Sunday, July 7, 2013

Herb MacDonnell, Founder of Bloodstain Institute, Convicted...

Dr. Herbert L. MacDonell
Herbert L. MacDonnell is perhaps best known in the forensic science community as the founder of the Bloodstain Evidence Institute, which has been training law enforcement investigators and forensic scientists since 1973. The general public may also recognize his name from expert testimony given in the O.J. Simpson murder trial. Whichever the case, 84 year old Herb MacDonell has a storied career that spans six decades.

However, in the third week of December 2012, Dr. MacDonell was arrested. According to Hicks (2012):

New York State Police say 84-year-old Herbert MacDonell had inappropriate pictures of an 11 year old girl at his home.

Troopers began investigating MacDonell after a report called into the state Child Abuse Hotline concerning his behavior while photographing the girl.

Dr. MacDonell's mugshot
Subsequent to this initial arrest, Dr. MacDonell* was arrested later that same week for charges related to a second victim. A student who attended the Bloodstain Institute at his home, she was afraid to come forward at first, as reported in Zick (2012):

The second alleged victim said MacDonell subjected her to sexual contact, exposed his penis and threatened to disclose personal health information about her that he claimed to have obtained through forensic analysis of an item she had discarded in a trash can, according to New York State Police in Painted Post.

The alleged abuse occurred while the 16-year-old girl was attending a forensics seminar over the summer at MacDonell’s Davis Road home in the Town of Corning.

The girl, who does not live locally, reported the alleged incident after MacDonell was arrested Tuesday on separate charges. She told police she had been afraid to disclose the alleged abuse because of MacDonell’s close association to the legal profession.

MacDonell was charged with forcible touching, exposure of person, second-degree harassment and endangering the welfare of a child. He was issued an appearance ticket.

Also, police have filed an additional charge - second-degree sexual abuse - against MacDonell in connection with the first alleged victim, an 11-year-old girl. MacDonell is accused of sexually abusing the girl and taking inappropriate photos of her at his residence.

In July of 2013, Dr. MacDonell plead guilty to reduced charges in order to avoid a trial and possible convictions for more serious offenses. As reported in Zick (2013), Dr. MacDonell:

...will serve three years of probation in connection with allegations he acted sexually inappropriate with two young girls.

In addition to probation, MacDonell is forbidden from having contact with the two girls, and he is prohibited from being alone with children under the age of 18. The conditions of his sentence were part of a plea agreement with prosecutors.

MacDonell was sentenced after he pleaded guilty in Corning Town Court to two counts of second-degree aggravated harassment, a misdemeanor. Originally, he was charged with second-degree sexual abuse, forcible touching, exposure of person, second-degree harassment and two counts of endangering the welfare of a child.

In addition, he was ordered to pay related fines, and orders of protection were issued for both victims.

This case involves apparent forensic fraud as Dr. MacDonell threatened to disseminate false information (based on a non-existent forensic test) about the second victim using his position of trust and authority as a forensic scientist.

The allegations, charges, and reports in this case indicate behavior by Dr. MacDonell that is utterly unacceptable in any professional context. This to say nothing of ultimately being found criminal. However, the final plea deals that he was given seem inappropriate. In other words, the penalties invoked do not appear to fit the crimes. 

One is left to wonder whether Dr. MacDonell's status in the forensic science community, his advanced age, and his lack of prior convictions may have played a role in the deals that he was given. Certainly there are others that have done less, that have been subsequently labelled "sexual predator", and that have served actual jail time. In addition, there seems to be little emphasis on a search for other potential victims, which seems warranted.

In any case, Dr. MacDonell's lengthy career as a forensic expert should be at an end with these convictions, given the trustworthy character requirement that courtroom testimony necessitates. He abused his position of trust and authority as a forensic educator, and he successfully intimidated a witness against him for several months. Moreover, his multiple convictions demonstrate that he can no longer be trusted to navigate the line between ethical and unethical behavior, let alone that which is overtly criminal.

However, only time will tell.

*(Note: According to his bio:"Herbert MacDonell holds a master of science degree in chemistry and an honorary doctor of science degree from the University of Rhode Island.")

Brent E. Turvey, MS - Forensic Science; PhD - Criminology

Author of:

Turvey, B. (2011) Criminal Profiling, 4th Ed., London: Elsevier Science

Turvey B. (2013) Forensic Fraud, San Diego: Elsevier Science

Savino, J. & Turvey, B. (2011) Rape Investigation Handbook, 2nd Ed., San Diego: Elsevier Science

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