Category: Highlights

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Dallas County

Dallas County’s Postconviction funding supports DNA testing that leads to the exoneration of Martin Santillan and the arrest of living suspect in a collaborative multi-state investigation

The Dallas County District Attorney’s Office announces the exoneration of Martin Santillan for his 1998 capital murder conviction after an exhaustive re-investigation initiated by Centurion Ministries, Inc., a Princeton, New Jersey-based innocence organization, and conducted by the Dallas County DA’s Office’s Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU), which concluded that Mr. Santillan is actually innocent.
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Highlights

DeKalb DA announces break in 30-year-old homicide case, Rebecca Burke identified

The DeKalb County District Attorney’s Office has been awarded a three-year Missing and Unidentified Human Remains (MUHR) Program grant in the amount of $500,000 to identify the remains of 27 individuals found in DeKalb County. The DeKalb County Cold Case Task Force will use these funds to catalog, report, test, identify and return to families the unidentified remains of 27 individuals, including Burke’s remains. To date, some remains have been housed at the DeKalb County Medical Examiner’s Office. Others are buried and will be exhumed to begin the process of identification.
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Highlights

Husband of murdered Oregon woman arrested in 35-year-old cold case

The husband of Deborah Lee Atrops has been arrested for her murder, 35 years after her death. The arrest of Robert Atrops was the first major case the Washington County Cold Case Unit has worked on since it began in 2020. The Washington County District Attorney’s Office secured a grant called Prosecuting Cold Cases Using DNA, which allowed them to launch the Cold Case Unit. The unit focuses on investigating and prosecuting violent crime cold cases involving identified DNA associated with a possible suspect.
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Hawai’i Innocence Project

Exoneration of Albert “Ian” Schweitzer

In 1991, Albert “Ian” Schweitzer was convicted for the sexual assault and murder of Dana Ireland. After 25 years of wrongful incarceration, on January 24, 2023, his conviction was dismissed based on new DNA testing that excluded him as a contributor to DNA evidence collected from the crime scene and instead identified one unknown male perpetrator. Mr. Schweitzer’s wrongful conviction was also impacted by false testimony, false confession, and ineffective assistance of counsel.
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Bureau of Justice Assistance

Finding a Serial Killer—and Justice—After 40 Years

Last winter, police in Denver, Colorado, announced that they had solved the cold-case murders of four women who had died about 40 years ago, all of whom had been the victims of one man—a previously unknown serial killer named Joe Michael Ervin. It took years of old-school police work and a cutting-edge investigative technique called forensic genetic genealogy (FGG). It took the combined efforts of law enforcement in Colorado and Texas, along with support from the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), which used two different grants to help crack the case.
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BBC

Cal State LA’s California Forensic Science Institute’s Postconviction funding supports DNA testing that leads to the exoneration of Maurice Hastings after serving 38 years in state prison

Maurice Hastings served more than 38 years in state prison for the 1983 murder of Roberta Wydermyer in California and two attempted murders, but new DNA evidence instead pointed to another man who died in prison in 2020. At the time of the victim’s autopsy, semen was detected in an oral swab. Mr. Hastings had maintained his innocence from the moment he was arrested, but a request for DNA testing of the swab in 2000 was denied by the Los Angeles County District Attorney. Eventually, Mr. Hastings was able to put in a claim of innocence to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit in 2021 and DNA testing found that the semen was not his. The DNA profile instead matched a man who had been convicted of an armed kidnapping where he placed his female victim in a trunk of a vehicle. On October 20, 2022, Mr. Hastings was released from prison and his 1988 conviction was vacated.
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CBS 12 News

New funding to help solve Palm Beach County cold cases

The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office (PBSO) will receive a $500,000 grant through the Department of Justice’s ‘Prosecuting Cold Cases Using DNA’ program. According to PBSO, the sheriff’s office can now send DNA to private laboratories that use genetic genealogy testing. This testing option is currently not available at the sheriff’s office.
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Highlights

Exoneration of Terance Calhoun

In 2007, Terance Calhoun was convicted of sexual assault of two victims. DNA testing excluded him in 2007. Additional DNA testing was performed in 2019 by Bode confirming the original testing. On January 10, 2022, the Michigan State Police reported that a search of the FBI DNA database linked the DNA profile from the condom to a man who “is currently charged with other sexual assault offenses in the Detroit area that are alleged to have occurred between 2007 and 2014.” He was exonerated in April 2022.
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Highlights

Maricopa County receives $3 million in federal funding to help solve crimes

The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office (MCAO) announced that it would receive about $3 million in grants from the Department of Justice to help victims of crime. MCAO’s $500,000 Prosecuting Cold Cases Using DNA (COLD) Program grant will enable additional DNA testing, the creation of a countywide database of cold cases, hiring of a data analyst, and an increase of resources available for prosecutors who specialize in cold case homicide investigations. This is the first time MCAO has been awarded this grant, and their goal is to increase the number of successful prosecutions of cold cases throughout Maricopa County and provide closure to the victims of violent crimes.
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Highlights

Denver Police solve four related cold case homicides that occurred between 1978 and 1981

The Denver Police Department and law enforcement partners today announced that through the continued determination of investigators, DNA evidence, investigative genetic genealogy and familial DNA search, the suspect in three Denver cold case homicides and an Adams County cold case homicide has been identified as Joe Michael Ervin (DOB: 6/25/51), who is deceased. The murders of three women and a teenage girl occurred in separate incidents between 1978 and 1981. The four cases were linked together and solved through several significant investigative developments beginning 35 years later. The final identification of the suspect in these four murders through Investigative Genetic Genealogy and familial DNA research was a result of Denver’s Integrated Cold Case Project. This project is funded in part through a 2020 Genetic Genealogy & Familial Match Searching grant, awarded to the Denver Police Department by the Bureau of Justice Assistance for a total of $470,000.