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What It Takes To Solve Cold Case Homicides In San Diego County

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What It Takes To Solve Cold Case Homicides In San Diego County
What It Takes To Solve Cold Case Homicides In San Diego County GUESTS:David Bost, deputy district attorney, San Diego County Tony Johnson, district attorney investigator, San Diego County

THIS IS KPBS MID-DAY ADDITION. IT DOESN'T JUST HAPPEN ON TV AND IN THE MOVIES. WHOLE CASES, HOMICIDE CASES THAT HAVE REMAINED UNSOLVED ARE BEING ACTIVELY PURSUED HERE IN SAN DIEGO. SINCE 2003, THE SAN DIEGO DISTRICT ATTORNEY'S OFFICE HAS PROSECUTED 35 COLD CASES. RIGHT NOW BY OUR AND THE JUDICIAL SYSTEM AND MORE THAN 20 ARE BEING REVIEWED. SO WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO REOPEN A CASE THAT HAS GONE COLD FOR 10, 15 YEARS OR LONGER? AND WHY HAVE SAN DIEGO LAW ENFORCEMENT AND PROSECUTORS DECIDED THAT INVESTIGATING COLD CASES IS WORTH THE TIME AND MONEY INVOLVED? JOINING ME IS SAN DIEGO DEPUTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY, ADABAS. WELCOME TO THE SHOW. THANK YOU VERY MUCH. NICE TO BE HERE. TONY WORKS ON COAL CASES FOR THE DA. HE WAS A DETECTIVE SERGEANT IN THE HOMICIDE DIVISION FOR 31 YEARS. WELCOME TO THE PROGRAM. THINK YOU VERY MUCH. TONY, AS A FORMER HOMICIDE DIVISION DETECTIVE, WHAT MAKES THE CASE GO COLD IN THE FIRST PLACE? ESSENTIALLY WHEN ALL THE LEADS ON THE CASE HAVE A VACUUM DOES SHE DOCUMENT OR BEEN EXHAUSTED. SOME CASES BECOME COLD VERY QUICKLY BECAUSE THERE IS NO EVIDENCE. THE INVESTIGATORS HAVE TO PLAY THE HAND THAT THEY ARE DELL. IF HE IS THERE IT IS THERE AND IF IT IS NOT IT IS NOT. THERE IS NO TIMEFRAME? IF THIS CASE REMAINS UNSOLVED FOR A CERTAIN AMOUNT OF TIME IT IS AUTOMATICALLY A CERTAIN DOSE COLD CASE? ABSOLUTELY NOT. IF IT IS ACTIVELY BEING WORKED, THEN THE ORIGINAL TABLE KEEP THE THE CASE AND TAKE IT AS FAR AS IT CAN GO. WHAT USUALLY HAPPENS TO REOPEN A COLD CASE? IS THIS SOMEONE COMING FOR WITH NEW INFORMATION OR NEW TECHNOLOGY? THERE ARE A NUMBER OF THINGS THAT CAN HAPPEN. IN A LOT OF COLD CASES, YOU HAVE A SUSPECT, BUT YOU DO NOT HAVE A SUSPECT AGAINST WHOM YOU CAN PROVE A CASE BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT. YOU CAN HAVE NEW WITNESSES COME FORWARD WITH NEW INFORMATION. SOMETIMES THAT IS STUMBLED UPON BY A DETECTIVE. SOMETIMES IT IS SOMEONE WHO HAS A MOTIVATION, SUCH AS THEY HAVE THEIR OWN CASE AND THEY WANT TO GET SOME TYPE OF A BENEFIT. SOMETIMES YOU HAVE OLD WITNESSES WHO HAVE INFORMATION AND NOW FOR SOME REASON THEY ARE MOTIVATED TO COME FORWARD AND TALK TO US. THE OTHER THING IS PROBABLY MORE COMMONLY SEEN IN THE MEDIA, BECAUSE IT IS EASIER TO PUT YOUR FINGER ON, THAT IS NEW TECHNOLOGY. THE TECHNIQUES AND METHODS USED TO EXAMINE DNA IS MUCH MORE PRECISE. THEY CAN PICK UP SMALLER PIECES OF DNA FOR LACK OF A BETTER WORD. IT USED TO BE THAT WE NEEDED BLOOD, SEMEN, OR TISSUE OF SOME TYPE. NOW WE CAN HAVE TOUCHED DNA OR EPITHELIA. IT CAN BE HERE BIBER. -- FIBER. WHAT HAS HELPED A MODEST NEW DATABASES. LET'S SAY WE HAVE SOMEONE ARRESTED FOR A CRIME AND WE HAD HIS -- OR WE DIDN'T HAVE HIS DNA. NOW, THEY ARE TAKING EVERYONE'S DNA THAT IS CONVICTED OF A FELONY. NOW YOU WERE ORIGINALLY ASSIGNED TO A CASE THAT HAPPEN AT MORE LIKE MARKET. THAT CASE HAPPENED BACK IN 1996. JUST GIVE US AN IDEA AND BRING US UP-TO-DATE ON WHAT THAT CASE WAS AND WHAT HAPPENED BACK IN 1996. THERE WAS A SHOT KEEPER WHO WAS VERY WELL KNOWN IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD. HE WAS KILLED AT ABOUT 10:30 AM IN THE MORNING BY A GUNMAN WHO COMMITTED A ROBBERY UP THE SHOP AND HE WAS THEN. THERE WAS A CIGAR SALESMAN AND ALSO A GUIDE TO HELP WITH MAINTENANCE THERE AT THE TIME. YOU SUSPECT HAD ON A MASK AND GLOVES. EVEN THE VIDEO EVIDENCE BACK THERE WAS VERY POOR. WHILE WE HAD A SUSPECT AND WE HAD LEADS THERE SIMPLY WASN'T ENOUGH TO PROSECUTE AT THAT TIME. BY 2010, A NEW WITNESS THE COME FORWARD. THAT INFORMATION CAME TO MY ATTENTION SOMETIME AFTER THAT. IT IS FUNNY THAT YOU ASK ABOUT THAT CASE BECAUSE IT IS DETECTIVE JOHNSON WHO IS ACTUALLY WORKING A DIFFERENT CASE, THE DR. J HOMICIDE THAT HAPPEN IN FRONT OF A LIQUOR STORE AS WELL WHERE TWO YOUNG WOMEN WERE MURDERED. HE HAD TO INTERVIEW A WITNESS. SHE THOUGHT HE WAS THERE ABOUT THE MOVEMENT MARKET CASE AND OFFERED UP SOME INFORMATION AND THEN LUCKILY, THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY AND DETECTIVE JOHNSON BROUGHT THAT TO MY ATTENTION. JUST TO FOLLOW UP ON THE MOVEMENT MARKET CASE, YOU DID GET A CONVICTION IN THAT CASE, RIGHT? WE DID. I BELIEVE SENTENCE WAS SOMETHING LIKE 35 TO LIFE. IT IS UNDER APPEAL SO SOME OF THE DETAILS WE WON'T TALK ABOUT AT THE TIME. IS IT USUAL IF THE PROSECUTOR ON THE CASE IS STILL IN THE DA OFFICE AND THE CASE WILL GO BACK TO THAT PROSECUTOR? I WAS IN THE GANG UNIT AT THE TIME. WE DID KEEP A LOT OF OUR OLD COLD CASES. I WAS VERY FORTUNATE TO STILL BE AROUND. THIS WAS 16 YEARS LATER WITH THE CASE ACTUALLY WENT TO TRIAL FINALLY. IT GAVE ME -- WHAT I WILL NOT SAY PLEASURE, BUT IT GAVE ME A LOT OF PRIDE TO KNOW THAT WE COULD BRING THE KILLER TO JUSTICE. HOW MANY OPEN HOMICIDE CASES ARE THERE IN SAN DIEGO THAT HAVE GONE COLD? AS YOU SAID, IN 2003, WHEN THE UNIT WAS FORMED THERE WERE PROBABLY CLOSE TO 2000. QUESTION IS HOW MANY HAD A SUSPECT TO THE DEGREE THAT THE CASE WAS PRESENTED TO THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY'S OFFICE? WE DECIDED AT THAT POINT, WE COULD I'M UP FOR WITH THE CASE. I WAS A THERE ARE A ROW 400 LIKE THAT, WITHIN THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY'S OFFICE. AS YOU SAID EARLIER, THERE IT ARE 26 THAT ARE UNDER REVIEW, FIVE THAT ARE ACTIVE. WE HAVE ACTUALLY HAD 35 CONVICTIONS SINCE 2003. THERE HAVE ALSO BEEN ANOTHER 11 THAT ARE CLOSE EITHER BECAUSE THE SUSPECT IDENTIFIED IS DECEASED OR SOME OTHER REASON THAT THE CASE MAY HAVE GOTTEN CLOSE. NOW TONY JOHNSON, YOU HAVE LOOKS THROUGH MANY OF THOSE COLD CASES TO SEE THAT THERE IS A CHANCE OF UNCOVERING NEW EVIDENCE. WHAT ARE THE TYPES OF THINGS THAT YOU ARE LOOKING FOR? WE LOOK FOR A NUMBER OF THINGS. MOST IMPORTANTLY, WE LOOK FOR CHANGES THAT HAVE OCCURRED SINCE THE ORIGINAL INVESTIGATION TOOK PLACE. THOSE CHANGES COULD BE EITHER CHANGES IN NEW EVIDENCE TECHNOLOGY, FOR EXAMPLE DNA. BIGGER PRINCES ALSO REALLY AN EXCITING NEW HORIZON FOR US. ALSO, WE MAY HAVE LOOKED FOR RELATIONSHIPS THAT MAY HAVE CHANGED. FOR EXAMPLE, A HUSBAND AND WIFE MAY NO LONGER BE TOGETHER. FRIENDS MAY NO LONGER BE TOGETHER. MAYBE ONE PERSON IS NO LONGER UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF ANOTHER PERSON TO A DEGREE THAT WE CAN APPROACH THEM. SO MAINLY WHAT WE ARE LOOKING FOR IS AN OPPORTUNITY FOR AN AVENUE TO DO SOMETHING THAT THE ORIGINAL INVESTIGATORS COULD NOT DO. DO YOU GET HELP FROM THE ORIGINAL DETECTIVES ASSIGNED TO THE CASE? I THINK THE BIGGEST UP AT THE INVESTIGATOR OF THE CASE CAN TAKE IS TO CONTACT THE ORIGINAL INVESTIGATOR TO SEE IF THEY ARE AVAILABLE. IS THERE ANY PRIORITY GIVEN TO SOME CASES OVER OTHERS? WHY WAS SOME BE LOOKED INTO AND NOT OTHERS? WE DO HAVE TO PRIORITIZE OUR CASES BECAUSE OUR RESOURCES ARE LIMITED. WE JUST DON'T HAVE ENOUGH PEOPLE TO SOLVE ALL THE HUNDREDS AND HUNDREDS OF CASES. WHAT WE LOOK FOR OUR SOLUBILITY FACTORS. THE CASES ARE CONSTANTLY REVIEW FOR THINGS LIKE EVIDENCE THAT HAS NOT BEEN LOOKED AT, EVIDENCE THAT COULD BE LOOKED AT IN A NEW LIGHT, OPPORTUNITIES WHERE FIGURE PRINTS HAVE NOT BEEN CHECKED OR WEAKNESSES HAVE NOT BEEN CONTACTED. ACE ON THOSE REVIEWS, WE PRIORITIZE THOSE CASES AND HANDLE THEM IN PRIORITY. WHEN YOU OPEN A FILE AND YOU LOOK AT THEM AND YOU SEE HOW IT WAS ORIGINALLY PRESENTED, DO YOU EVER SAY WELL, ACTUALLY, EVERYTHING THEY NEED IS RIGHT HERE. IT JUST NEEDS TO BE PRESENTED DIFFERENTLY? SOMETIMES WE SEE CASES THAT ARE CLOSED AND THERE ARE A FEW CASES THAT MAY BE LOOKED AT IN A NEW LIGHT AND COULD BE EVALUATED AGAIN FOR PROSECUTION. A LOT OF TIMES, SOMETIMES THE PASSAGE OF TIME, WITH HOMICIDE THERE ISN'T A STATUE OF LIMITATIONS. IF YOU HAVE A WEAKER CASE, YOU MAY WANT TO WAIT BECAUSE YOU HOPE THAT IT WILL GET BETTER. AFTER 15 OR 20 YEARS YOU MAY LOOK INSIDE THESE WITNESSES ARE GOING TO DIE. WE BETTER GIVE IT A TRY. IT IS EITHER NOW OR NEVER. WHEN DOES THE DA'S OFFICE GET INVOLVED? WE ARE USUALLY CONTACTED FIRST BY THE POLICE DEPARTMENT TO PRESENT THE CASE TO A SPEAR IT IS ALWAYS POSSIBLE THAT THE DA I STUMBLED ACROSS THE NEW EVIDENCE BY WAY OF PROSECUTING SOMEONE WHO HAD INFORMATION AND WANTS TO SHARE IT. ONCE WE HAVE DECIDED TO REOPEN A CASE OR MAKE A CASE ACTIVE, WE SIT DOWN WITH THE HOMICIDE TEAM FROM THE POLICE DEPARTMENT AND REVIEW ALL THE EVIDENCE THAT MAY HAVE BEEN THERE BEFORE, SCANNED THE CASE FILE SO THAT WE CAN HAVE A THOROUGH REVIEW OF IT AND ALSO PRIORITIZE WHICH WITNESSES WE MIGHT WANT TO TALK TO FIRST. ALTERNATELY, THE POLICE DO A GREAT JOB AND IN THAT IS FOLLOWED UP BY OUR DISTRICT ATTORNEYS INVESTIGATORS. THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE THAT WE FACE ARE FADING MEMORIES OF WITNESSES, DECEASED WITNESSES, INCLUDING POLICE OFFICERS WHO MAY HAVE BEEN INVOLVED IN THE INVESTIGATION. WHEN HE DOES WE NEED TO FIND WAYS AROUND THOSE HURDLES. I WOULD LIKE FOR BOTH OF YOU TO TALK TO US ABOUT THE FRUSTRATION INVOLVED. YOU TOLD US, DAVID, THERE ARE ABOUT 400 CASES THAT COME UNDER THIS LABEL OF COLD CASES AND YOU DON'T FEEL LIKE YOU CAN PROCEED WITH A PROSECUTION. YET, AT THE SAME TIME, YOU HAVE A PRETTY GOOD IDEA OR YOU THINK YOU HAVE A PRETTY GOOD IDEA OF WHAT HAPPENED AND PERHAPS WHO DID IT. HOW FRUSTRATING IS THAT? I WOULD SAY THE CASES WHERE WE BELIEVE WE KNOW WHO DID IT ARE PROBABLY FEWER THAN THE ONES WHERE THERE ARE SIMPLY NO SOLID LEADS. OF COURSE IT IS VERY FRUSTRATING. WE HAVE AN ETHICAL RESPONSIBILITY TO ONLY GO FOR IT ON CASES WE BELIEVE WE CAN PROVE BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT. ONE OF THE THINGS THAT TONY SAID IS LOOKING AT THE CASE WITH A FRESH SET OF EYES AND MAY BE RE-INTERVIEWING A WITNESS THAT YOU DON'T HAVE ANY SPECIFIC IDEA THAT HE HAS NEW INFORMATION, BUT YOU THINK MAYBE NOW WE CAN GET SOME MORE DETAIL AND WE CAN PUT ALL OF THIS TOGETHER. AS THE CASE GETS OLDER, THE CHANCES OF SOLVING GET LESS AND LESS. TONY, AS A FORMER HOMICIDE DETECTIVE, DO YOU OFTEN REALLY HATE TO CLOSE A CASE AND SAY THIS IS AS FAR AS WE CAN GO? YES. I LOOK AT IT AS A TEMPORARY CLOSURE BECAUSE THERE IS NO STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS ON HOMICIDE. WE CAN ALWAYS PICK IT UP. THAT PHONE CALL CAN ALWAYS BE RIGHT AROUND THE CORNER THAT WILL BREAK THAT RIGHT OPEN. WE HAVE THE THAT HAPPEN PEER IT WILL CONTINUE TO HAPPEN. WE HAVE TO THINK POSITIVE. YOU AND INTERNS WERE CRUCIAL IN SOLVING A MURDER DATING BACK TO 1971, ISN'T THAT RIGHT? YES. WHAT BROKE THAT CASE. THAT WAS ALL OVER THE PLACE. IT GOT ON TO THE TODAY SHOW. FINGERPRINT TECHNOLOGY IS SOMETHING THAT IS VERY EXCITING TO ME BECAUSE THERE HAVE BEEN SO MANY ADVANCES IN COMPUTERS THAT DO AUTOMATED PRINT SEARCHES. THIS PARTICULAR CASE, WE KNEW THE COMPUTERS HAVE BEEN UPDATED AND WERE MORE SENSITIVE. WE HIRED INTERNS FROM SAN DIEGO STATE WHO ARE CRIMINAL JUSTICE MAJORS TO GO THROUGH OUR CASES AND EVALUATE THE CASES FOR FIGURE PRINT EVIDENCE THAT HAVE NOT EITHER BEEN TESTED WITH NEW TECHNOLOGY OR BEEN TESTED WITH OLD TECHNOLOGY AND HAD THE RUN THESE CASES. WE GOT SEVERAL HITS. ONE OF WHICH IS THE CASE WITH GERALD JACKSON PEER IT TURNED OUT TO BE A HIT, WHICH LED US TO A SUSPECT IN TEXAS. WE GOT A DNA SAMPLE AND IT CONFIRMED THAT HE WAS OUR SUSPECT. THAT ENDED UP BEING A SUCCESSFUL PROSECUTION. WAS SOMETHING LIKE THAT HAPPENS, A HIT ON A FINGERPRINT, THAT WAS IMPOSSIBLE TO DO BACK IN THE 1970S. THE CASE IS THEREFORE REPRESENTED THE PROSECUTORS, DO YOU ALSO HAVE TO EVALUATE IF THIS CASE IS 36 YEARS OLD, LET'S SAY, WHAT DON'T YOU HAVE ANY MORE? WITNESSES PRIMARILY. FOR INSTANCE, IN THE MOONLIGHT MARKET CASE, THREE OF THE POLICE OFFICERS WHO WERE A CALL IN THE INVESTIGATION, WHAT WAS THE EVIDENCE COLLECTION TECHNICIAN, HE WAS DECEASED. SOME OF THE DETECTIVES THAT DID INTERVIEWS WITH PEOPLE WERE NOT AVAILABLE. THE EVIDENCE IS KEPT UNLESS THERE IS SOME MISTAKE. I HAVEN'T RUN ACROSS A CASE WHERE EVIDENCE WAS ACTUALLY DESTROY. YOU CAN DO GREAT IF IT IS NOT PRESENTED PROPERLY. ONE OF THE INTERESTING THINGS IS COMPUTER DATABASE SEARCHES, BOTH BETWEEN DNA AND FINGERPRINT, WE CANNOT PROCEED WITH PROSECUTION JUST BASED UPON WHAT THE COMPUTER SAYS. WHAT HAS TO HAPPEN IS THE ACTUAL EVIDENCE, WHETHER IT IS FIGURE PREZ OR DNA HAS A BE COLLECTED FROM THE SUSPECT AND THEN COMPARE. WE CANNOT SAY THAT THE MACHINE FIGURE THIS OUT. IT GOES TO AN ACTUAL EVIDENCE TECHNICIAN WHO LOOKS OF THE EVIDENCE IN A NEW LIGHT WITH MORE MATCHES AND PARTICULARLY. WE THEN KNOW THAT WE HAVE THE RIGHT PERSON. MANY LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCIES THROUGHOUT THE UNITED STATES "CASE UNITS WHEN THE CRIME RATE BEGAN TO DROP IN THE 90s AND INTO THOUSANDS. THEY HAD A LITTLE BIT MORE FREE TIME AND A LITTLE MORE RESOURCES TO TAKE A SECOND LOOK AT SOME OF THESE CASES. DO YOU THINK AN INVESTIGATION OF COLD CASES IS REALLY A GOOD USE OF RESOURCES, DAVID? NO QUESTION A BOUT A. WHEN YOU TALK TO THESE PERSONS WHO ARE THE FAMILY MEMBERS WERE THE VICTIMS OF THE CRIME AND THEY ARE HOLDING OUT HOPE AGAINST HOPE THAT ONE DAY SOMEBODY WILL BE BROUGHT TO JUSTICE FOR A. IT HAS BEEN SAID OVER AND OVER AGAIN THAT MURDER IS DIFFERENT. HOMICIDE IS DIFFERENT THAN ANY OTHER CRIME. IF WE CAN DEVOTE MORE RESOURCES TOWARDS PROSECUTING COKE CASE HOMICIDES AND HOMICIDES IN GENERAL, I THINK THAT IS THE BEST USE OF RESOURCE THAT WE HAVE. TONY, THERE IS A COLD CASE THAT YOU ARE PARTICULARLY INTERESTED IN SOLVING THAT FROM THE YEAR 2000. TELL US ABOUT THAT. THE VICTIM IN THIS CASE IS A YOUNG MAN NAMED ENTER MORE. HE WAS A STUDENT AT CITY COLLEGE. HE WAS ALSO A CHEF IN A RESTAURANT DOWNTOWN. IN SEPTEMBER IN SEPTEMBER 2000, HE WAS DISCOVERED MURDERED IN HIS THE APARTMENT ON EIGHTH AVENUE. THE ACTUAL APARTMENT COMPLEX IS NO LONGER THERE AND THERE ARE NEW BUILDINGS THERE. HIS MOTORCYCLE, HE HAD A RED MOTORCYCLE AND IT WAS STOLEN AND RECOVERED ABOUT A MONTH LATER. WE HAVE WHAT WE THINK IS A LOT OF GOOD PHYSICAL EVIDENCE FROM INSIDE OF THE APARTMENT, BUT WE DO NOT HAVE A SUSPECT TO MATCH UP TO IT. WE WOULD LOVE TO GET A LEAD ON THAT AND GET GOING ON THAT ONE AGAIN. HOW DO YOU GO ABOUT, BESIDES TELLING THE PEOPLE WHO ARE LISTENING, HOW DO YOU GO ABOUT GETTING THAT WORD OUT? WE HAVE A WEBSITE. ANDREW'S MOTHER COMES OUT EVERY YEAR TO CITY COLLEGE AND PROMOTES THE CASE AND OF PUBLICITY. ALSO, THERE IS A GOVERNORS REWARD OF $50,000 FOR ANY INFORMATION LEADING TO A CONVICTION IN THE CASE. WE TRY TO GET THE WORD OUT AS MUCH AS WE CAN. WE JUST HAVE TO GET THAT ONE PERSON WHO HAS INFO. YOU BOTH HAVE A FASCINATING JOB. I WANT TO THANK YOU FOR COMING IN AND SPEAKING WITH US ABOUT THIS. I HAVE BEEN SPEAKING WITH SAN DIEGO DEPUTY DISTRICT ATTY. AND DIST. ATTY. INVESTIGATOR, TONY JOHNSON. THANK YOU SO MUCH. THANK YOU. THANK YOU.

It doesn't just happen on TV and in the movies. Cold cases — homicides that remain unsolved — are being actively pursued in San Diego County.

Since 2003, the San Diego County District Attorney's Office has successfully prosecuted 35 cold cases. Right now, five cold cases are in the judicial system, 26 are being reviewed for prosecution and 381 are inactive.

Deputy District Attorney David Bost said there are a number of things can happen to get a cold case reopened.

“You can have a witness come forward with new information,” Bost told KPBS Midday Edition on Monday. “Sometimes you have old witnesses who had information then and for some reason they are motivated to come talk to us.”

Bost said new databases and technology have also been helpful in solving old cases.

Tony Johnson, a district attorney investigator, said several aspects are considered before a case is reopened at the District Attorney’s Office.

“What we look for is solvability factors,” Johnson said. After reviewing that, priorities are set on reopening cold cases.

Johnson said he considers all cold cases as “temporary closures.”

“We can always pick it up again,” he said. “We just have to think positive.”

What It Takes To Solve Cold Case Homicides In San Diego County