By Professor David Blythe, School of Business & Management
The key to any successful forensics inquiry is to approach the question with, and keep, an open mind. That was the message delivered by retired Vermont Superior Judge Stephen Martin during a visit to the Norwich campus this past semester. Martin, who stepped down several years ago as the Chief Administrative Judge for the Vermont Superior Court System, spent a day with a group of Professor Peter Stephenson’s cyberforensics students to discuss the evolution of forensic investigations in criminal proceedings.
“We were especially pleased to have someone of Judge Martin’s stature and experience spend time one-on-one with our students,” according to Prof. Stephenson. “He has insights and practical knowledge that you just can’t get out of a textbook.” Stephenson noted that Judge Martin presided over dozens of murder trials during almost three decades on the bench.Martin recently published a book on what is arguably Vermont’s most famous “cold case” – the death of Orville Gibson of Newbury in 1957. In his book “Orville’s Revenge: Anatomy of a Suicide” Martin makes a compelling case that Gibson committed suicide by intentionally staging his death to look like murder. That is contrary to the official view still held by the Vermont State Police, who continue to carry Gibson’s death as an unsolved homicide.
Martin was a young lawyer fresh out of law school and a law clerk to legendary Vermont defense attorney Richard E. Davis, who successfully defended two men accused of Gibson’s murder. According to Martin, Davis always believed that Gibson took his own life. The key to the case – and to Martin’s book – is a fresh and comprehensive look at the forensic evidence which was at the heart of the trial detailed in the book.
The Gibson case continues to capture popular and professional attention throughout Vermont and beyond. Stephenson is a member of the internationally acclaimed Vidocq Society, an assembly of 82 forensic experts from around the world, which assists law enforcement officials in solving old crimes. According to Stephenson, the Society has expressed a very serious interest in the Gibson case. “From our initial review, it appears that the original view of the case – as a murder – may be incorrect. We think that Judge Martin may really be on to something here,” said Stephenson. “We’d very much like to have a closer look.”
During his visit, Martin shared a number of stories – historic and anecdotal – with Stephenson’s students. After discussing the Gibson case, Martin lunched with the students and Professors Stephenson and David Blythe. After lunch, the students took the Judge on an extended tour of the cyber lab and equipment rooms in Dewey Hall.
“This was a terrific opportunity for our students to hear from someone who has had a remarkable career and who is willing to share his experiences with a new generation of cyber investigators. It was time very well spent,” Stephenson observed.
You can read more about Judge Martin’s theory in this Boston Globe article.