Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2023, $533,200)
There is a cold case crisis in the United States. According to experts, there are 240,000 unsolved homicides nationwide. Each case involves a victim, a community, and law enforcement members seeking justice and accountability. Recent advancements in DNA testing and related databases can provide investigators effective tools that did not exist when the cases were originally investigated. A significant challenge to solve this problem, however, is the lack of resources and funding for these cases.
The Washington County District Attorney’s Office (WCDA) recognizes the need to investigate and prosecute violent crime cold cases. The WCDA prosecutes all the felony crimes that occur in Washington County, Oregon. Washington County is the second most populous county and most diverse county in Oregon.
The WCDA has taken steps toward resolving violent crime cold cases. In 2018, the WCDA partnered with Multnomah County under DANY to analyze its untested sexual assault kits. The WCDA is currently partnering with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office (WCSO) to identify offenders who lawfully owe DNA in Washington County. In 2020, the WCDA inventoried its cold case homicides. The goal was to identify their potential to be prosecuted with additional investigation. Of the 43 total cases, 25 were determined to be solvable, and 14 had identified DNA. It was clear the next step was to obtain funding to investigate violent crime cold cases.
In 2020, the WCDA applied for and received the BJA 2020 Prosecuting Cold Cases Using DNA Grant. The WCDA partnered with the WCSO to hire two investigators and a forensic consultant. Together, with a prosecutor and victim advocate, they formed a Violent Crime Cold Case Multidisciplinary Team (MDT). The MDT is the first and only cold case unit within a prosecutor’s office in Oregon.
The WCDA is seeking funds to continue and expand its efforts to resolve violent crime cold cases with suspect DNA identified. The MDT has completed an inventory of its cold case homicides and created a cold case database. The cold case homicides with suspect DNA are in the investigative stage, and one arrest has been made. With these funds, the MDT will inventory the FBI Uniform Crime Reporting Part 1 violent crimes with suspect DNA identified and continue its work to resolve violent crime cold cases.
 Stein et al., “Cold Cases: An exploratory study into the status of unresolved homicides in the USA.” Investigative Sciences Journal 9 no. 2 (2017).