However, the story is not only one of the thrilling episodes in the TV serial conducted by American director Lawrence Schiller and starring Dr Lee himself, but one of the 8,000-odd thorny cases the man has cracked during his 48-year career.

He vindicated O J Simpson in the "bloody glove" and embarrassed Bill Clinton in the "zippergate scandal."

Busy schedule

Even after his retirement from the police force, Lee is still engaged in forensic researches. "I receive untold calls every week that ask me to take over their cases. And I only spend four hours a day in sleep," said the renowned Chinese American, who was born in East China's Jiangsu Province and moved to Taiwan Province as a child.

"My life is now occupied with lectures, researches and dinner speeches. My dinner speeches have been scheduled till 2009."

Hale and hearty, Dr Lee is also a productive writer today, having published more than 20 books about his cases and forensic science. Now a set of his new books published in Chinese has hit the bookstore shelves in the country, in addition to the TV series. The books are about the cases he has dug in.

Will they inspire more Chinese young men and women to devote themselves to a career in forensic science as CSI did in the United States? As what he said, let the evidence speak for itself.

But one thing is for sure, Dr Lee has made it a new goal.

Source:China Daily


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