Attorney Ashley Moody Announces Cold Case Investigations Unit

March 20, 2024 Criminal Defense, News & Announcements, Violent Crimes

Between 1980 to 2016, the United States has experienced around 242,000 homicides that have remained unsolved. That means around 40% of murders that take place in the nation go unsolved, which is bleak considering both public safety and criminal justice for the victim and their family.

Luckily, law enforcement can create specialized units to reanalyze and investigate old criminal cases that may have new leads. This is known as a “cold case,” which can lead to crimes being solved even decades after it was committed.

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody recently announced that a new Cold Case Unit is going to be established and used across statewide law enforcement agencies. The goal of the unit is to help solve a large chunk of violent crimes that remain unsolved in the state of Florida.

What is a Cold Case?

A cold case is considered a case of a violent crime, missing person, or unidentified person that remained unsolved for several years and has the potential to be solved through new advances in technology, new witness statements, or any other newly required information relating to the crime.

The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) identified that the definition of a cold case can be inconsistent across legal jurisdictions. Whereas some claim the amount of time for a case to be considered “cold” is three years; however, NIJ stated, “The length of time a case must remain unresolved, with no viable leads, to qualify as a cold case can range from one year to as long as five years, depending on the jurisdiction.”

The most recognizable example of a cold case is the case of the Zodiac Killer. The case first became publicized after the San Francisco Examiner contained a coded message with the statement, “I like killing people because it’s so much fun.” Over the next decade, the unknown Zodiac Killer has been officially connected to five murders but claimed to have at least 37 victims throughout his various public letters. The killer stopped sending messages and disappeared in the late seventies, leaving the case as “cold” for over five decades.

In 2021, a team of former law enforcement agents, military intelligence, and journalists called The Case Breakers claimed that they finally identified the Zodiac Killer. The group, consisting of more than 40 specialists, claimed that the infamous killer was Gary Francis Poste, who had passed away already in 2018. Their reason for believing it was Poste was due to uncovering forensic evidence from inside his darkroom. The group associated the scar on Poste’s forehead to match the sketch of the Zodiac Killer, along with evidence relating to the murder of Cheri Jo Bates in 1966.

However, the FBI denied in response to the claim that the Zodiac Killer was identified. They further stated that the case remains open and that there is no new information or evidence to report.

Data on National and Statewide Cold Cases

According to data from the nonprofit Murder Accountability Project, the national rates of homicides and clearance rates (crimes that have been solved) have increased since 2020.

Specifically in Florida, there were over 3,000 homicides that occurred between 2020-2022. Out of those, around 1,800 cases were solved which resulted in a 58% clearance rate. In the smaller scope of just Palm Beach County, there were 209 murders between 2020-2022 with 110 being solved, resulting in a 53% clearance rate.

The nonprofit pointed out that the 30% increase in homicides during 2020 was the “largest single-year rise on record.” With a clearance of only 54%, 2020 was considered the lowest murder clearance rate and single-year drop. The following is a statement from Thomas Hargrove, the chairman of the Board of Directors:

“The Murder Accountability Project believes the primary cause of declining clearance rates are a failure to give necessary resources to local police and a failure of political will by local elected leaders to make investigation of major crimes a priority. When leaders make solving major crimes a priority, clearance rates usually improve and lives are saved.”

Attorney General’s Announcement

The Office of Attorney General Ashley Moody announced the newest implementation for Florida law enforcement agencies. A Cold Case Investigations Unit (CCIU) has been established for agencies to prioritize criminal cases that have not yet been solved. According to the press release, the CCIU’s mission is to help with homicide investigations as well as offering additional support with evidence testing in cases where such technology or techniques were not yet available.

While Moody addressed that these are typically difficult cases to solve due to the passing of time and loss of witnesses, her office argued that agencies can better protect citizens by getting dangerous offenders off the street. However, it requires both manpower and resources, which should now be available through the CCIU.

The announcement also highlighted data from Project Cold Case, who claimed there were over 20,000 cold cases that have remained open in Florida since the 1960s. Out of all the United States, Florida ranks as the sixth (6th) highest state with unsolved homicide cases.

With the creation of the CCIU, it can help the previous issue of attempting to solve a cold case crime across several jurisdictions. “Let’s say we have a case where we found a body in Palm Beach County, but the offense may have taken place in another county of North Florida,” Moody stated during the conference. “How do we, as a state, reconcile the different jurisdictions all together with pieces?”

The Attorney General further discussed the need for extra expertise in Florida jurisdictions who lack some of the financial and staffing resources that other municipalities have.

The conference took place outside of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children headquarters in Palm Beach Gardens, where Moody was accompanied by police dogs, America’s Most Wanted co-host Callahan Walsh, and Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw. Sheriff Bradshaw addressed the need for citizens to come forward in cold cases:

“There are people out there that know something, either about something that’s happened or something that might happen. You need to give us that information. You don’t have to give us your name. You don’t have to be personally involved, but give us that piece of information that will help us either prevent a crime or solve one that is occurring…

The families of these victims, the want two things. They want justice and they want closure, and that’s what we try to give them, no matter how old the case is.”

Since its conception, the CCIU has already started to actively work on cold cases. The unit has helped aid in a cold case investigation that involved the 2010 murder of a 16-year-old in Alachua County.

Justification for Cold Case Units

The National Institute of Justice’s (NIJ) 2019 publication on cold cases highlighted that only a small fraction (7%) of U.S. law enforcement agencies has a specific unit dedicated to cold cases.

The report outlined the five primary justifications for cold case units, including:

  1. Criminal justice for the victim to believe that their case will not be forgotten and that the person responsible will be held accountable;
  2. Increasing public safety in terms of preventing recidivism, as the report noted that 71% of violent criminal offenders are arrested for another crime within five (5) years of being released;
  3. Increasing public trust by law enforcement fulfilling their duties and not falling short of the public’s expectations;
  4. Increasing clearance rates for many law enforcement agencies; and
  5. Cost savings when using innovative technology such as DNA databases that can help solve cold cases in a less time-consuming and inexpensive way.

Additionally, NIJ outlined the five reasons why law enforcement should reopen a cold case:

  1. Forensic technology advances;
  2. Changes in relationships over time;
  3. New leads through a new case and evidence review;
  4. Increased public support and awareness in cold case investigations; and
  5. Improvements in information management.

One of the most beneficial technological advances for cold case investigations was the ability to trace DNA. The report indicates that as of December 2018, there were nearly 13.6 million profiles of convicted offenders and over 3 million arrestee profiles as provided by the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) and the National DNA Index System (NDIS). To find out more about DNA in criminal cases, read our page here.

Criminal Defense Attorney for Murder Cases in Florida

If you’ve recently been arrested for accusations of being a suspect in a criminal cold case, you should seek out legal advice from an experienced lawyer. The statewide cold case program will result in police searching for suspects on old cases. Even though time has passed since the initial investigation, it is important that a person accused of committing a violent crime that is now a cold case can still face severe punishment if they are convicted.

The defense attorneys with Pumphrey Law Firm can review your case details during a free consultation. From there, we can address any potential defense strategies that may help to combat a criminal conviction. Contact our team today at (850) 681-7777 or fill out our online form.

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