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Tuesday, September 12, 2000

09/12/00 Dr. Henry Lee gives forensic, life lessons

By Martin B. Cassidy - Greenwich Time

Trace evidence found at the scene of 13-year-old Matthew Margolies' murder could yield a connection to a suspect, renowned criminal forensic scientist Dr. Henry Lee last night told a crowd gathered at Greenwich High School.

Lee was referring to the brutal, unsolved murder of Pemberwick teenager Matthew Margolies on Aug. 31, 1984. The investigation into the slaying has been renewed by Greenwich police and has involved the examination of trace evidence by Lee, who until April served as Connecticut's public safety commissioner. Lee last night declined to say what that evidence might be.

Lee's presentation was the kickoff of the fall Greenwich Continuing Education program, and attracted about 150 residents, police officers and crime buffs.

"What was found at the murder site I call trace or transfer evidence," Lee said. "Sometimes that can be very good and you can make a connection. But I can't really discuss an active case."

Lee's comments came at the start of a biographical presentation at Greenwich High School. Lee, who was not paid for his appearance, was selected to give the address because of his role in advancements in the use of forensic DNA testing in solving crimes.

Lee, 61, retired from his state post to focus on the more than 800 open murder investigations he is assisting in nationwide. He maintains the title of chief emeritus with the state and still works in the state lab in Meriden.

With considerable humor, Lee last night narrated a slide show that touched on his early family life and police career in China; his favorite sayings and axioms; and his forensic career, including his testimony during the O.J. Simpson murder trial and his contribution to the Jon Benet Ramsey murder investigation.

Lee was born into a wealthy family in Taiwan in 1938 during a Communist uprising in China. After his family was stripped of its possessions, his father drowned under mysterious circumstances, leaving his mother to raise 13 children.

Unable to afford college tuition, Lee said he enrolled in Taiwan's police academy, graduating at the top of his class and becoming the youngest police captain in China at the age of 22.

"I cheated on all my exams. If you finished at the top of your class you were made a captain," Lee said to laughter. "My mother has always pushed me to work harder. I don't know how she did it, but we all got our educations."

Wanting to learn more about criminal science, Lee came to New York City and worked three jobs to pay for classes at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and to earn a doctorate in biochemistry from New York University. Lee said during this period he worked, studied or went to class 18 to 20 hours a day, typing all his term papers on a toy typewriter and giving kung fu lessons to earn extra cash.

Throughout last night's presentation, Lee called on audience members to answer science questions and rewarded correct answers with plastic Connecticut state trooper badges.

"In this world there are two ways to make it," Lee said. "One is to be named Rockefeller or Kennedy. The other is to work hard. It's not surprising which one I chose."

Lee ruefully joked about the calls he receives in the middle of the night when he would rather sleep, and showed a disturbing photograph of a man who died of a drug overdose to remind the audience of the value of life.

"If this man had another chance, he would probably say he wouldn't do drugs," Lee said. "Sometimes God only gives us one chance. We must teach children to cherish life."

Greenwich High School junior Joshua Mertz, 16, attended Lee's lecture and said he will take an introductory forensic science course next semester.

"I wish we had more talks like this during school," Mertz said. "I was pretty surprised at how funny it was. When I heard he was coming here to speak, I just had to go."

Greenwich Police Officer Pier Corticelli said he was struck by Lee's emphasis on striving for excellence.

"It makes you want to work harder and do better," Corticelli said. "The talk gave you a lot of history and personality."

Although retired, Lee said he still works 17-hour days because he loves criminal forensics. Lee closed the evening by telling the audience to be successful they must balance hard work, family and friends, and their spirituality.

"The master of the art of living is the man who makes his work his play and keeps his labor the same as his leisure," Lee said.

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