“Pointing from the Grave” by Samantha Weinberg is a captivating murder-mystery novel. Weinberg received her degree from Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, and went on to become a journalist, novelist, and travel writer. In this book, she focuses on the journey of a man who had been prosecuted for several years. She talks about the scientific evidence and the evolution science has played to solve crimes. She touches the themes of fingerprints, DNA evidence, and psychopath characteristics. Her book is aimed to people with curiosity about criminal investigations. In 1985 Helena Greenwood was attacked and sexually assaulted at her home in Southern California. Ironically, Helena Greenwood was in the biotechnology realm where DNA evidence was on its way to being discovered. This was the start of an investigation that lasted over a decade, and involved the use of innovative technology.
Paul Frediani was the lead suspect of this sexual assault, because his fingerprint was found on a teapot outside her home. It was this fingerprint that tied him to Helena Greenwood. He was convicted to go to jail for three years for a crime he was not sure he did and the only evidence is a teapot outside her home. Throughout the trial Frediani complained that the trial was unfair, “He consistently maintained his innocence. But Judge Haverty clearly did not believe him” (pg. 109). There were other fingerprints in the crime, but the police were certain that it was him that committed the crime. If there were other fingerprints why didn’t they go after the owners? There are some evidences that were not fully developed in the crime scene. They should have gone for more evidence before convicting him for this crime. If they were so convinced that Frediani had committed the crime for one fingerprint outside the home, they should have been more persistent in finding the owner of the other fingerprints. Even at the end, when they are convicting him of the murder, when he is asked about the sexual assault he says, “... I will admit my guilt so we can get past this because it has nothing to do with the murder” he says it in a way where he does not believe it, only accepts it because he had lost the trial (pg 302). The fingerprint does count as a crucial piece of evidence, but not enough to help him lose the trial murder.
Later on, after he pleaded “not guilty”, Helena Greenwood was murdered in her home.
Nearly a year before she was murdered, scientist Alec Jeffrey announced his discovery of DNA fingerprinting, which Helena touted as an incredible discovery that her own company should get involved in. Coincidently this discovery would mean a lot more to Helena’s personal life story than strictly her professional career. “By the end of the decade, DNA fingerprints and profiling ere sweeping happily around the world, heralded by many forensic scientists and lawyer…” this helped many crimes round the world to be solved and many people to be freed (pg 126),. The discovery of DNA fingerprinting sparked a new area of science, which lead to the discovery of Polymerase Chain Reaction (PRC). PCR had a profound impact on criminal investigations as it required much smaller sample sizes than fingerprinting to be analyzed. “…PCR is the word processor of biochemistry” (pg175) said one the scientists since it started revolutionizing crime solving after 1988. Solving the mysteries behind her murder began to rely on innovation in science over time, which caused this case to be revisited continually for over a decade.
Frediani’s involvement in the sexual assault attack caused a lot of suspicion, and placed him as the main suspect for her murder. The were no other motives for her murder, so prosecutors began to point the finger at Paul. However, there was no evidence to convict him. A scientist was able to use DNA evidence to link Frediani to Helena’s murder. However, it took ten years for the DNA evidence to evolve and solve the crime. In the autopsy, they were able to see that Helena fought with her murderer, this was key. DNA was shown to be on of the most promising
evidences that detectives can find in order to convict someone. The endless room for innovation in science has lead to great discoveries over time, which lead to Frediani’s conviction. The timeline of this story closely follows the progression of criminal investigation techniques, which plays a very interesting role. The span of events occurred over a decade apart, so why did investigators remain so invested in this particular case throughout? It is interesting to witness one case be drawn out for so many years,which brings in discussion of personal vendetta versus thirst for justice. Did the investigators involved in this case have a hatred for Frediani? Did they do everything in their power to ensure his arrest? Or was the span of this case a typical for this type of situation?
While most of these questions remain unanswered, its clear that the development of DNA analysis drastically altered the verdict of the case. Even Frediani admitted that “DNA is a miraculous technology in the forensic analysis” (pg312). But as the case was developing, the introduction of DNA offered many new pieces of evidence that kept the case alive for many additional years. The opportune timing of this new technology is what dragged Frediani’s case on for 10 years. The case developed as the technology developed and it complicated the case tenfold. Weinberg elaborated on how the new scientific discoveries impacted the case, but failed to explore reasons as to why the case resulted the way it did. While DNA opened many new doors in forensic science, it didn't help explain other factors in the case. Why does Frediani act the way he did? Were there ever conclusive tests run that show Frediani had personally disorders? While these questions go unanswered, it allows the reader to draw their own conclusions. It seemed like there were a few instances where science seemed to overpower logic, and it left interpretation up to the reader. However, despite these minor details, the book was very informative and intellectually stimulating. Weinberg successfully crafted a story that intertwined scientific discovery, and a suspenseful thriller. For any individual that appreciates a scientifically accurate representation of crime, then I would highly encourage that individual to read this book.