Thursday, June 5, 2003

Local murder focus of TV show

By Steve Kemme
The Cincinnati Enquirer

HAMILTON - A Butler County murder investigation that began with the discovery of a human torso in the Great Miami River in Hamilton in April 1998 will be featured on a TV series that focuses on how forensic science solves criminal cases.

A film crew for the discovery Channel series, The New Detectives, recently spent four days in Butler County for a program on the murder of Cheryl Ann Durkin.

James Lee Lawson was convicted in December 1998 for the 33-year-old Middletown woman's murder. He is serving a prison sentence of 20 years to life.

Prosecutors said he struck Durkin four times in the head with a blunt object, cut up her body in his basement and threw the torso in the river. At his request, his mother and his sister buried Durkin's head and other body parts in woods in Preble County and Brookville, Ind.

"This particular case has so many aspects that we found fascinating," said Elizabeth Browde, producer of The New Detectives. "The detectives and the forensic scientists had to do a lot of work to solve it."

The program about this case will be the first show of the new television season. It will air sometime in September.

The forensic features of the investigation included:

• A forensic anthropologist providing the murder victim's height and weight ranges after analyzing the torso.

• A DNA test identifying Durkin as the murder victim.

• A forensic expert who analyzed Durkin's bones offering important information on the damage to her skull and her dismemberment.

• The chemical called luminol revealing blood in the basement and in a bedroom closet of Lawson's home.

"This wasn't your typical smoking-gun case," said Butler County Sheriff's Major Anthony Dwyer, who led the investigation.

As is customary in all their programs, The New Detectives mixed interviews of the victim's family members and case investigators with re-enactments using professional actors to dramatize the crime and certain parts of the investigation.

Dwyer said the program had to compress and omit some aspects of the case to present it in one hour.

"They impressed me with their effort to be as accurate as possible," he said.

Durkin's sister, Karla Edwards of Madison Township, said her family cooperated with the TV program.

"It's an educational program," she said. "So hopefully, it will help investigators and forensic people. And maybe it will change some people's minds about doing something wrong."

Durkin's mother, Dorothy Bond, who died on March 25after a long illness, had been looking forward to the filming of her daughter's story.


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