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Leo Adler clearly recalls his first experience with Herbert MacDonell, even though it happened 35 years ago.
Adler, a Toronto-based attorney, was defending a client against an attempted murder count.
Adler asked Mr. MacDonell, who had already gained international recognition as a forensics expert, to help with the defense.
Even though the suspect was eventually convicted — due in part to his own earlier confession — Adler was so impressed by Mr. MacDonell that he turned to him for help again and again.
"My wife had read his book 'The Evidence Never Lies' and she said if anybody can help solve this it’s him, and she was right. And he came up here and was quite an amazing person," Adler said.
"Over the years I stayed in touch with him and used him in other cases," he said. "He loved a good puzzle. He would try to determine who had done what or not, and it was just a tremendous experience working with him."
Mr. MacDonell, who lived in South Corning and taught for years at Corning Community College, died April 11. He was 90.
Mr. MacDonell was born July 23, 1928 and grew up in the Allegany County community of Bolivar, New York.
He graduated from Alfred University in 1950 with a bachelor's degree in chemistry. That same year he married his grade school sweetheart Phyllis Barbara Austin, who died in 2010.
Mr. MacDonell served as a professor of chemistry at Milton College from 1951 to 1953, and earned his master's degree in analytical chemistry from the University of Rhode Island in 1956.
It didn't take long for Mr. MacDonell to make a name for himself in the world of forensic science.
In 1960, Mr. MacDonell invited the MAGNA brush, a device that revolutionized the processing of latent fingerprints.
He was also a pioneer in solving crimes through blood stain pattern analysis and interpretation. He founded the Bloodstain Evidence Institute in 1973 and the International Association of Bloodstain Pattern Analysts in 1983.
Through it all, Mr. MacDonell's driving force was an unwavering conviction that the evidence truly doesn't lie.
"He was looking for the truth. The truth is still worth revealing," said nephew Scott MacDonell, who grew up enjoying Mr. MacDonell's stories about cases he had worked on over the years.
"He wasn’t willing to be persuaded to slant anything for any particular case. He stuck to the scientific data," Scott MacDonell said. "He had high ethical standards and I think that’s important. We were taught that and exposed to that even. There’s a good lesson for future generations to hear."
Mr. MacDonell demonstrated that commitment to following the evidence wherever it leads when he was called by the prosecution to testify at the 2008 military tribunal of Michael Behenna, a former U.S. Army lieutenant who was convicted of executing an Iraqi citizen.
But when he informed prosecutors his examination of the evidence proved that there was no way Behenna shot the victim as described, and that it was clearly a case of self-defense, he was informed his testimony would not be needed.
Over the years, Mr. MacDonell testified in several high-profile cases, including the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., the trial of Jean Harris — who was convicted for the murder of Scarsdale Diet doctor Herman Tarnower — the O.J. Simpson murder trial and civil case, and the New York City police shooting of Guinean immigrant Amadou Diallo.
His work also inspired others to follow his path.
"If it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t be in this career," said forensic consultant Anita Zannin of Buffalo, who did an internship with Mr. MacDonell in 2004. "He was a huge proponent of education and helped people pursue a higher education. Clearly he was very brilliant."
"He was able to teach at a level that wasn’t too basic but wasn’t too complicated. His sense of humor came out constantly," Zannin recalled. "Given the nature of the material of the course — always very traumatic and violence and that sort of thing — it was kind of necessary to lighten it a bit and make it more palatable."
That wry and slightly morbid sense of humor, along with his ability to craft a spellbinding story, were what made Mr. MacDonell a great teacher and a star witness, no matter which side he took the stand for, Adler said.
"He had a camper story and said instead of hot and cold running water, he had bourbon in one and whiskey in the other," Adler recalled. "The great thing about Herb was he was able to get his story across, and when you call an expert witness you need somebody who is able to describe what happened and able to explain what happened in plain English. And Herb had that wonderful talent.
"He was very even-handed. He was a character," he said. "And I think now that he’s gone, it’s the end of a certain colorful era."
Follow Jeff Murray on Twitter @SGJeffMurray.