Cybele K. Daley, Deputy Assistant Attorney General
Office of Justice Programs
Regional Cold Case Training
Kansas City, MO
April 18, 2006
Thank you, Susan [Narveson]. It's a pleasure to be here.
I want to thank Susan and the very capable staff of our National Institute of Justice for organizing this training. I've been closely involved with NIJ in preparing for this session, and I can tell you that a lot of time and effort has gone into getting ready.
One of the objectives that I raised and that NIJ staff embraced was that we take actual cases and use our time here to try to solve them. That approach reflects our desire in OJP to have an immediate and positive impact on the people who are most affected by unsolved cases – crime victims. In that regard, this is an especially important event for the Office of Justice Programs. And it's especially timely.
Next week marks the annual observance of National Crime Victims' Rights Week. Those of our staff who aren't here are back in D.C. gearing up for Crime Victims' Rights Week events. I'm fortunate to have, in the OJP staff, a group of people committed to helping victims by using all our resources to bring answers.
There's no doubt that the work that each of you is doing has a tremendous impact on victims. You are the front-line. I hope that, during your time here, you will bear in mind the significance of that impact to families across the country. People shouldn't be forgotten. You know that and we want to help.
I also want to thank our partners at the National Forensic Science and Technology Center, especially its Executive Director, Kevin Lothridge. I also want to recognize David Epstein. The center is helping to sponsor this session and the sessions still to come later this year. Thank you, Kevin, and David, and thanks to your staff.
The training that we're holding here over the next two days represents a milestone.
Each of you understands the vital role that DNA evidence plays in today's criminal justice system. You know that, with advances in the use of DNA, we've crossed a major threshold in our ability to solve crime and to bring answers to victims and their families.
You also know that, as a result of those advances, we've opened the door to seemingly endless possibilities. Because of what people know, or think they know, about DNA, expectations are higher than ever for identifying criminal suspects and for establishing guilt or innocence.
As you know better than anyone, certainty is an exacting standard when it comes to solving crime. Yet it is the standard in criminal trials. And even before the advent of DNA technology, investigators and prosecutors were expected to meet that standard. Needless to say, your jobs were not easy ones.
They're still not easy. And DNA evidence will not relieve you of the necessity of relying on other important tools. But with DNA technology, we've made a quantum leap in bridging the distance between the standards of criminal evidence and our ability to achieve those standards.
If you've read the report from our National Institute of Justice, you know that more than half-a-million cases involving crime scene samples either have yet to be sent to labs, or they are at labs but still awaiting analysis. About 52,000 are homicide cases. Some 170,000 are rape cases. These are serious crimes that have, in many cases, gone unsolved for years.
Virtually every law enforcement agency in the country has unsolved cases that could be solved through advances in DNA technology. But simply having the technology is not enough. In an area as specialized and technical as forensic science, the skills and know-how to apply that technology are just as important. That knowledge and expertise are what we're here to build.
A number of law enforcement agencies, including the police department here in Kansas City, have established cold case squads or units to look at cases that have languished for years without suspects. Many have been successful in using DNA to solve these cases.
DNA was the linchpin in the case against a California man accused of raping and murdering a 19-year-old woman in 1974. Thanks to DNA technology, prosecutors were able to win a conviction 30 years after the crime was committed.
Last September, we awarded more than $14 million to 38 state and local agencies to help them solve cold cases. St. Louis County, the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, and the Nebraska State Patrol, just to name three agencies from the Midwest region, were among the recipients.
These agencies are using funds to buy equipment, enhance software applications, hire staff, and improve storage capability, among other things. The goal of the program is to help these agencies expand their capacity to test DNA evidence from violent crime cold cases.
The cold case program is part of President Bush's DNA initiative. Under the initiative, the President has committed $1 billion over five years to enhancing the use of DNA technology. The National Institute of Justice is the primary player in this effort.
NIJ has awarded more than $200 million to states and localities to expand the application of forensic science through DNA. These funds have gone toward eliminating the case backlogs I mentioned earlier. They've also gone toward lab enhancements, research and development, finding missing persons, and, of course, helping to solve cold cases.
One of those grants helped investigators in Oregon identify a suspect in a 26-year-old double homicide case. The suspect was arrested just two weeks ago today.
Another major element of the President's initiative is training. We offer both classroom and online training to law enforcement officers and investigators, prosecutors, medical professionals, and forensic scientists.
I can't emphasize enough the importance of the training component. Much of the information imparted by the trainings comes from experienced law enforcement professionals, so it's practical, it's timely, and it's field-tested. It also can yield immediate results.
The NIJ staff members are probably tired of hearing me tell this story, but it deserves to be repeated because it illustrates just how valuable trainings like this can be.
Back in September, as part of the DNA initiative, we held an eastern regional training on identifying missing persons. During one of the breakout sessions, an investigator from the Michigan State Police brought up a case he had been working on. Basically, these were the circumstances:
A year-and-a-half earlier, a body had turned up in an inlet of Lake Michigan not far from Grand Rapids. It was badly decomposed. Investigators followed dozens of leads and checked the profiles of almost 300 missing persons from four states. But they were unable to find a match.
One of the profiles was that of a woman from Racine, Wisconsin who had been reported missing three months earlier. Her car and some personal belongings had been discovered in Racine harbor shortly after her disappearance, but she was nowhere to be found.
Racine is almost directly opposite the Grand Rapids area. But the distance between shores is almost 100 miles. So it seemed unlikely that the body discovered in the inlet would belong to the Wisconsin woman. And in fact, investigators had gone so far as to consult an expert at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, who told them that it was, indeed, unlikely that a body could drift so far. So they gave up pursuing the possibility of a match between the missing woman and the body.
But when the investigator brought up the case at our training, other participants wondered if the body could belong to the Wisconsin woman. Then a forensic dentist who was there chimed in and asked if they had checked the dental records.
Well, they hadn't. So when the investigator returned home, he did just that. And, lo and behold, they found a match. Almost two years after her disappearance, the body of the missing Racine woman was identified, an apparent suicide.
I wanted to make two points by mentioning that case.
First, solving cases entails more than just having the right technology. It involves applying other tools as well – tools like forensic dentistry, fingerprinting, information sharing, and a willingness to pursue every lead.
The case also demonstrates that trainings like these have a real impact. I encourage you to take advantage of your time here to talk to your counterparts in other departments. Among the many benefits of any training are the information and the ideas that are shared among participants.
I'll give you another example of the value of networking and sharing ideas.
In Austin, Texas, officials were investigating the rape and strangling of a local college student. The rapist had taken precautions to avoid detection by wearing a condom and rubber gloves.
The investigator had read about another case involving a child who was strangled. Officials in that case were able to use DNA from the skin cells that were shed by the criminal on the ligature.
That gave the investigator an idea. He wondered whether enough force and friction had been exerted to cause the rapist's skin cells to rub off on the phone cord, which is what he had used as a ligature.
So the investigator asked that a DNA test be run, and lab officials were able to glean a profile. As it turns out, during the struggle with the victim, the rapist had to use one hand to hold her down, leaving only one hand to pull the phone cord. As the investigator learned, the rapist had to grab the remaining end with his mouth, causing him to leave a deposit of saliva. The DNA profile from the saliva was enough to break the case.
Again, this is just another example of one investigator benefiting from the experience of another. This, I think, is where the value of trainings such as this one lay.
The Florida training that I told you about earlier was one of two regional sessions we held on identifying the missing. We also held a western regional training in Denver. Both were part of an overall strategy to improve the nation's capacity to find the missing and to identify human remains.
That strategy is a major component of the President's DNA initiative, and it is also closely linked to the work that all of you are doing to solve cold cases.
The FBI's National Crime Information Center has a database of more than 100,000 missing persons cases. It also has listed some 5,800 sets of remains that have yet to be identified.
The problem is that no uniform system exists for checking information from different databases against one another. So investigators are unable to make important connections that will solve cases.
The tragic implications are huge, as we've witnessed in the efforts to identify victims of Hurricane Katrina and the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.
Our national task force on missing persons has been meeting to discuss ways to improve our handling of missing persons cases. In May, we'll release a report summing up task force activities. The report will discuss our progress in enhancing the use of and access to federal databases. It will discuss efforts to improve missing persons investigations. It will talk about ways to standardize DNA collection kits. And it will mention our ongoing outreach activities to raise awareness of the issues.
In addition, we continue to monitor what the states are doing. A handful of states have passed legislation to improve their systems for identifying the missing. Several others are using our model statute in drafting laws.
We believe that these measures will go a long way toward helping investigators solve cases involving the missing and the dead, and that they will support you as you address cold cases in your departments.
The work that each of you does necessarily involves a clinical approach to human tragedy. But it has a very personal impact on victims and their families.
Tomorrow marks the 11th anniversary of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City. I know that two of our training participants are from the Oklahoma City Police Department, and I know tomorrow's date holds special significance for them. But I hope that all of you will use the anniversary as an opportunity to reflect on the human impact of your work.
As Judge Murrah himself once said: “The greatest rewards in living come from living outside and beyond one's self.”
Remember that you're not just solving an old rape or murder case, you're bringing answers to victims and families whose lives have been thwarted by uncertainty.
It is now my privilege to introduce our keynote speaker.
On June 27, 2000, 16-year-old Molly Bish was abducted from her life guard post just moments after she was dropped off by her mother, Magi. Only Molly's shoes, lunch, and water bottle were at the scene when swimmers arrived a few minutes later. After a three-year search, her remains were found on a wooded hillside only miles from where she had been abducted. An investigation into the circumstances surrounding her death is ongoing.
Since Molly's abduction, John and Magi Bish have become strong and respected advocates for missing children and child safety. They established the Molly Bish Foundation to promote child safety through education and prevention efforts. They have spoken to school and community groups across the country and have appeared on local and national television. They are also valued partners in our efforts to find and recover abducted children through AMBER Alert.
John and Magi understand all too well the importance of an investigator's work. John has joined us today to share his perspective on that work.
Please join me in welcoming John Bish.