Forensic Intern Investigates Death Scenes

Treveon Murdock was an intern with the Harris County Institute of Forensic Science.

As an intern with the Harris County Institute of Forensic Science, Treveon Murdock said he has seen all manners of death -- murders, suicides, accidents and natural causes.

In his first month on the job as an intern with the Investigations Division, Murdock was called to a death scene every day – and some days more than once – to help determine how and why people die.

“I’ve done just about everything,” said Murdock. “I’ve been to all kinds of crime scene investigations. I go to homicides, suicides, motor vehicles accidents, and bodies that are decomposed…It is something I have wanted to do forever.”

Chalk body outline behind police tape.In addition to mandatory internships at forensic science labs associated with the Masters of Forensic Science degree, the College of Criminal Justice offers a handful of forensic science internships for undergraduates interested in death investigations, crime scene investigations and firearms laboratories. The College also plans to develop options in the near future for digital forensics.

“There are opportunities out there,” said Dr. Jim Dozier, Internship Coordinator for the College. “You try to look for students who are interested in those areas and have a good science background.”

As a self-proclaimed science geek, Murdock caught the CSI bug before there was even a television series. His interest started in biology class in middle school.
“I love criminal justice and I love biology,” said Murdock “Those two sparked forensic science. I’m just nosey. I want to help better the community. There is just so much crime and unnecessary violence.”

Crime scene investigator examines evidence in the lab.Murdock expects to graduate in May with a Bachelor of Science degree in Criminal Justice, with double minors in biology and psychology. His dream job is the internship he is now serving, working as a crime scene investigator.

Murdock jumped into the job with both feet, shadowing Preceptor Vanessa Trevino at death scenes and in the office. He has helped to take photographs and collect evidence as well as analyzed blood spatter, fingerprints and questionable documents. He also witnessed autopsies and signed bodies in and out of the morgue.
“There can be any kind of evidence in or around the body,” Murdock said. “Some of the most important evidence can be found on the body.”

Murdock said he was well-prepared for his internship by taking Dr. Joan Bytheway’s forensic science class, where he first experienced the many elements that go into crime scene investigation.

The Harris County Medical Examiner’s Office investigates all suspicious deaths in the county, including suicide victims, accident victims, people who die within 24 hours of being admitted to a hospital or those who die after a trauma or fall. The Medical Examiner does their own investigation, independent of the police.

“They do theirs, and we do ours,” said Murdock. “The police do their crime scene investigation to prosecute and to get clues to solve the crime. We are forensic scientists and analysts. We determine what route or method was used to cause the death.”

The office follows a protocol that requires they are notified by a law enforcement or fire department agency or medical facility. The forensic death investigators take pictures of the body and the crime scene and search for evidence on or around the body. This may include weapons, prescription bottles, body fluids, hair and fibers.

Murdock recently helped search a crime scene, the front yard of a home, in the dark. It was illuminated by patrol car headlights, field lights and flashlights. During some searches, he has recovered teeth, bone fragments, and brain matter.
“This is exactly what I wanted to do,” said Murdock. “It is very rewarding and I am getting lot of experience as a forensic death investigator.”

Illustration of crime scene investigation, which includes autopy reports, weapons, money and clock.
In addition to visiting crime scenes, Murdock also attends the daily multi- disciplinary morning meeting where forensic pathologists, a neuro- pathologist, forensic anthropologists, toxicologists, investigators, photographers, DNA analysts, and morgue staff are briefed on cases and findings. He also attends autopsies to see the clues that come from inside a body. Finally, he assists with documentation in the office, which tracks the body through the process.

“There is a lot of paperwork,” Murdock said.

Murdock said he would love to stay on as an investigator.

“I want to thank Sam Houston State University and the Criminal Justice Department for starting the internship program because a lot of criminal justice students need experience,” Murdock said. “With this, you can get your foot in the door. It definitely is a blessing to do this.”

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