Please welcome my friend Ralph Ristenbatt!
Ralph wanted his forensic science students to dig into a real case. Could I help? Of course, Vidster obliged! Students in the Penn State Forensic Science Program, in collaboration with the Zeigler defense team, have been the first in the USA to have had an exclusive look into the Zeigler case.
Ralph holds a Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry (Lebanon Valley College) and a Master of Science in Forensic Science (John Jay College of Criminal Justice/CUNY). In 1990, he accepted a position at the New York City Office of Chief Medical Examiner in the Department of Forensic Biology. His duties included serological and DNA (HLA-DQalpha) analysis of physical evidence recovered in homicide and sexual assault cases. In 1995, he was promoted to a supervisory position. He has also received training in the analysis of gunshot residue (GSR) by scanning electron microscopy and energy dispersive X-ray analysis (SEM/EDX). Since 1991, Mr. Ristenbatt was responsible for the scientific analysis and reconstruction of crime scenes, production of reconstruction reports, and expert testimony in the five boroughs of New York City.
Ralph holds certifications by the International Association of Identification (Senior Crime Scene Analyst) and the American Board of Criminalistics (Diplomate – Criminalistics) and is a Fellow of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences. He has worked on over 300 reconstruction cases and has testified approximately 50 times (approximately half in the area of crime scene reconstruction). Mr. Ristenbatt, with others, has instructed over fifteen 40-hour bloodstain pattern analysis courses for personnel from agencies including the NYPD Crime Scene Unit, FBI Evidence Response Team (Newark, NJ), New Jersey State Police, New York State Police, and other jurisdictions.
Mr. Ristenbatt has also been an Adjunct Lecturer at Pace University (Westchester) and John Jay College of Criminal Justice/CUNY in an undergraduate/graduate criminalistics laboratory course and undergraduate laboratory courses of forensic chemistry and introductory forensic science. In 2006, he accepted his current position with the Forensic Science Program at the Pennsylvania State University.
He collaborates with DCC, tweets, and in between teaching and grading, found time to answer these questions for DCC:
1: What is your most favourite part of the day?
My favorite time varies day to day. Some mornings are filled with excitement and anticipation of planned events. Enjoying events during afternoon and evening hours are equally enjoyable, often more so. Evenings can be gratifying with good company, wine or another beverage, and a pleasant cigar. Quiet, cool, clear evenings in late summer and fall are superb!
2: When did you know you wanted to specialize in crime scene reconstruction and forensics? Who or what inspired you to take that route?
My interest in science began when I was very young. In the eighth grade, Mr. Young, my science teacher, sealed my fate. I knew I would pursue a career in science and I was interested in several different disciplines including astronomy, chemistry, physics, and various earth sciences. In my senior year of high school, I grappled with the decision of college selection and major. I chose to attend Lebanon Valley College in Annville, Pennsylvania and began as a chemistry major. In my junior year, after a tumultuous year of rigorous physical chemistry, I was advised to change my major and rather abruptly became a biochemistry major.
It was a “field trip” to the Pennsylvania State Police Crime Laboratory in Harrisburg that turned my attention to forensic science. I knew that I wanted to pursue additional education and a career in this burgeoning field. I moved to New York City and enrolled in the graduate program in forensic science at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice/CUNY. Renowned criminalist, Dr. Peter R. De Forest, served as my thesis advisor and I enjoyed nearly every minute of my education. Along the way, I received inspiration from a variety of instructors and other individuals. A family friend who served as a detective in a local police department certainly provided additional influence.
3: If you could trade places with a cartoon character for one day, who would that be?
Bugs Bunny. A handsome hare who is intelligent, witty, cheeky, and hilarious…unfortunately, my opposite in several respects.
4: Which trials/cases still haunts you till today?
Several cases come to mind, however, one particularly troubles me to this day. A case early in my career serves as a reminder that I am fallible; that we are all fallible. Despite a firm foundation in scientific knowledge and an objective assessment of the physical evidence, an individual remains in prison serving a 25 year-to-life sentence for an incident billed as an “execution.” The jury was charged with assessing the credibilities of an older law enforcement official with no scientific education/training and a young scientist with too little court experience. Regrettably, they opted in favor of the nonscientific “expert” and erred for the prosecution. If the defendant was guilty, no harm has been done. If the defendant acted in self-defense, a miscarriage of justice has occurred.
5: If you have a blog, how did you get started? Who or what inspired you to blog? If you don’t blog, is there one you read regularly?
I do not have, nor do I routinely read, any blogs.
6: Did you end up in the profession of your childhood dreams?
In a general sense, I am a scientist; therefore, I am in a profession that satisfies my childhood dreams. As a youth, however, I was ignorant of forensic science. I nearly pursued an education in astronomy and briefly thought about the aerospace industry, particularly with the USAF. Strictly speaking, I am not in the profession of my childhood dreams.
7: Something you always wanted to learn but never did?
I have always wanted to learn to fly (airplanes and helicopters) … some day possiblycrime scene reconstruction, Penn State, Ralph Ristenbatt, Vidocq presents ...!