Dr. Robert Bennett, forensic scientist 

'The truth is the truth'

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Jonathan Boncek

In each installment of the Working Life series, a local worker describes what his or her job is like. The stories are taken directly from interviews and told in first person with minimal or no editing of the subjects' natural speech patterns.

The range of services that I offer is extremely broad. The field of forensics, in and of itself, is a broad category, and it can range from looking at various poisons to DNA analysis for a variety of reasons to drug and alcohol testing and evaluation to criminal activity cases that I've worked on such as kidnapping, murder, rape, robbery. Then we can get into fingerprinting and document examining, and the field is almost endless. As a forensic provider in the community, my specialty is in the field of toxicology, which is the study of the effects of chemicals, poisons, drugs, and alcohol on the body, namely the deleterious effects on the body.

The good part of my job is the interesting cases I've worked on. The bad part is I have to collect urine, and I've collected a lot of it. I'm dealing with minor problems of my co-workers one minute, and then the next minute I'm trying to figure out why this DNA doesn't match this murder scene. It goes from one extreme to the other on a continuous basis.

I provide private forensic services for defense lawyers who need that. I do that on a daily basis, and it can range from something as minor as "my child at school got caught with reefer in his bookbag and now we're having to go before the school board" versus I'm providing DNA testimony in the Kate Waring murder case a couple of years ago. So it ranges as far as its complexity.

Of course I reveal family issues of cheating. For example I'll have a guy, probably once every two weeks, a guy will walk in here carrying a paper bag, looks like a lunch bag, and he'll come in and I'll say, "What can we help you with?" And he'll say, "Well, I think my wife's cheating. She went out with the girls again last night, came home very late," and I'll say, "What do you have in the bag?" "Well, these are her panties. I need you to test them for semen." And when they get to that point, nine times out of 10, when I do the testing, it's positive for semen. The next question is, "Do you know a good divorce lawyer?" And of course I know them all.

I used to be a toxicology advisor for the Charleston County Family Drug Court. Every Friday, drug court was held for adult family court, and I was a member of the team that evaluated cases to try to help these people stay out of prison or jail or being arrested. So what I did was talk about the dangers of drug abuse and the dangers of how they're living their life and where they're headed if they keep on this path, and then when they decided they would turn around, my job was to make sure they were doing that by drug testing them.

Unfortunately with drugs, especially drugs like cocaine and meth, the relapse rate is extremely high, and I've seen people who will sit in this very chair and will lose everything. They'll lose their children, their job, all their money, all their family, all because of drugs. Drugs take over everything.

The most rewarding part of my job is solving problems that seem unsolvable or are stumping everyone else. It's a sense of accomplishment from doing that. Also, seeing people that are dealing with demons of substance abuse turn their life around. Finally, seeing people who are dealing with spouses and family members who are substance abusers who are also suffering, that through the work I do, when they turn their life around, the family members have their family back. So that last one is probably one of the most rewarding, because I've had so many people thank me for bringing this issue to light.

I'm just a messenger more than anything else. I do the work, use my expertise, and provide the findings, and then those findings open up the truth. And that segues into probably one of the worst parts of this job, if I may, in that when I reveal the truth, sometimes it's the ugly truth, issues that have been hidden for a long time, specifically in the area of drug abuse.

When I reveal these truths, people try to attack me, attack the work. My answer to all of that is "Don't shoot the messenger." The truth is the truth. Deal with it and face it because it's what you did.


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