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Case Studies

GC/MS/MS in Court

With the introduction of our GC/MS/MS confirmatory analysis, our clients have access to the benefits of this leading edge, court proven, science that is here today. The execution of this method is based on ASTM 1618 and is methodology that has been used successfully in significant courtroom proceedings. GC/MS/MS provides extra assurance that traces of ignitable liquids, as important evidence in cases against arson, will not be missed and adds the highest level of confidence to the results.

We have shown that there can be a significant number of samples which do not provide enough information when analyzed by standard GC/MS yet can be confirmed and proven to be positive with an additional test using our GC/MS/MS technology. This is due to the significant increase in sensitivity and ability to tune the MS/MS method to be specific for indications of ignitable liquids. Although GC/MS/MS is a well established and understood technique it is not generally well known as it is found in only the most progressive laboratories. This second confirmatory analysis on fire debris samples was reviewed by forensic scientists, accepted, and was subsequently published in the Canadian Journal of Forensic Sciences. Investigators have been impressed and subsequently ask, "has GC/MS/MS been used successfully in court". The answer is most definitely a… "YES"

MS/MS methods have been used primarily in cases where the sample is very complex, such as for blood. Fire debris is also classified as very complex. Here are three cases that have used MS/MS;

Case 1: Fire Debris Analysis for Ignitable Liquids

The analysis of fire debris samples by GC/MS and GC/MS/MS was part of the testimony in a first-degree murder trial in January of 2002. As an expert witness, Dale Sutherland testified that GC/MS/MS had been used to confirm a positive result for the presence of gasoline in a highly weathered sample. This sample was originally analyzed by GC/MS where some characteristics of an Ignitable liquid was detected but were insufficient to declare a positive result. A second analysis using GC/MS/MS conclusively proved that this fire debris sample was in fact positive for the presence of gasoline.

Case 2: Analysis of EDTA in Blood by the FBI Forensic Science Research Unit in the O.J.Simpson Trial

Agent Martz and the FBI's research laboratory developed a method using MS/MS to determine whether the blood stained cloth swatch and socks found at the O.J. Simpson residence contained the blood preservative EDTA (Ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid). MS/MS coupled with liquid chromatography successfully determined that EDTA was not present in the evidence at levels indicating its use as a preservative. It was thus determined that police authorities had not tampered with the evidence. In support of the specificity of MS/MS, scientists at Cornell University published their findings in Analytical Chemistry (1997, 69, 477A-480A) for "Determining EDTA in Blood". They found that the use of MS/MS removes the chemical background or interference's from the targeted compounds of interest, in fact in their experiments "the blank blood plasma sample is free of all matrix peaks" or potential interference's. They stated that MS/MS "provides the highest specificity and the best detection level of any method currently published". Also, in their conclusions in reference to the O.J. Simpson trial, "The question of blood-evidence tampering in a criminal trial has led not only to improved analytical techniques for the determination of EDTA, but also to the demonstration that a relatively new technique (MS/MS) is ready to be used as credible evidence in the courtroom".

Case 3: GC/MS/MS Confirmation of Unusually High D9-Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC or Marijuana) Levels in Two Postmortem Blood Samples

This case was published in the Journal of Analytical Toxicology (V21, Number 7, Dec. 1997). Unusually high levels of THC were detected in two postmortem blood samples. In this method a major metabolite is also analyzed for as a confirmation of the presence of the parent compound, THC. However, because of the sample decomposition in these post mortem samples, the routine GC/MS method was insufficient and could not confirm the presence of the metabolite. Thus some doubt was cast on the presence of the high levels of THC found. Re-analysis of the samples using GC/MS/MS confirmed the identification of the high THC levels due to the higher specificity and confidence of the MS/MS technique. This method is in essence "tuned" to the detection of THC just as Activation Laboratories tunes their technique to the detection of ignitable liquids in fire debris. For fire debris samples, this method significantly removes interferences from unwanted pyrolysates in the sample making the identification of the ignitable liquid signatures much more easily identifiable at trace levels.

Mr. Dale Sutherland has appeared as an expert witness in court before using his expert knowledge on Fire Debris Analysis with the GC/MS and GC/MS/MS methods.


Activation Laboratories Ltd. | 41 Bittern Street, Ancaster, Ontario, L9G 4V5, Canada | TF: +1.888.228.5227
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