Tom Ciula, forensic video specialist for the Cleveland Division of Police, has used a number of tools to deliver potential evidence to investigators. When he began using iNPUT-ACE in 2015, however, it quickly became an integral part of his end-to-end process. Recently, it helped close a murder case that received national media attention.
William T. Jones, 27, murdered Jared Plesec, 21, on the morning of December 2, 2017. Plesec was wearing his Salvation Army employee uniform and holding a Bible when Jones shot him in the head at point blank range. Both lived in the same apartment complex where the murder was committed.
The complex has four completely separate video systems covering different parts of the property. Ciula collected video evidence from two of the systems and brought it back to his office, where he used iNPUT-ACE to process the proprietary video files.
For Cleveland’s high-volume department, which handles more than 100 cases per year, iNPUT-ACE reduces time-consuming and potentially error-prone steps by automating multiple analysis tasks for video related investigations. “One issue we deal with is having to transcode or rewrap video, so investigators can see what they’re investigating,” Ciula explained. “Although the files came out as MP4s, they were an unusual codec. While I could play them directly within iNPUT-ACE, no one else in the division could play them natively.”
With iNPUT-ACE, Ciula was able to process the evidence quickly as a batch file. “It’s such a Swiss Army Knife of a program,” he said. “It puts the tools in one place and really automates a lot of these processes. Setting up the entire workflow in one application and then being able to press a button and let it run while you get up and get a cup of coffee—it’s just a much smoother, much easier process.”
The Plesec shooting was a rare case where the homicide was clearly recorded on video. “This was a capture of the complete crime,” Ciula said, “and we were able to follow both individuals from the time they left their apartments to the moment of the crime.”
Many cases use video to corroborate scientific information such as vehicle speeds or measurements between objects. For this case, however, Ciula used the video evidence to create a narrative report and show the sequence of exactly what happened that morning.
According to Ciula, the more complex the case, the more crucial it is to provide concise, contextual evidence to the jury. “The proof in the pudding comes from sitting in that little box in that large room and looking at the 12 men and women sitting before you, and conclusively showing them that what you’re saying is what occurred,” he added. “Walking in with a solid tool that is vetted and forensically sound like iNPUT-ACE is crucial. And every time that the video evidence is so compelling that it leads to someone taking a plea, that certainly moves the wheels of justice forward.”
In December, Jones originally pleaded not guilty to all charges (he followed the murder by carjacking several vehicles and assaulting other people). Once the defendant and his lawyer saw the video evidence, however, Jones pleaded guilty to aggravated murder and numerous other charges, and was sentenced in May 2018 to life in prison without the possibility of parole, plus an additional 154.5 years.