Cybele K. Daley, Deputy Assistant Attorney General
Office of Justice Programs
Regional Advanced Cold Case Training
Indian Rocks Beach, FL
June 20, 2007
Thank you, Chuck. I’m very pleased to be here.
I want to thank Chuck and the very capable staff of our National Institute of Justice for organizing this training, and for letting me be so involved. I want to thank our partners at the National Forensic Science and Technology Center for their sponsorship, especially Kevin Lothridge, the Center’s Executive Director. I also want to recognize David Epstein, chief scientist at the Center. Thank you, Kevin and David, and thanks to your staff.
This three-day session is the first advanced regional cold case training that we’re conducting under the President’s DNA Initiative. Last year, we held a series of four basic regional cold case training sessions, and we’re continuing that series as we speak over in Clearwater Beach. We’ve received very positive feedback from those trainings, but it’s been very clear to us that law enforcement and forensics professionals want more information about dealing with these very complex and difficult cases. This training is our response to that demand.
Many of you have attended the basic trainings, and you know that we have tried to make those trainings as hands-on as possible. One of our objectives has been to take actual cases, and use our time to try to solve them. That approach seems to have worked very well, so we’ll continue with that model here.
But we’re also ratcheting up the level of technical detail. For example, we’re presenting a session on forensic anthropology. We’re offering a segment devoted to prosecutorial issues. And we have a presentation on sexual assault cold cases.
In addition to these offerings, we’ve added a third day of training that will be devoted exclusively to cold cases involving child victims. This stems from our many efforts in the Department to respond to missing and abducted children, most notably through the Attorney General’s Project Safe Childhood initiative, and programs like AMBER Alert and our Child Abduction Response Team trainings.
As we begin this training, I would like to make one point that I think is extremely important as you continue in this painstaking and emotionally draining work. As you work toward solving these cases, I encourage you to remain adaptable and willing to explore all avenues. I say this because there’s an unhealthy trend among the public and many people in the justice system to rely too heavily on DNA testing, at the expense of other tools.
A recent article in the New Yorker underscores how much work we have to do in educating people. The article presented the author’s interpretation of a debate going on in forensic circles about the relevance of trace evidence. His point was to call into question the value of trace evidence examiners in solving crime now that we have the means to analyze DNA.
It was a pretty cynical, not to mention naïve assessment of the critical work that trace examiners perform. But the upshot is hard to ignore. The fact is, so many people, criminal justice professionals included, think that DNA is the be-all and end-all in criminal investigations. And it just isn’t.
I don’t have to tell any of you, but there’s much more to solving a case than lifting a DNA sample, sending it to a lab, and waiting a few days for the results. DNA holds tremendous promise, but it’s not nearly as simple as that.
I know I’m preaching to the choir, but I never miss an opportunity to make that point, because the last thing we want to see happen is that professionals like you stop relying on the skills that make you so critical to solving crime – ingenuity, creativity, persistence, and a willingness to overturn every stone.
That’s one of the main reasons we’re holding this cold case training series. It’s meant to address all the tools at our disposal in solving cold cases. And that includes much more than DNA. It’s trace evidence, it’s missing persons databases, it’s coordination across agencies and across jurisdictions, and it’s good, old fashioned instincts and perseverance. They’re all necessary in finding the answers that families so desperately need.
We’re witnessing some exciting developments in forensics, DNA testing among other things. Those developments, combined with more traditional approaches, are proving to be very effective in solving old crimes.
Take, for instance, the family of Kimberly McClaskey. Kim McClaskey was 17 years old and 7 months pregnant when she disappeared in 1983. She was last seen on her way to visit her cousin in Fulton County, Illinois. Her clothes were found scattered near the Spoon River, but there was no trace of her body.
Five years later, a young boy found her remains several miles from the river. Thinking they were the bones of ancient Indians, he held on to them for another five years before finally bringing them to the sheriff’s office.
DNA tests performed at the time were inconclusive, so officials called upon an archaeologist from a local museum. He examined the bones and said the facial structure was very similar to that of the missing girl.
In the meantime, scientists had been developing and refining a way to test mitochondrial DNA. As many of you probably know, mitochondrial DNA, unlike nuclear DNA, is not unique to every person. Everyone in the same maternal line will have the same mito-DNA, so it’s not as specific an identifier as nuclear DNA. But mito-DNA testing has become a recent and valuable tool in narrowing the pool of potential matches.
Sure enough, last fall, using a reference sample from the girl’s mother, forensic specialists were able to use mito-DNA testing to confirm that the remains did, in fact, belong to Kimberly McClaskey – 23 years after her disappearance.
Cases like these are extraordinarily complicated. They are complicated from the standpoint of the investigators, the medical examiners, and others who try to solve them. But they are also complicated because of what they do to the victims’ families.
For 23 years, Kim McClaskey’s mother held out hope that her daughter would be found alive. That hope was shattered when the DNA test came back. But at the same time, she said she could finally sleep knowing that Kimberly was at peace.
Twenty-three years of sleepless nights and constant worrying take their toll on a person. It is difficult for most of us to imagine what it’s like to spend so much of one’s life in such agonizing uncertainty. We owe it to these families to do whatever we can to find answers.
In the Office of Justice Programs and the Department of Justice, we are working to do just that. In addition to trainings like this one, we’ve held training conferences devoted to strategies for finding the missing. NIJ has developed electronic training tools. We released an interactive, computer-based training on the use of DNA evidence in the courtroom entitled Principles of Forensic DNA for Officers of the Court.
We also support the National Forensic Academy at the University of Tennessee. The Academy offers intensive, ten-week sessions for investigators and crime scene technicians. The training is a soup-to-nuts course that covers everything from crime scene investigative techniques to DNA analysis and latent fingerprint processing to forensic ballistics and arson investigation.
And our Office for Victims of Crime recently made available a DVD to educate those who work with crime victims about issues related to cases involving DNA evidence.
This is all part of our efforts under President Bush’s DNA Initiative. Under the initiative, the President has committed one billion dollars over five years to enhancing the use of DNA technology. NIJ is the primary player in this effort.
All told, NIJ has awarded more than 300 million dollars under the initiative. These funds have gone toward eliminating case backlogs. They’ve also gone toward lab enhancements, research and development, finding missing persons, and, helping to solve cold cases.
In 2005, we awarded more than 14 million dollars to 38 state and local agencies to help them solve cold cases. These agencies are using funds to buy equipment, enhance software applications, hire staff, and improve storage capability, among other things.
Our goal is to improve our ability to solve cold cases so that victims and families will have the answers that they need. Which brings me to a final point I want to make about these trainings: Ultimately, our primary concern is with victims and their families. We want you to have the best tools to do your jobs, but it’s all in an effort to help those who are most personally and tragically affected by these cases.
I hope that you will always keep in mind the impact that your work has on them. Never underestimate the importance of their need for answers. You can’t bring back a loved one or erase the pain of a loss, but you can help them regain a foothold in this world and start them off on a new life.
On behalf of the Office of Justice Programs and the Department of Justice, I am grateful for your work on behalf of those families, and for your single-minded commitment to justice.
Of course, it’s one thing for me to urge you to remain focused on victims and families. But it means much more to hear it from the parent of a victim. Today, we are fortunate to have with us Debbie Culberson, the mother of Carrie Culberson.
Carrie disappeared from her home the night of August 28, 1996. A year later, a jury convicted her abusive boyfriend, Vincent Doan, of her murder and sentenced him to life in prison without parole. Doan’s half-brother was also convicted of tampering with evidence in helping to dispose of Carrie’s body.
But justice is far from complete in Carrie’s case. In the search for her body, police failed to secure the search area and allowed evidence to be removed. The police chief pleaded no contest to charges of mishandling evidence and was fired from his job. But as a result of his actions, the body of Carrie Culberson remains missing.
Carrie’s mother, Debbie, helped to lead the search for her daughter, and for justice on her behalf. She also speaks to youth, men in prison, and others about the dangers of domestic violence and the pain of losing a loved one. At the top of the Find Carrie Culberson Web site is a quote from Debbie that should serve as a charge to all of us. She says, “By not knowing the truth of what really happened that night, we will be forever tormented.”
Please welcome Debbie Culberson.