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The Impact of National Institute of Justice’s Solving Cold Cases with DNA Program

Chuck Heurich, Senior Physical Scientist, National Institute of Justice; Erin Kimmerle, Forensic Anthropologist, University of South Florida; Sally Wolter, Detective Sergeant, Michigan State Police Department; Lou Eliopouls, NCIS Forensic Sciences Unit Supervisor; Ted Hunt, Former Chief Trial Attorney, Jackson County, Mo.; Thomas McAndrew, Lehigh Valley District Attorney's Homicide Task Force; Mitch Morrissey, Former District Attorney, Denver, Co.

Practitioners from across the criminal justice system speak to the impact of NIJ's Solving Cold Cases with DNA grant program.

Chuck Heurich: I don't think any agency at this point can say these cases will never be solved. Because we don't know what's coming down the line, and they very well may be solved. There may not be anybody alive that was related to that case that will know that, but I think cold-case units give the public a sense of confidence in the department, of confidence in increased public safety. And just the fact that it assures them that - especially the families of the victims - that the agency and the people in the agency will not or have not given up on the case.

[On-screen text] There are over 240,000 unsolved homicides in the U.S. 

Now 4 of every 10 homicides go unsolved.

NIJ's Solving Cold Cases with DNA Program funded states and local governments to identify, collect, evaluation, and analyze DNA evidence from cold cases and to prioritize violent crime cold cases.

Erin Kimmerle: Law enforcement perspective obviously they want a prosecution and they want to you know catch the person who was responsible - and we all want that - but we really view this as doing the work for the families. So for everyone who's out there missing, and who's unidentified, there's somebody looking for them.

Sally Wolter: We took advantage of NIJ's opportunity for a grant of solving cold cases with DNA. And they provided funding for DNA analysis, investigative travel, and these items were things that our agencies simply could not afford to provide to us in order to solve these cases. No doubt was that grant funding instrumental in our success.

Lou Eliopoulos: I think it's wonderful that NIJ takes the lead - someone has to do it. They've been so proactive. They've been personally responsible through their DNA initiative in solving so many of these cases.

Ted Hunt: Well NIJ's role was critical. It allowed us to have the focus that we needed to to solve these cases. Quite frankly, without that at that extra bit of resource, the guidance, the expertise, that we were able to bring in based on those resources, we'd be back to square one. So I can't underestimate the importance of having those resources, because it did allow us that focus. It's so critical to solving these cases.

Thomas Mcandre: Our grant when we had it, we solved cold cases. And anytime I ever hear or see a grant going to a dedicated effort to solve these cold cases, at least one case gets solved. And so that, in and of itself, speaks volumes as to the fact that it works.

Mitch Morrissey: Because of the money that we got from NIJ, because of the cold case program, because of the burglary project that we did with NIJ, we were able to train a whole battery of felony prosecutors that knew how to do DNA. Prosecutors that did juvenile cases, even some misdemeanors. So you have somebody that was one year out of law school presenting DNA evidence. So that was a big change from, you know, there's the one guy go talk to - him, nobody else - he'll do the DNA, and you can do the rest of the case. I left the DA's office with probably as many prosecutors that could put this evidence on, that understood this evidence, as anywhere in the country.

Date Created: August 15, 2019