Tracking forensic evidence in domestic violence cases

Jul 14, 2016

An important tool in fighting domestic violence will remain in place at the Family Justice Center in downtown Buffalo. New York State Senator Patrick Gallivan announced he secured $100,000 to the Center to continue to fund its Forensic Medical Unit. WBFO's senior reporter Eileen Buckley takes a look at how this unit plays a major role in the prosecution of domestic violence cases.   

NYS Senator Patrick Gallivan announced he secured $100,000 for the Family Justice Center's forensic unit.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

"This is the only Forensic Medical Unit dedicated to domestic violence in all of New York State,” said Mary Travers Murphy, Executive Director, Family Justice Center (FJC).

Senator Gallivan said the state funding will allow the unit to continue collecting evidence used in prosecuting domestic violence cases.

"The problems that we face with domestic violence. We know how hard it is to secure convictions in domestic violence cases and this particular level of funding, $100,000, I'm very pleased that it's being put toward keeping the Forensic Medical unit open," Gallivan stated.

Mary Travers Murphy, Executive Director, Family Justice Center.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

Murphy noted the unit is ‘effective’. The FJC has been told by the Erie County District Attorney's Office that it has 100-percent conviction rate when this evidence is used in court.

“We now know defense attorneys are on to the fact evidence is effective and I can tell you, when they know it exist in a case, they will cop a plea just like that, sparing the victim the trauma of trial. Often victims are terrorized by the abuser right out of testify,” explained Murphy. 

About 2,000 domestic violence victims seek help each year at the Center in downtown Buffalo, but other victims receive care at satellite offices in the north and south towns.

UB Medical School's Dr. Chet Fox founded the forensic unit. He volunteers and oversees it. Dr. Fox can serve as a medical witness in court. 

Colleen Young is a nurse at the unit. She document injuries, conducting interviews and examines the victim from head to toe in an effort to hold abusers accountable.

Colleen Young is a nurse at the unit. She document injuries, conducting interviews and examines the victim from head to toe in an effort to hold abusers accountable.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

“A lot of taking pictures, body mapping, description of injuries and hoping it ends up in a better situation for our clients so the pain can stop,” said Young. “My words, describing a contusion or laceration, are ineffective, but when I show that picture – you hear people gasp,” remarked Young.

Young noted, with the many new digital technologies in place, they're hoping to show better evidence of strangulation.

The Family Justice Center, Main Street, downtown Buffalo.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

“We have such a high incidents of our clients that come to us that say they’ve been strangled, but it’s these non-fatal strangulation don’t leave a lot of marks and we’re hoping to find better tools to be able to prove when strangulation takes place,” Young stated.

Young admits it's a difficult job. She said it’s even more difficult than her past work as a Hospice nurse.

“That job actually seemed easier than this job. I could quickly get people comfortable in Hospice, this is not so easy,” replied Young.