LSU Alumnus, Howard Pentes, Helps Keep Our Louisiana Community Safe as a Forensic Scientist

 

by Elizabeth Cui | August 28, 2020 

Dr. Howard PentesBATON ROUGE, LA-  Dressed in long, white lab coats, goggles, masks, and gloves, these unconventional angels work tirelessly behind the scenes to deliver justice to our community.

Forensic scientists, and those who work in crime laboratories, are often overlooked and underappreciated. They serve as the glue to law enforcement, and without them, many crimes would go unsolved.

LSU alumnus, Howard Pentes, is one of those angels. This year, Pentes makes 29 years of service working with the Louisiana State Police Crime Laboratory.

In his time working with the crime laboratory, Pentes has been involved in some of the most instrumental discoveries of crime in the Louisiana area, including the convicting of the serial killer, Derick Todd Lee, who raped and killed multiple women in Baton Rouge during the early 2000s.

“Our lab was the first to identify via DNA testing that the same individual was committing these crimes,” Pentes said.

Pentes grew up loving the culture and fragrant Cajun food of New Orleans, Louisiana, and like many other Louisiana natives, he holds his family very close to his heart. The safety of his community has always been a priority to him.

After spending his childhood in New Orleans, Pentes decided to move to Baton Rouge and attend school at Louisiana State University, where he would be supported by a group of knowledgeable professors and remain close to family.

“I love the food and the culture of the community,” Pentes said. “There are just a lot of aspects of Louisiana culture that are just so interesting.”

The love for chemistry came hand in hand with the gifts Pentes was given. In high school, he was good at math and science and initially came into college thinking he would become a chemical engineer.

After a year in chemical engineering, something didn’t feel right and Pentes made the switch to study chemistry. The rest was history.

“I switched over to chemistry in my sophomore year and just fell in love with the magic of chemistry, both with the theoretical side and the application,” Pentes said. “I just felt like it was the right fit for me.”

Through passion and hard work, Pentes went on to study chemistry in graduate school at LSU, earning his PhD in 1991, and then on to his career in the drug analysis unit of the Louisiana State Police Crime Laboratory.

After several years working in the drug analysis department, Pentes went onto a management position where he was a supervisor of a unit of approximately 11 scientists. Following that, he landed his current position of laboratory quality manager.

“We do all the typical work that most people will think of,” Pentes said. “Things like fingerprints, drug testing, toxicology, DNA testing, and firearms analysis, and we also do somethings that are more minor and more unique but those are the main areas that we work with law enforcement in investigating criminal activity.”

Crime work has come a long way in the past 50 years with the development of fingerprint identification, investigations into blood markers, firearm analysis, DNA testing, and much more.

With the rapid improvements in the crime laboratory, more crimes are being solved, and in a much faster fashion. However, this also means that crime laboratories are much busier.

“We are particularly busy and we talk about how unfortunately business is good for us in the crime lab which means there is a lot of criminal activity,” Pentes said. “On average, our lab receives over 20,000 requests for analysis each year.”

Luckily for us, there are diligent scientists, like Pentes, who work hard to keep us as safe as possible.

“Everyone who works here takes pride in the fact that we are helping the state of Louisiana and the victims of the crimes to help determine who perpetrates these crimes,” Pentes said. “That’s the mission of our work.”

 

Learn more about careers and current trends in forensic sciences from Dr. Howard Pentes at the LSU Chemistry Graduate Student Professional Development Seminar on October 21, 2020 at 12:30-1:20 PM, hosted by the LSU Chemistry Graduate Student Council (CGSC) and the Office of Graduate Studies.