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Student log: Charna-Marie Dixon

  • Story Highlights
  • A field trip to Brunswick, Georgia, leaves Dixon wanting to learn more
  • Volunteer experts give insight and helped students narrow their research
  • Dixon ultimately wants to work as a corrections officer
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By Charna-Marie Dixon
Special to CNN
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Editor's note: CNN is following four Bauder College students as they build their case files in the Chandra Levy and Natalee Holloway investigations. The following is one of the logs that each is keeping to document their cases. Charna-Marie Dixon is a member of the Cold Case Investigative Research Institute. The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of CNN, its affiliates or the schools where the campus correspondents are based. Got a tip? E-mail the class at ColdCaseTips@USACops.com

Student log: Charna-Marie Dixon

Log 6: Ripped from the headlines
August 2008

We had a session with Retired DeKalb County Police Chief Eddie Moody, an expert on working high-profile cases.

Moody said that the 2000 Derwin Brown assassination case he worked on was only the second time in history that an incoming sheriff was killed before he could take office.

The case gained international attention. Moody said that the best thing to do under this pressure is "work this case like you would any other murder case and if you make a mistake then correct it, admit it and move forward."

He also said that it is important to know that you are under a spotlight and therefore always "do what is right."

One of the most important pieces of advice he gave was to build a relationship with a few people in the media that you can trust and then you can put your story out there and control how, when and what is "put out there."

It felt good to know that he thought our ideas for the reinvestigation were solid. I was surprised when he said he believes the solvability of the Levy case is slim but he validated our proposal for the Metropolitan Police regarding what forensic aspects should be followed up on

Log 5: An eye-opening trip
July-August 2008

Since my last log, there has been a lot of activity with both cases. I had the chance to meet and work with many experts. I never would have believed that I would have the chance to learn so much this fast. This project has elevated my education as well as my career.

Dr. Andrew Hodges, the thoughtprints expert, put our team's brains together to read and understand hidden messages in a letter.

I found this to be helpful because it brought us closer to facts we can use in our suspectology along with other information we received from three underwater experts. It truly validates our work when multiple well-known professionals offer findings that concur with ours.

A couple of my classmates and I went on a field trip to Brunswick, Georgia, where we meet three underwater experts who taught us the aspects of underwater crime scenes. We learned the importance of preserving evidence underwater and transferring evidence from the water to the lab.

The three experts, Rusty Whiting, Hugh McCall and George Baker, took time explaining the levels of investigation for the Holloway case.

Rusty also let us fool around with some of the equipment. I was so captivated by their stories and their knowledge that I could have stayed for their three-week class!

This trip has helped open my eyes and broaden my choices in the criminal justice field. Some of the facts of underwater cases made my heart break for Natalee Holloway's mom. With the facts and training we received, we are better able to put into place a final report for the Holloway reinvestigation.

Log 4: A victim's stolen dreams
June-July 2008

Since the last log, I was able to pass my Physical Efficiency Battery (PEB) test for the DeKalb County Sheriff's Department, which is a big accomplishment for me because it was a goal that I set a long time ago.

I am much closer to my professional goal of working for the sheriff's department. I feel a sense of pride and relief that the physical test is over.

My test at the sheriff's office may be over, but there is still a lot to be done with the two cases we are working on.

I got to go through training and meet Dr. Andrew Hodges, a psychiatrist who focuses on forensic thoughtprints. He developed the process of decoding statements of suspects and offenders. This process is very cool. Not only will this assist us in the Holloway case, but it will help throughout our careers.

During the training, I learned how to read the messages in the words written by suspects. The process of "decoding" was amazing. Not only were there hidden messages, but there were messages that stuck out of the letter that no one could see unless you have really analyzed the letter.

As I sat in the back of the classroom, I took in everything Dr. Hodges was saying, and I started to focus on certain suspects more than others in both the Natalee Holloway and Chandra Levy cases.

As my career dreams come true, I think of Chandra Levy. Her dreams were cut down. She and I shared many similar goals and aspirations. I will never take my career for granted.

Log 3: Graduation
June 2008

I graduated with my associate degree in criminal justice earlier this month.

There were many touching moments, but the most touching for me was a wheelchair-bound student who was determined to join her class on stage to receive her diploma.

Having all my classmates walk with me, and seeing all the faculty and staff there to support the students was amazing. Our speaker was U.S. Army (Retired) Lt. Gen. Russel L. Honore, who served our country for 37 years in a variety of commands and staff positions that focused on defense support to civil authorities and Homeland Security.

The CCIRI had another expert come and talk with us about working cold cases. Capt. Cliff Strickland, who retired from the Atlanta Police Department homicide unit, spent several hours talking about how a cold case should be worked and how people should be treated. Strickland's message was clear -- be ethical in the decisions and choices you make.

He told us to be understanding toward people because they are just like you and me. The most important thing that I learned from the captain was to be fair and do the right thing. Strickland stated that all cases have a paper trail and that we must follow the paper. Both of our cold cases cases have tons of paper. We have a lot more linking to do.

Narrowing the suspect pool has been harder than I ever thought it would be. I thought we would further along by now in our case linkage. I have zeroed in on suspect No. 3.

My fellow researchers have pinpointed other possible killers, and we are actively highlighting their means, motive(s) and opportunity to commit this crime. I have also mapped out the geographical profile on this crime. This will assist us in weeding out at least one of the identified suspects.

Like Lt. Gen. Honore said: This is just the beginning, not an ending. I am continuing my degree path in the criminal justice bachelor's degree program, and I will continue my work with the CCIRI.

Log 2: Finding a career path
May 2008

It is an exciting time for me right now. While I am still working on these cold cases, I am also in the process of becoming a detention officer with the DeKalb County Sheriff's Office.

I have been moving nonstop with school, a future job and my input on the Chandra Levy case. This has been tiring, but worth it. I say it's worth it because I am learning new concepts and techniques every day. I would not trade this experience for anything.

Being able to intern with the D.K.S.O. has allowed me to see, hear and take in things that I would never imagine that I would be exposed to. I was so excited about being there during my internship that I did as much as I could to gain experience. Once I completed the internship, they offered me a full-time position.

During my internship, I realized that being in corrections is what I want to do. This is how I want to start my career and get my foot in the door. Now, I must go through the hiring process, which has fortunately been shortened for me due to my previous internship.

I have completed my background check. My testing will be a breeze because I am physically fit. The last part of the process will be my interview with the sheriff, which makes me a little nervous, but luckily, I have already met him on previous occasions.

My work ethic is strong. I am determined and willing to do the job to the best of my ability. That is how I approached working on these cold cases. The team aspect is most important to me.

It takes every one of us to research this case and complete the work that needs to be done. I am very lucky to have groups of people around me willing and able to assist me in both endeavors.

During one of the recent meetings, I learned even more on how to put these cases together through the input of experts Betsy Ramsey, Shawn LaGrua and Reese Christian. (Editor's note: Ramsey is a stalking expert, LaGrua is a prosecutor and Christian is a psychic.)

Listening to these three women was phenomenal. These volunteer experts gave us insight and helped us narrow our research scope to a more manageable task. Their input will prove to be invaluable in the next few weeks as we zero in on a suspect.

Log 1: Learning about stalkers
March-April 2008

The training that has been most interesting to me was the stalking with expert Betsy Ramsey. I learned that stalking is an extremely serious and common crime. At first, I thought that stalking had to occur over a long period of time. However, after the training, I have learned otherwise.

As a group, we have begun to look at both cases to determine if stalking could have been a factor. Based upon the facts we have gathered and the opinions of a few experts, we determined that stalking could have been a factor in the Levy case.

This determination will affect how we view certain facts in this case and will also help us in determining possible suspects in the Levy case. We plan to continue our research, with the guidance of experts, to rule certain suspects in or out of consideration.

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Stalking will also be considered in Holloway's case. However, I do not believe, based on what I have learned, that it will be as important a factor as in the Levy case. Learn more about Charna-Marie Dixon »

We have also had training on timeline construction and have begun constructing timelines for both cases. These timelines will be helpful to determine the last activities of these two victims. The points on the timeline are like pieces of a puzzle that will hopefully come together to form a complete portrait of what really happened to these two young women.

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