DMU Professors Land National Institute of Justice Grant to Enhance Forensic Standards 

It may seem straight out of a horror flick, but dismembered bodies are a reality in criminal investigations — and occur more often than you would think. In such cases, investigators need as much information as possible, and that evidence has to stand up in a court of law.  

That’s why Heather Garvin, Ph.D., D-ABFA, professor of anatomy at Des Moines University, and her colleague Lauren Butaric, Ph.D., associate professor of anatomy, received a $495,637 grant from the Office of Justice Program, National Institute of Justice, for their research, “Empirical Analysis of Saw Mark Characteristics in Human Bone: Meeting Forensic Standards in Dismemberment Cases.” 

In cases of criminal dismemberment, forensic anthropologists are tasked with analyzing features on the cut surfaces of bone to provide medicolegal agencies with accurate information about the dismemberment methods and tool(s) used. That information can assist in the search for suspects and weapons and as evidence during legal proceedings.  

Incorrect information can have serious implications on case investigations and prosecutions. Garvin, Butaric and several colleagues at other institutions will empirically test the relationship between the marks left in bone and saw characteristics. The results will document accuracy and error rates and provide guidelines for use in forensic dismemberment cases. 

Besides the faculty, the three-year grant project will support a postdoctoral researcher and a student in DMU’s Master of Anatomy degree program. These individuals will gain invaluable experiences in implementing research and forensic case exposure as they pursue their careers in forensic anthropology.  

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