With cold cases, law enforcement can still achieve justice for the dead.

With cold cases, law enforcement can still achieve justice for the dead. Image Source: Flickr user starmanseries.

Somewhere on a dusty shelf in a police agency is a box of files containing the tragic story of someone’s lost loved one. Those black and white crime scene photos tell of a woman who never got to meet her grandchildren or a man who’s been buried for a decade. There are witness statements from people who may have since moved out of the jurisdiction or passed away. And, there may be DNA evidence hidden in the folds of clothing or in vials of biological material. These are cold case files.

These aren’t unloved cases; it’s just that when the investigation hits a wall, sometimes they get put aside for more pressing matters. Many police agencies have departments dedicated to working cold cases, and these men and women become invested in finding justice for victims who have often been forgotten. But cold cases aren’t always lost causes. Scientific advances allow us to use cutting-edge technology and forensic testing to crack open these cases and move them into the closed files.   

Finding a DNA Match

Revisiting a cold case can bring a new perspective and allow investigators to reexamine any forensic evidence. Maybe DNA testing was unavailable when the crime occurred or there is a new suspect who needs to be tested. There have been many instances when investigators could not find a match for DNA obtained in a cold case since not everyone’s DNA is on file. However, federal law allows for the taking of a DNA sample from anyone arrested on a felony, and many states have enacted their own laws in this regard. These samples are placed in the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS). It makes sense to go back to those cold cases and rerun DNA through CODIS for a new match.

After all, DNA can provide powerful clues when other evidence is scarce. This was the case with Clarence Terrelle Myers, who was imprisoned in Florida until his DNA led to a murder charge for Columbia, SC, resident Angela Coleman. It would be a jump to assume he somehow managed to commit this crime in another state while in prison, but because of the DNA match, investigators reopened Coleman’s cold case file.

Coleman’s family had waited seven years to obtain some peace after her tragic death by strangulation in April 2001. The killer burned her body to destroy evidence, and the case went nowhere until 2007 when investigators got the DNA profile which led to Myers. With the DNA match, the next step was interviewing the subject in prison. And while DNA is compelling evidence, this alone can’t lead to a conviction. You also need corroborating evidence—which they didn’t have—or a confession.

Obtaining a Confession with CVSA

The CVSA is an asset in the cold case investigator’s toolbox because it provides another level of validation during the interview process. A suspect who has been concealing a crime for many years isn’t going to give up that information easily, but the CVSA can detect even the best-practiced lies. This technology also works with recorded materials, which is especially important in a cold case where witnesses may have passed away. And, of course, the CVSA is often instrumental in both clearing the names of falsely accused suspects and motivating the real perpetrators to confess.

In Myers’ case, he told police that he found the victim’s body and engaged in necrophilia—which explained why his DNA was on the victim but didn’t actually prove murder. Daytona Beach Detective James Brodick offered Myers the chance to clear his name by taking a Computer Voice Stress Analyzer (CVSA®) examination.

When Myers was shown the charts indicating “deception” on relevant questions, he confessed. Coleman had ripped him off and, in a fit of anger, he strangled her and later had sex with her dead body before burning it. This is the power of the CVSA: because it records deception in a chart that can be directly shown to the suspect, it becomes clear that there is no other option but to reveal the truth.

While it took seven years to clear this cold case, the perpetrator was eventually prosecuted and convicted. This is a crime that could have remained unsolved forever because there were no witnesses, and both DNA evidence and the CVSA examination were instrumental in putting this perverted killer away.

The Collaborative Effort in Solving Cold Cases

In less technologically advanced times, many cases went cold because there just wasn’t anything more the police could do. Now, the public has certain expectations and a fascination with cold cases. From TV shows featuring cold cases to stories about the most famous cold case—Jack the Ripper—everyone wants to play detective, and in some ways, that is a good thing. Publishing information about these cases online or sharing the story via the press or social media can renew interest and perhaps reveal new witnesses or evidence.  

And while local law enforcement works tirelessly to solve these difficult cases, federal agencies such as the FBI and non-profit organizations like The American Investigative Society of Cold Cases (AISOCC) are always willing to lend their expertise on cold cases. It would be valuable for these organizations to have a CVSA Examiner on their team to help them in their investigations as they work with law enforcement agencies around the world to resolve these crimes.

Because of their complex nature, cold cases require more of a collaborative effort than recent crimes, and it’s crucial to take advantage of every forensic tool available. There are many reasons why evidence may have become buried, but we owe it to victims like Angela Coleman to use the scientific advancements at our disposal to uncover the truth. People’s stories are trapped in that dusty file box, and we can’t let them wait any longer for justice.

Please reach out to us at NITV Federal Services to learn more about our CVSA systems and training programs.