Sketch artist plays crucial role in catching suspects

Mike Herndon
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Steve Jefferson/Eyewitness News

The victim of a crime may have just seconds to take a mental snapshot of their attacker.

Artist Mike Herndon is the man who turns those mental images into a sketch of the suspect. Herndon finds himself in the middle of some of the biggest police investigations in central Indiana. Detectives from IMPD and other police forces call on Herndon to sketch their suspects with the help of their victims.

Herndon says he tries to empower the victim. When he meets with them he wants them to be comfortable and prepared to spend hours describing their attacker. Herndon's weapons against crime include drawing pencils, a sketch pad, a suspect worksheet and a book. The book contains facial features like overhanging eyelids, meeting brows, concave noses, flared nostrils, narrow base noses, average lips, thin lips, wide lips and more - all features that help the victims remember their attacker.

He asks them to go through and look at every face and every head before they make up their mind. A recent case for Herndon involved the abduction of an Indianapolis woman from a downtown garage. The suspect forced her to drive to a bank to withdraw cash. Then, police say, the suspect sexually assaulted her twice. But through Herndon's skills, he was able to produce a sketch that resulted in the arrest of an Indianapolis teen.

Herndon's forensic work even helped capture a suspect a continent away. An exchange student in Indianapolis was sexually assaulted when she returned to her homeland of Africa. When she returned to Indianapolis, she helped Herndon put together a suspect composite which he sent to Ghana authorities. The man was later arrested and sent to trial.

Eyewitness News tested the memories of Criminal Justice students at Ivy Tech with a surprise visit from Channel 13 Videographer Jim Hall. He walked into a classroom and asked for directions. After his stop, Steve Jefferson asked students for a description. The answers all varied.

Though Jim was wearing a bright green shirt with a yellow and blue collar trim. Many students thought otherwise. One said his shirt was yellow while another claimed it was light blue. All of the students correctly described Jim's backpack and were similar in their descriptions of Jim's hair and eyes. Their instructor, former police chief Joe Carter, was surprised by their recollections.

"That kind of surprised me because he definitely had a green shirt on. But they had a lot of the stuff, they identified with the person, the hair I thought was pretty good," he said.

So what are the keys to remembering a face?

"Start with the hair and quickly glance up and see which side they part the hair on. Then go right down the face and glance up when it is safe to do so. Try to remember if they had wrinkles in the forehead and look at the eyebrows and see if they are full, or thin," Herndon said.

When it comes to eye color all this artists needs to know is if they are dark or light. Another feature to concentrate on is the upper lip and comparing the two lips to see if one is thicker than the other.

Proving that this act of art can turn moments of terror into years behind bars and prevent another person from becoming a victim.

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