Prosecuting predators: Behind-the-scenes look at AG’s Forensic Computer Lab

Behind a closed, locked door in the Virginia Attorney General’s Computer Forensics Department is where agents do all their work to help prosecute predators.

“When a child is exploited in this way it robs them of so much and it last a life time,” says Attorney General Mark Herring.

Herring gave 8News rare access into the Forensic Computer lab. But they wouldn’t go into detail about their methods because they didn’t want to jeopardize any on-going investigations. It has only been in operation for 4 years, and each year they examine more devices. On an average it takes a week to pull the evidence off it.

“Our forensic examiners have tools to dig into criminal computers and cell phones and gather information that many people think is not there,” said Gene Fishel, Chief of the Computer Crime Section.

The three agents dedicated to the lab use sophisticated programs to go into a device’s hard drive and obtain and analyze images used to prosecute those who possess and/or distribute child pornography. These agents are also able to connect a criminal with pornographic picture and that particular computer; Which is key to getting a conviction.

“And the piece of it that is really important,” Herring said. “It is all important the computer forensic. They are very meticulous in how they collect evidence that our prosecutors need in order to put these folks in jail and behind bars.”

Herring has made it one of his missions to handle more child pornography cases to put more predators behind bars. And it is working.

In 2014, the AG’s office handled 76 child exploitation cases, with 27 convictions so far. Some cases are still going through the court system. Of those 27, the defendant collectively received 193 and ½ years behind bars.

And last year the Computer forensic lab handled 681 items, up 208 percent from 2013.

So far this year, they are working on 20 new investigations.

The AG’s office is in the process of getting a mobile forensic lab so they can obtain the evidence faster at crime scenes.

“I am very proud of the work we do going after these predators,” Herring added.

Herring put his support behind the Amy and Vicky Child Pornography Victim Restitution Improvement Act of 2014. If passed, it would get money to victims to help with their recovery. It is still working its way through the house and senate.

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