reflections THE HUMAN SIDE OF OPTOMETRY
Optometry has enabled me to expose criminals and murderers.
GRAHAM STRONG, O.D. MSC
For the past 19 years, I've served as an expert witness — a forensic optometrist — in a number of criminal and murder cases. Here, I discuss my most memorable case…
In 1989, I received a call from a constable in Collingwood, Ontario. I was the clinic director at the School of Optometry, University of Waterloo in Ontario. The officer said he was looking for someone at the school who knew the intricacies of eyewear. He told me he'd found a pair of man's eye-glasses underneath the body of a 33-year-old woman, who'd been sexually assaulted and stabbed in her apartment.
The constable explained that he was very interested in the spectacles because the rest of the crime scene hadn't yielded much additional physical evidence. (Apparently, the killer had climbed through the victim's kitchen window, stepping onto tomatoes that she'd left on the sill. A heavy rain on the night of the murder, however, had obscured the resulting footprints.
The spectacles found at the 1989 murder scene.
The "person of interest" was a 23-year-old, 350-pound strip club bouncer whom the victim knew and was known as a neighborhood troublemaker. The suspect had a record of prior assaults, and the police had mug shots from two separate arrests, in which he was wearing glasses similar to the ones recovered. Also, the constable explained that the man wasn't wearing his glasses when the police interviewed him about the murder. Further, he had a flimsy alibi. He claimed he'd been mugged and knocked unconscious outside of town on the night of the murder, awakening with no glasses.
The problem for the investigators: They weren't able to find a dispensing origin for the suspect's glasses. So, they needed someone who could determine whether the spectacles in the mug shots were identical to the spectacles found in the deceased woman's apartment. I volunteered to help.
The frame game
The police had the suspect's prior mug shots enlarged and their contrast enhanced. This allowed me to identify a number of unusual features that appeared to coincide with the spectacles in evidence. The lenses were poorly crafted; they had air spaces in the corners, and the right and left lens shapes were slightly mismatched — as if one lens had been chipped and re-edged. Also, the frame was an inexpensive metal construction with the lamination worn off where it touched the wearer's skin. Further, the glasses had faulty temple and nose pad adjustments.
I used trigonometry to convert the measurements from the photos into real dimensions that I could compare with those from the physical pair of glasses. The outcome: I obtained more than 20 measurements that enabled me to conclude that the glasses found at the scene were identical to photographs in every way.
A jury convicted the suspect of first-degree murder.
When I became an optometrist, I knew I'd be making an impact on people's lives, but I never imagined my skills and knowledge would be making an impression in the halls of justice.
What a profession! OM
Forensic Files, a Tru TV series, aired "Quite a Spectacle," on this case on October 31st, 2007.
DO YOU HAVE A MEMORABLE EXPERIENCE YOU'D LIKE TO SHARE? DISCUSS YOUR STORY WITH JENNIFER KIRBY, SENIOR ASSOCIATE EDITOR OF OPTOMETRIC MANAGEMENT, AT (215) 643-8139, OR JEN.KIRBY@WOLTERSKLUWER.COM. OM OFFERS AN HONORARIUM FOR PUBLISHED SUBMISSIONS.