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When asked about her mindset as a forensic scientist in the Massachusetts State Police Crime Laboratory’s DNA Unit, Megan Little said above all it’s important to remain “impartial and unbiased.”
“I don’t represent the prosecution or the defense. I represent the evidence,” said the 2013 Mitchell Scholar from Calais Middle/High School. “My goal is to interpret the evidence and present it in a way that the layperson can understand it.”
And the main goal of her investigations is to get scientific results — even if they don’t lead to a conviction.
“I’m equally proud when the results exonerate someone,” she said. “When you enter this field, you’re strongly encouraged not to become emotionally invested in the cases you examine.”
Much of the work that Little has done since joining the Massachusetts State Police Crime Laboratory’s DNA Unit in 2019 has yet to factor into trials, largely because of the pandemic. But her examination of evidence did play a key role in the conviction of a Massachusetts man who placed a lit firebomb outside a Jewish senior facility in 2020.
“Fortunately, the incendiary device failed, so no one was injured,” she said.
And fortunately for Little’s work, the device — a five-gallon fuel canister filled with gasoline — bore traces of blood for DNA analysis.
“The suspect cut himself assembling it,” she explained. “Because it didn’t explode, we had good evidence.”
In February 2022, the perpetrator was sentenced by a U.S. District Court judge to five years in prison and three years of supervised release for the crime. Despite the need to remain objective and emotionally detached, Little said the outcome of the investigation provided her with a deep sense of satisfaction.
“I definitely wanted to see justice done,” she said. “That’s one of the reasons this case appeals to me.”
Little said her interest in using science to serve justice began during her sophomore year in high school.
“It was around that time that I started watching crime shows on television and thought forensic science looked really interesting and must be an actual career,” she said.
With that job in mind, Little began attending college fairs and asking admission representatives if they had degree programs in forensic science. Most said no. But one rep, from Lawrence Technological University, suggested that she participate in a forensic science summer camp held annually at the Southfield, Michigan, school.
She enrolled and learned from the camp director the academic degrees she would need to enter the field. With those goals to steer by, Little pursued majors in molecular and cellular biology as well as biochemistry at the University of Maine and later a master’s in forensic science with concentrations in forensic DNA analysis and forensic chemistry at Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia.
And she said the Mitchell Scholarship and the Mitchell Institute staff provided critical support along the way.
“The scholarship represented a good chunk of money that was highly beneficial,” she said. “That was a great perk, but I also really appreciate the networking aspect of being a Mitchell Scholar.”
That’s why Little looks forward to coaching any current or future Scholars interested in pursuing careers in forensic science.
“I remember participating in no-agenda coffee meetings with Mitchell Institute staff when I was in college, and they were wonderful,” Little said. “I was interested in a niche field, and there weren’t any Alumni with that experience who were available to me. But I want to be available to any scholars who are interested in forensic science.”
As for what she would tell anyone thinking of entering the field, Little said working in forensic science is a good way to have a “direct impact on the safety of your community.”
“Taking a piece of evidence from lab work through data analysis and being able to provide an investigative lead is a fantastic feeling. It’s an honor to be part of the criminal justice system.”