Snippet from a Guide for Survivors of Homicide Victims

I grabbed this document off the internet.  It’s written for law enforcement, but has a lot of good information in it about what exactly goes into a homicide investigation.  If you are advocating for a loved one, it might be helpful to take a look at this document.  I know, for me, it gave me a general idea of what a cold case investigation looks like, and what resources are available to survivors.  I don’t consider myself a survivor, per se.  But still, survivors are the people who I see as my ideal audience.  Here’s the excerpt from “Serving Survivors of Homicide Victims During Cold Case Investigations: A Guide for Developing a Law Enforcement Protocol.”

In recent years, cold cases have gained national and international attention.43 “Extraordinary developments in DNA technology…have dramatically increased the available pool of evidence that can be submitted to DNA testing. This increasing volume of evidence, together with expanded databases containing identifying information from convicted felons, has created a tremendous resource for law enforcement to help solve crimes….”44

Yet still, “cold case homicides are one of the most significant challenges facing law enforcement agencies nation-wide.”45 And survivors of homicide victims can “have trouble believing in the system and trusting that the investigation is still continuing. They see police, courts, and lawyers as giving up on them. They feel less of a priority as there is little evidence to proceed and feel like a ‘nag or bother’ when asking questions about the case status.”46

Improving the systemic processes of cold case homicide investigations is therefore a critically important task for law enforcement. These processes include the nontechnological aspects of investigations, that is, sensitivity to survivors’ needs, the improvement of which will also improve law enforcement’s investigatory outcomes in the solving of more cold cases.

“For the family members of the victims, this [solving of a cold case] can bring very much- needed resolution to what happened to their loved one,” according to Professor Clete Snell, chair of the criminal justice department at the University of Houston-Downtown.47 For law enforcement, closing a cold case also can mean catching a murderer who could kill again.

A Washington, D.C., cold case homicide that was recently successfully prosecuted illustrates the impact that solving a cold case can have on survivors, law enforcement, and the community at large.

Chandra Levy, a 24-year-old California woman working as an intern with the federal government in Washington, D.C., was last seen on May 1, 2001. Her body was found a year later on May 22, 2002. Seven years later, in 2009, a suspect was charged. And almost 10 years after her initial disappearance, Ms. Levy’s murderer was tried and convicted on November 22, 2010, and sentenced to 60 years imprisonment on February 11, 2011.

Outside the courtroom after the conviction, survivor Susan Levy, Chandra Levy’s mother, very simply and succinctly stated a most basic lesson on the importance to survivors of law enforcement’s investigation of cold case homicides: “It makes a difference to find the right person who is responsible for my daughter’s death or for anybody else’s death.”48

Washington, D.C., Police Chief Cathy Lanier’s candid comments after the conviction also underscore some of the points raised in this guide about the difficulties in cold case homicide investigations: “It’s not like it is on TV. Cases can be very complicated. You never give up, regardless of criticism, regardless of mistakes. And I think that’s what happened in this case.”49

Finally, U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Ronald Machen summed up the broad meaningfulness of this single, cold case conviction to all survivors and law enforcement, as well as to the community at large: “Today’s verdict sends a message that it’s never too late for justice to be served.”50

But cold case homicide investigations are about more than seeing a case solved, a conviction rendered, and justice meted out, as important as these are to law enforcement and survivors. It is hoped, accordingly, that this guide will prompt law enforcement agencies to develop an agency protocol on serving survivors of homicide victims during cold case investigations. The information and recommendations outlined in this guide will inform that protocol with the foundational tools necessary for law enforcement to more effectively work with survivors but also—as is the ultimate purpose of this guide—to better serve survivors.

41 Albrecht, Steve (February 2010). “Threat Assessment Teams: Workplace and School Violence Prevention,” in FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation. Retrieved February 23, 2011, from http://www.fbi.gov/stats-services/publications/law-enforcement-bulletin/february-2010/leb-portlet-february2010/.

42 Ibid.
43 Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime, supra note 6. 44 Cold Case Task Force, supra note 5.
45 Ibid.
46 Ibid.

47 Pinkerton, James (November 22, 2010). “These Five Don’t Forget: Cold Case Squad Digs Deep into Long- Unsolved Murders, Bringing Relief to Families of Victims,” in Houston Chronicle. Retrieved February 26, 2011, from http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/metropolitan/7305540.html.
48 Smoot, Kelly (November 22, 2010). “Jury convicts man in killing of Chandra Levy in 2001,” CNN Web site. Retrieved February 26, 2011, from http://edition.cnn.com/2010/CRIME/11/22/dc.chandra.levy.trial.

49 Ibid.

50 Ibid.

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