Drawings still putting perps behind bars

December 23, 2008 7:32:08 PM PST
In this day and age police have access to sophisticated high tech tools like security cameras to catch criminals.

But, one investigative tool that is hard to replace is the old-fashioned artist's sketch.

It is helped capture many a crook.

In the fall of 2004, 22-year old Timmothy Griffith was stabbed to death after a Giants game at AT&T Park. He was killed during a scuffle at a stadium parking lot.

Police later identified Rafael Guevas as the killer.

Using witness accounts a police forensic artist drew sketches of three people involved in the fight including a sketch of Cuevas.

One of the people fighting saw the sketches on television.

"He thought it looked very close to himself and thought that people were going to put two and two together, and know where I was at and know that sketch looks like me, so I'm going to go turn myself in," said Officer Joe Lynch, San Francisco Police Department's forensic artist.

"I wanted to be a comic book artist," Lynch told ABC7.

As a kid Lynch loved to draw and eventually got his degree in art. As a student he worked in Daly City at Cala Foods which is now called Smart and Final.

One night the store was held up by an armed robber. Afterwards, police asked him to describe the gunman.

Lynch said he could do better.

"Can I just draw the person for you?" he asked.

His sketch led to an arrest.

Lynch says the match was easy.

"The reason I believe it looked a lot like him is because he was smiling and he was missing two teeth in the front, and that's how I drew him," he said.

Lynch has been a police artist for the past ten years and draws more than 100 composites a year. He says dealing with witnesses and victims requires patience and compassion.

"A lot of times peoples' exposure to police isn't a great, relaxing environment, So, I just try to put them at ease at first," he said.

First, Lynch asks them to describe the crime chronologically. Then, he tells them to do it in reverse.

Lynch says, "That type of thinking helps quite a bit because it allows you to slow down your thinking. We may remember something about a suspect that we might not remember to begin with."

Detective Carrie McConville is a forensic artist for the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office.

Just last month a jury in Santa Rosa convicted Aristotle Quadra for kidnapping and rape. He was arrested after police circulated McConville's sketch of the suspect.

"Law enforcement took that and passed it around, and somebody came forth and said I think I know who that person is," said McConville.

McConville says witnesses and victims may have a hard time recalling specific facial features, so her challenge is to retrieve those images from their minds.

She describes those images as "The things that are going to stand out, that you can look at and say oh, that guy had a mole. That's right where it was. Or, look at his nose, it's huge, the nose is perfect."

Both artists say they take their time with their composites.

Between the interviews, drawing and the tweaking, Lynch says each sketch takes one to three hours.

At times, it can be frustrating for everyone.

"I had one victim who once told me this was worse than the assault that happened," he recalled.

Looking at the final sketch can be emotional and cathartic for victims.

"I've had people cry you know, break down and say that's him," said Lynch describing another experience.

The artists say their work is not an exact science and sometimes not even a masterpiece.

They say their sketch is simply a tool to help police catch a criminal.


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