Mock crime scene serves as final exam for students in Modesto

local@modbee.comDecember 17, 2013 

— Seniors in Modesto City Schools’ Criminal Justice Program investigated a “suspicious death” for their final exam of the semester Tuesday.

An argument heard by neighbors, blood on the corner of a table, a “Dear John” letter found near empty alcohol bottles and prescription pills were among the clues students had to consider when trying to determine the manner of death for the subject of the mock death investigation.

There was no right or wrong answer, said instructor Joe Silva, who graded students based on their explanations of how they determined the man’s manner of death.

Through searching the man’s property, students learned he was 50. Neighbors, played by juniors in the Criminal Justice Regional Occupational Program, revealed that the man was a Gulf War veteran who was disabled and unable to find work. They told the exam takers that they hadn’t seen the man since Thursday but had heard him arguing with his girlfriend earlier in the day.

Deputy Coroner Tom Killian helped with the exam, explaining to the students that such a scenario would require toxicology results from the decedent, which can take weeks. The results would be needed to help a pathologist return an official cause of death, but the students were tasked with coming up with a manner of death in the interim.

Some students chose homicide, some suicide, and others thought the man’s death was accidental.

Silva, who is a retired Modesto Police Department officer, said these types of scenarios give students a glimpse of what a career in law enforcement would be like, and completion of the course transfers to three college credits at Modesto Junior College after a year in its criminal justice program.

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