Criminal justice students get a taste of the real world

April 7, 2011

PLAINVIEW -- Once again, Dr. Denton Lankford’s students are getting an idea of what it is really like to process a crime scene. Lankford, a former investigator for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, teaches justice administration for Wayland Baptist University. As part of his approach to teaching the material, he sets up crime scenes for his classes to process and investigate.

Thursday morning, Lankford’s criminal investigations and forensic psychology classes joined forces to investigate a mock crime scene set up around a pair of dumpsters on the Wayland campus. Local sheriff’s deputies roped off the mock crime scene and watched as students took the lead in the investigation.

Set up by Lankford, who used educational props, student discovered dismembered body parts and pools of blood, along with weapons used in the assault.

“We’re trying to create as much realism as we can for a crime scene,” Lankford explained.

This particular crime, dreamed up by Lankford, involved a love triangle gone wrong when two women with whom the victim was having an affair killed him and cut him into pieces, leaving bagged body parts in two separate dumpsters.

Lankford left clues at the scene to help determine the approximate time of death of the victim and other important facts in the case. The students in his criminal investigation class were in charge of processing the crime scene, while the students in forensic psychology tried to build a profile of the person or persons responsible for the crime. Lankford said this particular crime involved the victim being poisoned, hit in the head with a hammer and shot before finally being dismembered.

Ninety percent of murders are committed by men killing other men,” Lankford said. “Ten percent of murders are committed by women, and they tend to kill their lovers, husbands, boyfriends and children.”

Lankford also threw a wrinkle into the crime scene by having WBU senior Kristi Morris Young, a veteran of the Wayland theatre, play the hysterical wife who crashes the crime scene after hearing a news report of a body being found, fearing that it was her missing husband. Young caused a scene and had to be subdued by investigators and the local sheriff’s office.

“This will actually give us experience for when we get out there,” said Priscilla Escalante, a senior justice administration major from Plainview. Escalante is also completing a practicum with the Hale County Sherriff’s office through which she will spend time working and observing officers in real-life situations.

Lankford said in the past, students taking the practicum have actually helped investigate real crime scenes. One student was able to crack a password-encrypted hard drive and another was among the first on the scene at a murder, assisting in roping off and securing the crime scene.

Eric Kaminski, another senior involved in the practicum program, was also among the students investigating the mock crime scene. A criminal justice major from Detroit, Mich., Kaminski said this type of experience is invaluable to students.

“Books are good, but that only gets you so far,” Kaminski said. “Seeing is learning. I think you will retain a lot more if you actually see how it is done.”

Lankford said students will process evidence and write initial reports over the weekend. On Tuesday, they will go over the evidence in class, and Lankford will critique their work.

“That is when they really find out what they did right and what they did wrong,” Lankford said. “Hopefully, they will have done more right than they do wrong.”