By Lamiya Khandaker
Crimes, homicides and forensic science seem surreal to us, but it’s as real as it gets. Recently, a retired criminal homicide detective, Brian Cosgrove, visited Law and Society’s Criminal Law class.
Cosgrove, part of the Alumni Foundation, worked when DNA and video cameras were out of the picture. He worked on notorious cases such as the Son of Sam, the infamous New York City serial killer of the 70s, and he went undercover for Colombian hit mobs and drug trafficking. The Drug/Homicide Task Force was Cosgrove’s specialty.
One case he shared with the class was about criminally negligent homicide. A devout couple, who were Jehovah’s Witnesses, went two months feeding their baby only dietary supplements that cleansed his stomach through feces. The parents believed that cleansing their baby’s insides would guarantee him a spot in heaven. Unfortunately, the infant perished and the parents were found criminally insane.
As fascinating as Cosgrove’s stories were, however, each case required all the blood, sweat, and tears one has. Every miniscule piece of scientific evidence had to be documented, and if a single mistake was made, the entire case could be thrown out. The two assets at the time that he was working were good interrogation skills, and proper physical evidence. Without a confession, it was difficult to prove that someone is guilty in court because science was just not as developed as it is now.
Kay Sirianni, the forensic science teacher, constantly reminds her students to “always document every piece of evidence, date it, and sign with your initials.” While Sirianni only deducts points from one’s grade, an actual forensic scientist may be barred from the job, and an entire prosecution can lose their case while a criminal can go free.
Though the world of going undercover to bust criminal activity sounds thrilling, there’s a macabre aspect to it. On dealing with the sight of dead bodies, Cosgrove said, “I first got sick when I saw my first dead body, but I had to get used to it. It’s a strange feeling you try to block out, but at the end of the day I speak for the victims. It didn’t matter who the victim was; we treated every one of them with respect.”
Josephine Guo ’13, a prospective forensic science major, found enthusiasm in Cosgrove’s experience. To her it’s about finding justice for the dead, and “pursuing forensic science will help ensure that justice.” For students like Guo, Cosgrove’s piece of advice is to “understand this job and be professional. The purpose of this is to protect the life, rights and property of every one. And dedication is the key.”
A huge part of this interest in forensic science and criminal homicides, however, stems from detective TV shows. Guo admits it was a TV show that sparked her interest in the field in the first place. When it comes to TV portrayals of crimes, Cosgrove said that “Most TV shows do an injustice to my field. ‘Law and Order’ though, and I’m not promoting the show, does one thing I like. It shows the three crucial steps: the crime, the investigation, and the prosecution.”
On dealing with horrific crime scenes, Cosgrove shared that he is still able to focus on positive aspects in life.
“I go home to my family and leave my work at the office. Though my work does affect me, I try not to let it affect me at home,” he said.
However, home has been another challenge for Cosgrove as he dealt with the hardships of parenting his teenage daughters and always making sure that they were safe.
Overcoming domestic concerns as well as criminal cases while forensic technology was novelty, Cosgrove and detectives exemplify the excellence of our criminal justice system. The LAS students were not disappointed by their special guest speaker.