GBI forensic artist puts faces to hundreds of Georgia crimes

- Law enforcement credit The Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s forensic sketch artist Kelly Lawson with helping them solve hundreds of crimes throughout the state of Georgia.

Lawson sits down with victims who have been through the most traumatic event in their lives and with each stroke of her pencil, devotes herself to bringing that horrific experience to paper.

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“It’s been one of the most exciting, fulfilling, rewarding jobs I have ever done, but there is a lot of anxiety and stress involved in trying to fill such an amazing person’s shoes,” said GBI Forensic artist Kelly Lawson.

Those amazing shoes she speaks about are her mothers, who was the first forensic sketch artist in Georgia, serving the state for nearly four decades.

Lawson tells victims or witnesses of a crime to flip through a book she keeps of faces, made up of celebrities, old mug shots that date back to the 1970's and even pictures of her friends. Lawson asks the victims to point out similar features to the person who attacked them.

“And I say ok, I want you to look through these photos and see if you see anything that reminds you of the person that you saw, maybe they will have similar eyes, nose, shape of the face, hair style and they usually pick out about four or five photos which has at least one feature on there that reminds them of the person they are thinking about,” said Lawson, who then begins drawing. “I do not quit until I get an eight out of 10 rating on a scale of one to 10.”

Lawson can draw a sketch in 35 minutes to an hour.  She has been with the GBI for five years and draws about 300 sketches a year.

You can see the resemblance between her sketches and the mug shot of the suspect once they are arrested.  Lawson travels throughout the state, working with different police agencies, putting faces to crimes across Georgia.

“She is an amazing talent, she is a critical part to what we do in our investigative techniques, “said Atlanta Police Sgt. Warren Pickard.

And while many in law enforcement credit Lawson with helping them solve hundreds of crimes, Lawson said very humbly, it is not because of her.

“I never try to take any of the credit because all I did was draw what they told me to draw, sometimes they look amazingly like the person and I just have to commend the victim for their amazing memory and their ability to deal with the stresses that they are feeling in the moment that they meet with me,” said Lawson.  “Enough to get to the information, the golden information that is in their mind.”

In addition to drawing sketches, Lawson also does skull reconstruction for victims whose bodies are so badly decomposed, they are unidentifiable. Lawson’s reconstruction can help determine the age, race and sex of the victim.

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