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Released August 05, 2004


HATTIESBURG - Court TV's Dr. Henry Lee and other top forensic scientists from around the nation are teaming up with The University of Southern Mississippi for a one-of-a-kind seminar students won't soon forget.

Lee, the host of his own television show and a world-renowned criminologist who has worked on famous investigations, including the O.J. Simpson and JonBenet Ramsey cases, highlights a six-day cruise called "Forensic Science Seminar at Sea."

About 90 participants will depart from New Orleans aboard a Carnival Cruise Line ship for the seminar, which runs from Aug. 14-19. During the cruise, which stops over in Calica/Playa del Carmen and Cozumel, Mexico, students will participate in hands-on seminars and mock crime scene investigations.

"This is a unique opportunity for students of forensics to escape the formal lecture and have spare time to talk one-on-one with faculty and speakers," said Lee, who also serves as chief emeritus of the Connecticut State Police. The author of more than 30 books and the founder of the forensic science program at the University of Connecticut, Lee is the host of Court TV's "Trace Evidence: The Case Files of Dr. Henry Lee."

Other guest lecturers include Dr. John Verano, associate professor of anthropology at Tulane University, on forensic anthropology; Dr. Robert Barsely, director of the Louisiana State University School of Dentistry, on forensic odontology; Dr. Mary Case, chief medical examiner of St. Louis, St. Charles, Jefferson and Franklin counties in Missouri, on forensic pathology and pediatric forensic medicine; Cullen Ellinburgh, supervising deputy coroner for Orange County, Ca., on medicolegal death investigation; and Edward Delery of the Scientific Criminal Investigation Division of the New Orleans Police Department on crime scene investigation.

Students will receive academic credit for the seminar, the equivalent of a 16-week course. The university will offer a certificate of academic instruction to coroners, deputy coroners, law enforcement officers and other nonacademic participants.

According to Dean Bertram, forensics instructor at Southern Miss, the cruise is the brainchild of Bill Donovan, forensic investigator in Jefferson Parish, La. "He'd been wanting to do this for a while, and I just talked him into tying it into the university," Bertram said.

With his connections to the nation's leading authorities in forensic science, Donovan was able to assemble a "dream team" of guest lecturers, all of whom were more than willing to mix business with pleasure.

And the price tag for students -- coming in under $1,000 -- is an absolute steal, Donovan said. Three students received $500 scholarships from the Ronald and Suzanne Pedro Fund to attend the seminar.

"If you were to go to a six-day conference, with meals, travel, hotel accommodations, you're going to spend well over $1,000. Plus, we've got the biggest names in the forensic world," said Donovan, who has spent the last 24 years in a field he calls enthusiastically "the most fun profession in the world."

Donovan said no other institution in the nation has a program similar to the seminar at sea. "Yale and Harvard, nobody could do any better. They don't get to host anything like this, and it's mostly because of Dean's hard work."

Plans to add a bachelor's and master's degree in forensic science are under way at Southern Miss, pending approval from the state college board in October. Currently, forensics is offered as a minor only.

Southern Miss student Ronnie Murray, a software engineering major with a minor in forensics, said the seminar is a "chance of a lifetime."

"It's not every day you get the opportunity to learn from the best forensic scientists in the world and rub elbows with TV celebrities, while enjoying all the comforts and entertainment of a passenger cruise," Murray said.

To encourage networking, Bertram said students will rotate tables at meals so they can dine and chat with all of the forensic scientists aboard. Bertram said this is just one more way in that the seminar is unlike any other. "It's designed to let the student come into contact with the practitioners, in this case, some of the best in the country," he said.

If the course is a success--which Bertram predicts it will be--guests for next year's cruise are already being lined up, including Dr. Michael Baden, host of HBO's "Autopsy."

"I wouldn't be surprised if we had 300 people for this cruise next year," Bertram said.

Lee said the popularity of TV shows like his own and the top-rated "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" prove the current prominence of forensic science in the realm of criminal justice.

"In the '60s, cases were investigated through interviews. In the '80s, it was witness and undercover-type operations. Then it was psychological profiling, and we realize now that all of that is largely unreliable. Forty percent of witness testimony is false.

"With the importance of crime scenes and physical evidence playing such a large role in major trials, history has taught us a lot of lessons: Mainly, if crime scene evidence is not handled correctly, you're going to lose the case. In addition, juries are expecting to see more evidence today," Lee said.


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August 31, 2004 3:20 PM