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Mathematics Tribune

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Similar Triangles Free Man From Jail


EUCLID, Greece (AP)

n January 20th, 1997, Jonathan W. Shadow was found guilty of first degree robbery in a Euclidian courtroom. The incident happended on the evening of July 20th, 1996 in the streets of downtown Euclid. Mister Shadow walked supposedly snatched a womans purse and afterwards walked past a security camera, which caught everything on tape. This situation happened after dark and the camera was unable to see the mans face, but there was a well defined shadow on the ground which was cast by a single light source on the side of a nearby building. Mr. Shadow recently appealed his guilty verdict and quite surprisingly was found not guilty and freed from jail. The evidence that set this innocent man free was found to be quite mathematical in nature. The light from the building that cast the shadow of the suspected purse snatcher on the ground in front of the man. In the surveillance video tape, there are markings on the ground, which allow someone to tell exactly where the man was standing and where his shadow ended. The attorney in this cased asked the defense attorney if he could figure out how tall the man on the video was. He replied that he could easily find how tall the man was using similar triangles. The defense attorney, who was quite good at mathematics, went out to the crime scene and took some simple measurements. The attorney found that the man in the video was about 61 or 62. To make sure his work was correct, the defense attorney took his work to his former math teacher and asked him if he could check over his calculations to be sure this information was correct. Sure enough, the defense attorneys work was correct. The real kicker came when the attorney revealed that Mr. Shadow is only 57 tall, making him about half a foot shorter than the suspect in the video. On these grounds, the jury found Mr. Shadow innocent and let him go from jail.

Use the following information as well as the information from the article to help you draw a picture, involving similar triangles, of the crime scene. After you have done so, solve the problem and explain how you did so.

The light on the side of the building was placed approximately 15 ft up the side of
the wall.

The defense attorney measured the distance from the base of the wall to the tip of
the suspects shadow to be 35 ft.

The length of the suspects shadow was approximately 14 ft.

Was the defense attorneys calculation correct? Explain how your calculations compare to his. Explain why you would or would not say the innocent man is guilty.

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