Special Report: Murder trails gone cold

Brian Smith of the GBI
Brian Smith of the GBI

ALBANY, GA (WALB) - When a case grows cold it begs the question- will a killer ever be brought to justice? New technology is making that easier but it's often the determination of an investigator who refuses to give up on a case - no matter how difficult or how old.

An unsolved murder is like a puzzle with missing pieces. Solving it requires good detective work, patience, and more than ever, Science.

"You can't collect evidence thinking what can I do with it today? You have to think about what somebody may be able to do with that evidence next week, next month, or five years from now,"  says veteran GBI Special Agent Bryan Smith.

That philosophy paid off when investigating the 2008 murder of 82-year-old A. J. Mosely in Smithville. "We spent about 18 hours on that crime scene and then went back two more times looking for more evidence," Smith said.

It took six years before agents had enough evidence to charge 43-year-old Timothy Danue French with Mosley's murder. The case is awaiting trial, but it's an example of how science can go only so far without old fashioned detective work.

That forensic evidence is not applicable to a case until an investigator puts it into context of the situation. Advancements in latent print and DNA technology help solve cold cases. Eleven years after the body of hitchhiker Michaella Swaney was found in Turner County.

DNA evidence matched a former truck driver serving time in a Texas prison as her killer. But some cases like the 2009 murder of Dorothy Sheffield of Sumter County remain mysteries.

"That's a case in which we have great evidence, we just don't have a suspect's name," Smith said.

However a case can grow cold simply because of the certainty that's required before an arrest is made and taken to trial.

Call it the CSI effect on juries. "It's no longer good enough to say this person saw that person commit that crime. It's I want this person's finger prints. I want this bullet to match that bullet. I want the bullet from that gun to match that bullet. Fortunately, forensic science is setting the pace for law enforcement investigations these days."

In the end it's about justice for the victim's family.  "Catching the bad guy is the ultimate goal. But if you think about the people who have lost family members, it's much more motivation to keep working hard on a case."

New tools and old ones to find that final piece of the puzzle, and DNA advancements were back in the headlines this week.

A man serving a prison sentence in Leesburg was linked to two rapes in Cobb County that happened nearly 30 years ago. In this case Antonio Brooks is charged rape, aggravated assault and burglary.

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