Montgomery, Ala., homicide detective Mike Myrick deposited the 800-page serial murder case file on his sergeant's desk -- all of it contained on one compact disk.

"Can you do this with any case?" the sergeant asked.

"Yeah, that's the point," Myrick shot back.

Since Jan. 1, the Digital Case File is the standard for Montgomery's homicide unit: No more reams of paper. No more lost case files. No more audio tapes. The whole case file is contained on one CD.

Myrick said he wished he'd had the Digital Case File during the 2002 sniper shootings case involving Lee Malvo and John Muhammad -- one of the 10 shootings took place in his jurisdiction. Myrick developed a case for the shooting and submitted copies to the many task forces working on the case. When all was said and done, he had compiled and sent out about 10 different paper case files on the shooting, which cost about $1,700 apiece.

The standard procedure for developing a case file, Myrick said, was typing everything into the computer, printing it and eventually deleting it. Doing that for every case made him wonder.

"Everything we do is put on a computer anyway," he said. "We're typing up witness locators, we have form-filled affidavits -- all of it is on the computer anyway. There's got to be a way to save that soft-copy form and put it in an organized fashion, where you can organize it in one folder, then burn that folder to CD."

So he did it.

Now after an arrest is made, the arresting officer calls up a special template stored in a folder on the server. The template includes report forms, or subtemplates that traditionally have been used in law enforcement but in paper form. The paper report forms -- arrest report, the witness contact report, contact information, etc. -- were converted to electronic format via ScanSoft software called OmniForm.

There are nine subtemplates in one main electronic template. Each subtemplate is filled out as the investigation proceeds. Once the case is closed, the folder containing the template and subtemplates is burned onto a CD.

Previously the completed forms were printed to assemble a case file. Making multiple copies of the CD is easy compared to the previous process, which meant creating paper copies of each case file.

Myrick said it took a couple of years to figure out what equipment he needed and get the desired input from investigators, but it came together this year.

Now an entire case -- everything from the arrest report to audio tapes and video tapes of witnesses and suspects, to phone records and any other piece of evidence throughout the investigation -- is collected and presented to the district attorney on a CD.

Point-and-Click Investigations

With CD in hand, prosecutors are ready to present the case in court with few adjustments. Attempts to talk with someone at the District Attorney's Office weren't successful, but Myrick said prosecutors are enjoying the benefits of the Digital Case File.

"The district attorneys can put it in their briefcase and take the case home with them," he said.

The prosecution can't alter the original document, but can highlight portions or annotate certain parts of the document. It also makes it easy for the prosecution to hand over evidence to the defense. The prosecution can copy the case to a hard drive, delete what the defense isn't allowed to see and send that version to the defense for discovery purposes.

"[The prosecution] just goes through, takes out nondiscoverable evidence and gives it to the defense. That's your case," Myrick said. "The defense attorney has everything he or she needs."

Myrick said it's easy, both for the investigating

Jim McKay, Justice and Public Safety Editor  |  Justice and Public Safety Editor