On Friday, the Virginia Department of Forensic Science laboratory in Richmond was renamed the “Paul B. Ferrara Building”. Dr. Ferrara was the Director of the state’s forensic lab for 21 years until his retirement in 2006. He died of cancer earlier this year.
Governor Bob McDonnell stated during the commemoration announcement that “He was one of the nation’s leading forensic scientists and widely respected by his scientific peers, law enforcement officials, lawyers, judges, policymakers, and academics in Virginia and beyond.” Due to Dr. Ferrara’s leadership and his direct innovations, the Virginia Department of Forensic Science (DFS) became the first laboratory to analyze DNA expanding the breadth of law enforcement investigations. Specifically, the DNA analysis focused on genetic fingerprinting. That same year (1989) the lab pioneered the creation of a DNA database listing genetic information of convicted sex offenders.
Before assuming his position as Director of the DFS, Dr. Ferrara began working as a chemist for the Northern Virginia Regional Forensic Laboratory in 1971. His educational background consists of Ph.D.s in Organic Chemistry from Syracuse University and the State University of New York. He was also a professor of Forensic Science at the Virginia Commonwealth University.
It is no surprise that in 1994, the FBI appointed Dr. Ferrara to its DNA advisory board. While he was director, the DFS saw many successes pertaining to DNA and criminal justice. For example, the Virginia lab was the site for the pilot launch of CODIS (1992), the FBI’s database of local, state and national DNA profiles. Two years later, when a cold hit on the genetic database led to capturing a felon, the lab initiated a monumental and widespread change: to focus criminal investigations on DNA rather than blood evidence.
Dr. Ferrara’s work even led to the exoneration of an innocent man. After spending 15 years in prison, Marvin Anderson’s name was cleared of rape and assault when Dr. Ferrara found swabs in a forensic scientist’s notebook and tested them for DNA.
Would you like to follow in Dr. Ferrara’s footsteps and pursue a career in forensics? A variety of professions exists within this realm of criminal science, from the roles of DNA profiler to a computer forensics career. You can complete a forensic science degree or choose to specialize by completing programs such as a criminalistics degree, a forensic psychology degree or a program in forensic pathology or toxicology.