Robert.Leonard's picture

Robert Leonard

Hofstra University

Short Bio: 
Robert A. Leonard is Professor of Linguistics and Director of the Hofstra Graduate Program in Linguistics: Forensic Linguistics; the Forensic Linguistics Innocence Project, a joint venture with Hofstra Law School; and the Institute for Forensic Linguistics, Threat Assessment and Strategic Analysis. Trained at Columbia by functional semanticist William Diver and the father of variationist sociolinguistics William Labov, Leonard received a Fulbright Fellowship to research the spoken Swahili dialects of northern Kenya, and wound up researching and working for a total of eight years in Africa, and in Southeast Asia. Upon his return, he eventually partnered with the founder of forensic linguistics in the US, Georgetown Distinguished Research Professor, Emeritus, Roger Shuy, and has since worked on hundreds and hundreds of cases. Leonard has consulted to the FBI, and to police, counter-terrorism, and intelligence agencies throughout the US, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Europe, working on cases and training agents in the use of forensic linguistics in law enforcement, threat assessment, and counter-terrorism. Leonard was recruited by the FBI’s BAU—the Behavioral Analysis Unit—to help train their agents in forensic linguistic techniques, and advise on their Communicated Threat Assessment Database (CTAD). Other clients have included Apple, Facebook, the NYPD Hate Crimes Task Force and the Prime Minister of Canada. The New Yorker Magazine calls Leonard "[O]ne of the foremost language detectives in the country." (A direct link to the New Yorker article is at ) Wikipedia’s bio of him is at Leonard’s testimony has been pivotal in investigating and prosecuting cases such as the JonBenet Ramsey murder, Apple defending its trademarks against Microsoft and Amazon, a Joint Terrorism Task Force investigating murder threats against a sitting U.S. congressman, aiding the NY State Police Intelligence Division in investigating documents threatening Governor Cuomo and his young daughter, and the 2011 conviction of Christopher Coleman for strangling his wife and children. The New York Times wrote of Leonard, "His consultation on the murder of Charlene Hummert, a 48-year-old Pennsylvania woman who was strangled in 2004, helped put her killer in prison. Mr. Leonard determined, through [analysis of] two letters of confession by a supposed stalker and a self-described serial killer, that the actual author was Ms. Hummert's spouse." See, regarding this case, the short Investigation Discovery clip or the full Forensic Files episode, and about the catfishing “Facebook Murders,” on which he worked for over a year, his cameo in the 2016 TV movie ”Too Pretty to Live” Leonard and his Hofstra interns have also worked on many exoneration cases, reanalyzing language evidence such as confessions and wiretaps that were used to convict defendants of murder and other serious crimes. See, for example, MTV’s 2016 Unlocking the Truth episodes: and Leonard’s research focuses not only on forensic language analysis but also other semantic and sociolinguistic meaning systems such as social identity, food behavior, and architectural and public space.