Forensic Files   View more episodes

Aired at 02:00 AM on Thursday, May 27, 2010 (5/27/2010)      View all transcripts from this day


00:01:23>> Narrator: Police and forensic experts searched audrey nichols' home, hoping to find evidence left by the person who killed her.
00:01:32>> The victim was in the bathroom, dead, so we determine a pathway from the entranceway to the bathroom.
00:01:39So everything in between has to be processed.
00:01:42And then there was no other way out of the house but out of the door that the suspect came in.
00:01:48>> Narrator: In the kitchen, police found one foreign fingerprint, although it was badly smudged.
00:01:54There were shards of glass spread over the linoleum floor of the kitchen.
00:02:02Was it possible that the killer stepped on a shard of glass, leaving his shoe impression?
00:02:08>> The theory of any crime-scene investigation is that the suspect is always going to leave something of themself at the scene or take something away that's gonna link them to the crime.
00:02:19>> Narrator: The shards were collected and sent to the forensics lab.
00:02:24>> Glass is such a smooth, perfect surface that it's really the best surface we can possibly hope for to get a footwear impression on.
00:02:32>> Narrator: The linoleum floor was dusted with a powder called aurora pink that sticks to any moisture present.
00:02:40Then, using what is called an alternate light source, any powder that clings to the moisture will fluoresce.
00:02:49>> If you have a patterned linoleum or something where the background is interfering with the impression, you can usually use your alternative light source to eliminate the background, and then the fluorescent powder that you use to dust up the impression is very bright.
00:03:04So it makes a very good contrast.
00:03:06>> Narrator: It was successful.
00:03:09They saw one clear print -- the el portion of the killer's left shoe.
00:03:15It appeared to be an athletic shoe.
00:03:18>> Most of the prints you see are partial prints.
00:03:21You may sometimes get some full footwear impressions, but with people walking over on top of them, it can destroy the prints.
00:03:28Many times, you only get partial prints.
00:03:30>> Narrator: Back in the forensics lab, scientists saw what looked to be another shoe impression on a shard of broken glass.
00:03:39So they placed it in a tank filled with heated superglue.
00:03:45The fumes create a permanent image of the print, and it looked like the toe area of the killer's right shoe.
00:03:53>> Because we had a toe area on the glass and a heel area on the linoleum, we basically almost had an entire shoe impression, so we did have a very good idea what the entire tread pattern looked like.
00:04:06>> I remember looking at the glass and saying, "we have some really good footwear impressions " >> Narrator: Today, forensic analysts have access to sophisticated databases of all kinds of shoe impressions.
00:04:18It includes men's, women's, even children's shoes, both dress and leisure, from all over the world.
00:04:25This database is called solemate.
00:04:29>> Elements of the shoe patterns will be entered in by the operator, so if it has squares in the ball area of the shoe or toe area of the shoe, you would enter that in.
00:04:40And then the computer comes back with a list of possible shoe treads, and you can pull those up and look at them to determine if any of those are the shoe you're actually looking for.
00:04:49>> Narrator: Checking and cross-checking finally gave investigators their first solid piece of information.
00:04:57>> The footwear impressions were consistent with having been made by a spalding tennis shoe.
00:05:01>> Narrator: Unfortunately, the print wasn't complete, so some details were unclear.
00:05:07>> The fact that he was wearing tennis shoes was about the only given that we had.
00:05:11>> Narrator: A month after audrey's death, a pedestrian found her purse in a field about a mile from her home.
00:05:19Her identification was inside, but all the money was gone.
00:05:24This proved robbery was a motive, but why murder?
00:05:28>> It was an unanswered question for all of us.
00:05:32It was like, "who would do this?
00:05:34Why would they do it, and how " it wasn't like she was a rich woman.
00:05:40It wasn't like she was flashy at all.
00:05:42>> Narrator: Research shows criminals often commit their crimes close to where they live, so police focused their search in the surrounding areas but got no leads.
00:05:53>> You always fear that this might be one of those cold cases that might end up on the shelf.
00:05:59This was a very, very serious case, so we had this concern that "we hope this one doesn't " >> Narrator: Then, six weeks after audrey's murder, police got a break.
00:06:13Police apprehended a man breaking into a home just down the street from audrey's.
00:06:20>> Get down on the ground!
00:06:22>> Irony of ironies -- they end up with a home nearby audrey's that was broken into, and the guy's wearing sneakers.
00:06:30Not only is he wearing sneakers, but he's wearing spalding sneakers.
00:06:34>> There were glass fragments embedded right in the shoes of the first suspect.
00:06:38>> It's like, "whoa, is this the " and glimmers of hope that maybe there had been a solution to the audrey slaying.
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00:10:10>> Narrator: Two partial impressions from a pair of spalding tennis shoes were the best clues found in audrey nichols' home following her murder.
00:10:19Police also found a partial fingerprint but weren't sure if it was left by the killer.
00:10:26>> The suspect was in and out of the house so quickly that there really wasn't a lot of other forensic evidence, if any.
00:10:33So this particular case really hinged on those footwear impressions.
00:10:37>> Narrator: Six weeks after the murder, police arrested a man attempting to rob a home not far from where audrey nichols lived.
00:10:47He was 25-year-old kent embry, who had prior arrests for petty theft and burglary.
00:10:55>> The suspect happened to be wearing spalding tennis shoes, just like we had told the investigators that they were looking for.
00:11:01>> Since these are spaldings and we already know that we need spaldings, we needed to have these analyzed right away.
00:11:08This could be the big break in audrey's shooting.
00:11:10>> Narrator: Police sent the shoes to the forensics lab, where they were inked and printed.
00:11:17Using transparent overlays, amy michaud compared them to the two partial prints found in audrey nichols' home.
00:11:26>> That was compared directly to the photograph of the footwear impression on the linoleum, and then directly to the glass.
00:11:32>> Narrator: Michaud was looking for two things -- class characteristics, which result from how the shoe is made, and accidental characteristics, which result from how it's worn.
00:11:45>> Just the random wear that occurs to the bottoms of the shoes through ordinary activities every day produces cuts and scratches and nicks on the bottoms of your shoes, which make it unique to all other shoes.
00:11:58So it's those scratches that we really look for.
00:12:01>> Narrator: After extensive comparisons, michaud called investigators with some bad news.
00:12:07>> The sizes were slightly off.
00:12:08Things just didn't line up correctly.
00:12:11We were absolutely positive that those weren't the shoes that made the impressions left at the crime scene.
00:12:17>> What we had hoped would be good evidence turns out to be absolutely useless and unrelated.
00:12:23It wasn't that break that we were looking for.
00:12:26>> Now we had to basically start from zero again and move forward.
00:12:32>> Narrator: Investigators went back to canvassing the neighborhood but feared audrey's murder would go unsolved.
00:12:40Then, almost four months after audrey's murder, the local district attorney received a letter from a man in prison.
00:12:48>> "Do you remember the retired state police lady that was killed in lansing?
00:12:53I can give up the killer for a deal with the prosecutor.
00:12:56He said he found her in the bathroom.
00:12:58She was calling for help, so he knocked the phone from her hand and stomped on it.
00:13:02When he looked up, she was looking at his face, so he shot her in the head with a .32-caliber.
00:13:08" >> Narrator: The letter was from a prisoner named carl hedly.
00:13:17Hedly said he heard about the murder from a cellmate who wasor shootg and robbing a truck driver.
00:13:24>> It had to be checked out these jailhouse settings, things get exaggerated or they pick up information that they think they can sell or trade off, so that always has to be taken with a degree of skepticism.
00:13:39>> Narrator: But the details of the letter were all accurate.
00:13:44>> He had details that we had not released to the public.
00:13:47There's only one way he could have come into that type of information.
00:13:52He was either there, or he got it from somebody who was.
00:13:57>> Narrator: The man's name was john skinner, 22 years old.
00:14:03Homicide investigators questioned skinner about the murder, but he denied it.
00:14:07>> And like everybody else that we interview that is accused of a murder, they never had anything to do with it, weren't there.
00:14:14"I don't remember where I was " >> Narrator: Skinner's fingerprints did not match the unidentified print found in audrey nichols' kitchen.
00:14:24And there were no spalding tennis shoes in the prison storage unit or at the local county jail where skinner was first processed.
00:14:33>> It was a tough situation because of the fact that the homicide occurred approximately a month earlier, and we were no closer to finding this horrific person out running around possibly killing people.
00:14:46>> Narrator: Again, the investigation faced a crisis.
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00:17:38>> Narrator: 22-Year-old john skinner was the prime suspect in audrey nichols' murder.
00:17:44He was in prison awaiting trial for an unrelated crime when he allegedly bragged to a cellmate that he had killed audrey nichols and gotten away with it.
00:17:54But police couldn't find any evidence that skinner even owned a pair of spalding brand tennis shoes similar to the prints found at the crime scene.
00:18:03>> We had the information from the jailhouse informant.
00:18:07We knew that we had to have something else.
00:18:10>> It was imperative to get the shoes to do the comparison work.
00:18:15And the longer you wait, the chances of getting the shoes lessens.
00:18:19And the chances of more damage occurring to the shoes, if somebody's wearing them, that lessens the chance of an identification.
00:18:29>> Narrator: As a last resort, police spoke with everyone working in the prisoner processing area of the county jail, and they got a break.
00:18:38Skinner's prison file indicated that his mother picked up her son's personal belongings after he was incarcerated.
00:18:48Investigators rushed to her home, which was less than a mile from the murder scene.
00:18:53>> Those sneakers were absolutely essential.
00:18:56The mother could have taken them and thrown them in a trash can, or he could have called her and said, "get rid of them," and that could have been very damaging.
00:19:05>> Narrator: But police found a worn pair of spalding tennis shoes in john skinner's bedroom.
00:19:12>> We got pretty excited that this might be the person who committed the breaking and entering and murder of the victim.
00:19:19>> Narrator: Again, amy michaud compared skinner's pair to the transparent overlays of the partial prints found at the murder scene.
00:19:28The partials were a toe from the right shoe and the heel from the left.
00:19:35>> In both of the impressions -- the one from the linoleum and the one from the glass -- there were enough accidental markings and characteristics that were visible in the impression that lined up with the known shoes that we were able to say without a doubt that these are the shoes that made those impressions.
00:19:52>> How is he gonna dispute that his tennis shoes were found at that crime scene?
00:19:57What possible explanation can he give?
00:20:00There's no way he could ever explain his presence in that house, other than he went there to rob and ended up killing.
00:20:09>> Narrator: Based on the forensic evidence, prosecutors say skinner kicked in the back door and broke the glass.
00:20:18As he stepped into the room, his sneaker left a partial print on a broken shard.
00:20:24His other shoe left a partial print on the linoleum floor.
00:20:28Audrey heard the commotion, grabbed her telephone, ran into the bathroom, locked the door, and called police.
00:20:35>> 911.
00:20:36>> Someone broke into my house.
00:20:38>> Narrator: When skinner heard this, he kicked open the bathroom door and killed her.
00:20:47Police arrived within five minutes, but skinner had already fled with audrey's purse.
00:20:54Inside was all of $100 in cash.
00:20:58>> His drive to get money was more important than a human life.
00:21:02>> His downfall was the fact that he was wearing those spaldings.
00:21:05There's reason for his footwear impressions to be there, because he did not know the victim.
00:21:10The victim did not know him.
00:21:12>> Narrator: Police questioned skinner one last time.
00:21:16He asked about the evidence against him.
00:21:20>> After denying the fact that he was there, his main question to me was, "do you have my " and my response to that is, "yes, I do, john.
00:21:30I haints, so I need to know whether or not you had planned this killing or whether " >> Narrator: Skinner then realized the investigation was over.
00:21:42He confessed to the crime and said he chose the house at random, that all he planned to do was to steal some money for drugs.
00:21:50>> He said he didn't go there with the intent to kill her or anything like that.
00:21:55He heard her talking on the phone and only wanted to make her stop talking on the phone and somehow the gun went off accidentally, which we thought was a bunch of bullcrap.
00:22:06>> We never did identify him with latent prints, and I don't know if he was wearing gloves or not at the time.
00:22:12>> After he confessed, we talked to him about where the gun was, because our main goal was to get the gun back so it couldn't be used in any other crimes.
00:22:19He had indicated that we would never find the gun, that it was thrown down a sewer, and then later on he recanted that story, indicating that someone else had the gun and we would never find it.
00:22:32>> Narrator: John skinner pled guilty to second-degree murder.
00:22:36He was sentenced to life in >> I'm glad for the forensic sciences that they were able to close this case -- that they were able to get the person who did it -- for her family and her friends so that there would be some kind of closure.
00:22:52Personally, I think that audrey rests better knowing that her kids don't have to wonder what happened and her friends don't have to wonder what happened.
00:23:03>> While investigating homicides, the first line of defense is forensic sciences.
00:23:08A person coming in and fuming the floors, obtaining fingerprints -- without them, would half of the crimes be solved?
00:23:16Probably not.
00:23:17As technology progresses, I hopeence does.
00:23:22>> In this case, forensic science was at the very heart of this case being solved and being successfully prosecuted.
00:23:30Without it, who knows?
00:23:32We might have a cold case on the shelf, plain and simple.
00:23:36But with the forensics, everything came together.
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