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Smoking gun in baseball star A-Rod's civil case is digital evidence, says expert

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Superstar slugger Alex Rodriguez sued Major League Baseball and its players' union on Monday, in a quest to overturn a suspension imposed for an entire season after an arbitrator decided there was clearly compelling evidence that the man known as A-Rod had used three banned substances and that he twice attempted to obstruct a drug investigation. Yet, according to a forensics expert who has handled hundreds of criminal and civil court cases, electronic evidence in the controversial A-Rod doping scandal that's rocking professional baseball is the key to uncovering guilt or innocence.

According to news reports, text messages and documents detailing an elaborate doping scheme were reportedly recovered and ultimately became the crucial evidence needed by Major League Baseball in the case against the Yankees' Alex Rodriguez.

"Merely testifying that a paper document is authentic just isn't enough anymore", said Digital Forensic Examiner Mark McLaughlin of the firm Computer Forensics International (CFI).

"That's why we're brought into all types of cases where digital evidence may be found", McLaughlin added.

In the 21st Century, nearly all information is initially created from a digital device. Plus, it's widely understood that by using Word or Photoshop, you can easily make anything look authentic.

"A perfect example was the Rathergate incident in which CBS News' Dan Rather used what turned out to be forged documents created to hurt President George W. Bush's re-election campaign," said former police homicide detective Gary Knellman.

"Unless you've verified the source [of the document or the photograph], the authenticity of printouts as evidence are always questionable. That's why digital forensic examiners establish a verifiable chain of custody to prove what you're looking at, is an exact representation of the original," said McLaughlin.

Forensic examiners like McLaughlin routinely use cutting edge software tools like EnCase and Lantern when analyzing computers and cellphones on civil and criminal cases. They start by making an exact forensic copy of the entire device -- which includes active and deleted data. Then just the copy is searched, either visually or by using keywords for relevant hits. And those searches can produce tens of thousands of hits that all must be manually reviewed.

"That may seem daunting, but considering the alternative, it's a walk in the park", adds McLaughlin.

Over the last 17 years, McLaughlin has handled over 500 cases and examined over 2,000 digital items. He testifies in court as an expert and even trains attorneys on how to enhance their cases through digital evidence, according to his firm's website.

McLaughlin says, "I really enjoy the sleuthing part of what we do. Because when we find that smoking gun, it's pretty much game over".

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