Cracking the Case: Patrick Tillman / Industry Hills Sheraton

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Visionary Professor Donald Johnson, in association with LAVA and Esotouric, invites you to participate in a special four-hour event at LA’s regional crime laboratory, on the campus of Cal State LA. Space is very limited and pre-reservation required for this unprecedented opportunity to tour the crime lab, learn from working forensic investigators and educators, and discover the real art and science of crime scene investigation.

“Cracking the Case: Patrick Tillman / Industry Hills Sheraton” is an exploration of the scientific investigation of equivocal violent death, revealed through methods of evidence analysis and select case histories. Attendees will also have an opportunity to tour Cal State LA’s state-of the-art teaching and research facilities in the Criminalistics Department of the Hertzberg-Davis Forensic Science Center.

“Cracking The Case” consists of one crime investigation lecture by Forensic Firearm and Toolmark Examiner Michael I. Kelley, one crime investigation lecture by Professor Donald Johnson, and related breakout scientific workshops offering illustration of the concepts raised by both investigations. 

LECTURE #1 is Michael I. Kelley’s presentation on his investigation of the 2004 death of Army Ranger Patrick Tillman in Afghanistan. Mr. Kelley an Adjunct Professor with the Forensic Science Department, California State University – Los Angeles and a Firearm and Toolmark Examiner with the Scientific Investigation Division of the Los Angeles Police Department.

Patrick Tillman was an American football player who left his professional sports career and enlisted in the United States Army in May 2002. In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, Tillman proudly put his NFL career with the Arizona Cardinals on hold to serve his country. He and his brother Kevin joined the U.S. Army in July 2002, committing to a three-year term, volunteering for Airborne (paratrooper) and Ranger training, plus volunteering for assignment to a Ranger Unit, the 2nd battalion of the 75th Ranger Regiment in Fort Lewis, Washington. The Tillman brothers served tours in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003 and in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom in 2004. 

On April 22, 2004, Patrick Tillman was killed in action. Because initial investigations into the circumstances of his death had alleged inadequacies, the United States Congress and the Commander in Chief ordered the United States Army Criminal Investigation Command to conduct the investigation. In Spring 2006, Michael I. Kelley was selected as the team leader for the Army’s crime scene reconstruction investigation of the death incident of Corporal Tillman. Mr. Kelley planned the on-site actions for the scene reconstruction and proceed to the Afghanistan village of Tit located in the Khowst Province of Afghanistan near the Pakistan/Afghanistan border under the security of the US Army Infantry, where he conducted the reconstruction of the shooting incident two years to the hour from the date of Tillman’s death. Mr. Kelley’s technical expertise in firearms and crime scene reconstruction proved invaluable during the reconstruction and was the main reason for the overall success of the mission.

It was determined that Ranger Corporal Patrick Tillman died as a result of friendly fire while his unit was engaged in combat with enemy forces. Tillman’s platoon was ambushed with small arms and mortar fire at while conducting combat operations in Khowst, Afghanistan. When the Army unit was ambushed by enemy forces, part of the Ranger patrol (including Corporal Tillman) immediately responded. Tillman was shot and killed while responding to enemy fire without regard for his own safety. He focused his efforts on the elimination of enemy forces and the protection of his team members. There is an inherent degree of confusion in any firefight, particularly when a unit is ambushed, and especially under difficult light and terrain conditions which produce an environment that increases the likelihood of fratricide. The results of the investigation in no way diminish the bravery and sacrifice displayed by Corporal Tillman.

Mr. Kelley’s presentation on his investigation into Patrick Tillman’s death will offer fascinating insights into the little-known science of battlefield forensics and clear up many of the misconceptions that still linger from this controversial incident.

LECTURE #2 is Professor Donald Johnson’s presentation on his crime scene reconstruction of the 1996 Industry Hills Sheraton incident. The case involved a woman who fell or was pushed to her death from her hotel balcony. Professor Johnson’s reconstruction of her fall had great bearing on the criminal investigation.

In November 1996, Sandra Orellana and her married boss Robert Salazar traveled from Houston on a business trip to Los Angeles, staying the night in the Industry Hills Sheraton Hotel. They were seen behaving affectionately towards each other in the hotel bar. In the morning, Orellana’s badly battered corpse was discovered on the ground beneath her room’s balcony. Although Salazar initially denied knowing anything about her death, physical evidence indicated that he had undressed hastily in her room the night before. Salazar then changed his story, admitting he had sex with Orellana, but claiming it was consensual, and that she had accidentally fallen from the balcony and he had panicked. Professor Johnson’s crime scene reconstruction takes the facts and evidence in a complex and confusing death narrative and determines what really happened on that balcony in 1996.

By the afternoon-s conclusion, attendees will have a deeper understanding of the real work that’s done in the field by criminalists, and the tools and techniques used to interpret crime scenes for the benefit of investigating officers and juries. Come discover the reality, so different from and so much more interesting than, what you’ve seen on TV.


Cost: $36.50 per person. To reserve your spot, click here.  Please note that space is extremely limited for this special event.

A portion of the proceeds from this event supports the research of Criminalistics graduate students at Cal State Los Angeles.