When investigators in the dog fighting case against NFL player Michael Vick needed a forensic expert on animals, they called Atlanta-based Dr. Melinda C. Merck.
Merck, a forensic veterinarian with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, spent the day at the Kent County SPCA rescue-adoption center in Camden, Delaware last week, sharing the latest animal cruelty crime scene investigation tools and techniques with scores of police, animal enforcement officers, vets and pet advocates.
“Every cruelty case is tough,” Dr. Merck told attendees. “But it’s always gratifying when you get a plea or conviction.”
Getting evidence needed for conviction is more demanding than ever, she said, partly because of what is called “the CSI effect.” Because of “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” and other TV shows such as the nonfiction “Forensic Files,” jurors expect DNA tests, all details used to estimate time of death and proof of evidence custody, Merck said. If prosecutors lack such science, “they want to know why,” she said.
In animal cases, she said, standard DNA testing may cost about $300, compared with several thousand dollars for human tests. Still, the cost factor mentioned by Merck made Delaware SPCA’s Executive Director John E. Caldwell balk. The nonprofit agency, with shelters in Stanton and Georgetown, successfully investigates and prosecutes hundreds of cases of animal cruelty each year without such expensive techniques, he said.