Special Assignment: Real-Life CSI

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You see the characters on CSI use high tech gadgets to solve cases week after week.

In a News 12 Special Assignment, Stephanie Baker takes us behind the scenes of a real-life investigation.

Officers use the crime scene tools you see on TV for local investigations. They took us into the real crime lab to show us how they track down real criminals.

"Whenever you enter a room...you leave something behind," says Ken Summers, crime scene investigator for Columbia County.

He didn't see the shooting at a Japanese restaurant back in January, but Summers found pieces of the suspect's identity.

The dark figure approached chef Charson Anthony as he was taking out the trash.

"I see from the corner of my eye there's somebody standing there," says Anthony. "He's got a ski mask on.

"I notice he's got a gun."

An armed robbery in progress, the suspect's face hidden. But everything the masked shooter touches can tell investigators exactly who he is.

Every time you touch something, you leave a clue to your identity. Investigator Summers took us into the crime lab, where he analyzes fingerprints.

"If I had a suspect, I could look at the print card and do the comparison and say yeah, this is his."

That's a perfect scenario...the dust showing a perfect fingerprint on a smooth surface.

Summers lifts it off with special tape and hardens it with a chemical.

But perfect scenarios don't usually happen.

"It's not just a touch and set...it's you grabbing something and your fingers are dragging," Summers explains.

Smeared prints, or multiple prints on top of each other, mean counting hundreds of lines by hand to figure out which prints belong to the suspect, and which could be yours.

"If I went to your house or your home, your fingerprints are going to be everywhere," Summers says.

And sometimes they disappear.

"A few days or a few hours it's probably gone."

Oily fingers or any porous surface can cause the perpetrator's identity to vanish.

"You've got to be ready to photograph it right away cause it's going to fade."

If it fades, how can they catch suspects like Charson Anthony's gunman?

Genetic makeup. It's in hair follicles, blood, and other bodily fluids. And a violent struggle means more DNA left behind.

Then what? The DNA in hair can show investigators where the suspect went, but here's the challenge:

"I could go into a house, and you know how many hairs I'm going to find? Millions!" Summers says.

Drops of blood found at a scene tells investigators more.

A quick test shows if it's human, and a lab can match it to a specific person. But drops of blood show even more than that.

The shape and location of the drops shows where the victim and suspect were standing...and how many shots the gunman fired.

Investigators say matching DNA to a suspect can take anywhere from 8 months to a year and a half.