Most people get maybe $12 out of jury duty. Pat St. Clair, of Henrietta, got an idea — and a career.
It started when he was eight, and won a camera from a candy bar-selling contest. Since then, St. Clair has loved photography — but he never imagined he’d be aiding police officers with crime scenes using his photography skills.
St. Clair has made, patented and made good use out of his 360-degree camera, which takes a floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall photo of a crime scene.
In 1994, Apple released panoramic technology – something that St. Clair, since then, has always wanted to dabble in. Between that, and his experience as the back-up juror, St. Clair knew some changes had to be made to the judicial system.
His jury experience came 15 years ago, when St. Clair served as the 13th juror on a local case. A man walked into a barber shop, fired multiple rounds into a man in the barber’s chair and said to the only witness, the barber, “you didn’t see anything.”
When presented the evidence in the case, St. Clair didn’t find it sufficient, and now truly believes an innocent man is in jail, based on the poor presentation of the crime scene.
When later approached by the judge, who asked what the jurors thought of the judicial system, he told them, in very frank terms, “It sucks.”
“We the jurors are handed three building blocks: a cube, a ball and a pyramid; and you’re asking us to build a castle from that. We’re not allowed to factor in opinions … we’re not allowed to know anything about anything,” St. Clair explained. “Most of the evidence has been sanitized and scrubbed clean, and we get very little to make this decision. Very unfair; unfair to us, unfair to him, unfair to the victim, unfair to everybody. I said right then, ‘I can do better than that.’”
So he did. His first prototype was four cameras fixed together in a box-shape. With the press of a button, the four cameras would go off at the same time and the photos would be stitched together to make a 360-degree photograph.
But when it was presented to a friend at the Greece Police Department, he was told it would be a no-go.
“I started working right then in 2008 with a friend of mine who was a cop, Greece police. Showed him what I had … and he was very photographically aware, but he said, ‘I could do that, but my guys on the tech unit couldn’t. You gotta understand, cops are as dumb as a box of rocks. If you give them something that is hard to do, technologically, they’re not going to do it.’” St. Clair quoted his cop friend, noting that his friend said it with great respect nonetheless towards this colleagues.
So he kept trying. Nine years later, after several rounds of development and multiple presentations to the friend, the officer finally gave St. Clair the all-clear, deeming the product easy enough for police officers to use. But it was a long process.
“He looked at it, and we used it and did some tests with it and looked at the rotational method, which is standard, and he said, ‘Cops won’t do that. It’s too hard for them. Gotta make it easier.’ So over nine years ... I would come and talk to him and say, ‘I’m doing this now,’ and we’d look at it and test it and he’d say, ‘They won’t use it,’” St. Clair said.
“At the end of seven years, at this point I had built my own prototype of something smaller, and paid someone to write software,” he continued. “My goal was to make the totally, completely brainless unit that cops could use. ...At the end of seven years [the cop friend] said, ‘You’ve got the equipment. The equipment is perfect. But the software isn’t.
“So this is the end result. This is now a live product,” St. Clair said proudly.
So the original contraption – a multiple-camera rig that covered overlapping areas that fired at the same time and could capture action – to a camera about the size of a Wii remote. There are two cameras – one on either side – that each capture a 195-degree picture.
Using this machine, according to St. Clair, not only saves those looking at evidence the effort of having to look through hundreds of photos, but now, a crime scene can be photographed in, on average, 20 minutes.
When police need to get through the door, they’re allowed to go inside and get the one photograph they need to obtain the official search warrant. Now, on occasion, St. Clair gets to tag along.
He takes out his tablet and opens the software. When the camera is turned on and set up on his tripod, he steps outside, connects to software to the camera via Bluetooth, and in seconds, a panoramic shot appears in his hands. He can then email it to a judge instantly, instead of having to find him in person.
Then the tech unit goes in and sets up the evidence tents. St. Clair will then go in and take another photograph with all of the tents in the shot. The camera has a chip inside of it that makes it always point north so the shot is the exact same, every time. Then, a third photo will be taken afterwards, for insurance purposes.
“The [photo] with tent cards is the one that will be used in court. If there’s any question, they go back to the first set where one person had been in the house, and that’s the tie-breaker,” St. Clair explained.
The software even drops “pins” on a map, to show exactly where the photo was taken. There’s also the ability to drop a sort of “pin” on the photo itself — when you tap on it, it links the user to photographic evidence.
For example, say in the photo there’s a person lying on the ground, with a knife next to them. You might see a little black dot on the photo, over the knife. When you tap the black dot, it’ll open up an overhead photo of the knife, taken by the tech crew so jurors can get a better look at the weapon on top of being able to see where it was in relation to the entire crime scene.
“The whole idea is that it puts the jury right in the middle of the scene so they don’t have to listen to someone's lame text descriptions, and cops talk in jargon, so when they talk to you and describe the murder scene it's all in jargon and the jury is [confused],” said St. Clair. “With this, you’re there. You’re right there and you make your own decisions so the jury can make informed decisions and it’s no longer, in my opinion, justice for sale. ...The whole idea is to bring fairness to the courtroom, and that was based on my experience as a juror.
“It upset me greatly because the evidence was presented in a way that we really didn’t get a good understanding of the crime, and it’s left up to a juror’s interpretation, because most evidence is presented verbally, with a bunch of still photos and not really in a way that you get a clear understanding,” St. Clair said.
This technology, officially called OSCR360, has been used now with a number of local entities, as well as with the District Attorney’s office. It was used in the Craig Rideout murder case, as well as with a Maiden Lane murder that will be going to trial in a few months.
“I thought [OSCR360] helped consolidate all the information we had to consider and make things clearer. We wish we could have taken it to the deliberation room...” said a trial juror of the Rideout murder trial, according to the OSCR360 website.
“[OSCR]360 was used in the prosecution of Jonathan Ortiz for Murder in the Second Degree. It was used during the testimony of a main witness in the case [in the courtroom]. We were able to have the witness walk through the crime scene with the use of the 360. The jury was able to see the witness's vantage point of the events that occurred. The witness was able to articulate where all of the parties involved in the crime were located through the use of the 360. We were pleased with the results since it helped us explain the crime scene to the jury,” said Julie M. Hahn, Esq., Assistant District Attorney, Chief, Major Felony Bureau in Monroe County (according to the OSCR360 website).
For more information, or to even see mock crime scenes that were photographed using the OSCR360, visit https://www.l-tron.com/oscr360.