New grant helps Washington County DA investigate cold cases
The Washington County District Attorney's Office recently was awarded a $470,000 grant to investigate and prosecute violent crime cold cases that involve identified DNA associated with a possible suspect.
The grant was funded by the U.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Assistance, according to a statement from the District Attorney's Office on Oct. 28.
The office recently conducted a review of all major cold cases to identify their potential to be prosecuted with additional investigation, the statement said, adding that a cold case is defined as a case three or more years old that is not under active investigation.
"Of the 43 identified homicide cases dating back to 1968, at least 14 contain DNA evidence," the District Attorney's Office said. "Additionally, there are potentially hundreds of unsolved sexual assault cases over the decades that also contain DNA evidence. This office is confident many of these cases can be solved, the victims associated with them can receive the justice they deserve, the community at large can receive a sense of resolution, and those who committed these crimes can finally be held responsible."
One cold case the District Attorney's Office highlighted was the 2001 murder of Loni Okaruru, who was a transgender woman. It's one of the cases that will be investigated again as part of the grant.
"Ms. Okaruru was found murdered in Hillsboro," the District Attorney's Office said. "This horrifying crime shook the community then and continues to cause pain today.
The grant will allow additional resources and modern forensic tools to be used. The District Attorney's Office will be able to hire one full-time investigator to pursue violent crime cold cases where suspect DNA has been identified. Additionally, it will use a small portion of the funds to hire a forensic consultant.
"These new resources, combined with advances in DNA testing and related databases, will improve the chances of resolving these cases," the District Attorney's Office said.
The people hired for the new positions will work with a prosecutor and victim advocate to form a Violent Crime Cold Case Multidisciplinary Team, the District Attorney's Office said.
That team, known as the MDT, will work with existing resources, including the Washington County Major Crimes Team.
"Holding criminals accountable no matter how long they have hidden their crime is a fundamental component of justice," said District Attorney Kevin Barton. "While these cases may be labeled as 'cold cases,' to the victims and their families, they are as just as real and important today as they were when the crime occurred many years ago. This office and Washington County law enforcement now have added tools to help provide some resolution and obtain justice."
The District Attorney's Office said it is currently doing other work to resolve unsolved cases. For example, it has worked in conjunction with the Washington County Sheriff's Office to test sexual assault kits and to collect DNA from offenders who are legally required to provide it.
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