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President Biden signed this week a bipartisan law on cold case investigations that gives federal rights to relatives of those who were killed in unsolved killings.
The Homicide Victims’ Families Rights Act provides family members of cold case victims a way to officially request federal investigators review their case with the latest available technology – and it specifically prohibits previous investigators from leading the renewed probe.
It directs agencies to keep their families informed about the case file. The federal government will be required to publish statistics annually on cold-case murders starting in 2025.
Reps. Michael McCaul and Eric Swalwell, both former prosecutors who became congressmen, introduced the bill. The bill passed 406-20 in Congress and unanimously in Senate.
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McCaul cited McCaul’s 1991 Yogurt Shop Murders as a key factor in his efforts for the law to be passed.
McCaul stated to Fox News Digital that three decades ago four girls were brutally killed at a Texas yogurt shop. Their families and communities are still haunted by the case because it remains unsolved. “I’m hopeful the Homicide Victims’ Families Rights Act will deliver the resources to help solve cold cases providing hope, justice, answers, and closure to grieving families of those whose cases have gone cold.”
The cold case murders resulted in four teenage girls being killed: Amy Ayers (13), Eliza Thomas (17), Sarah Harbison (15), and Jennifer Harbison (17).
The older girls were visiting the younger girls, who were working at the shop. The shop was set on fire after the four girls were found tied and gagged with gunshot wounds to the heads.
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Four men were soon arrested – but the charges were later dropped after DNA evidence linked an unknown man to the scene.
He is not yet identified.
McCaul was a former Texas deputy Attorney General and Federal Prosecutor. In 2019, McCaul wrote to the FBI asking them to send DNA samples from the case. The FBI replied that there would be thousands of matches, and the test would not be conclusive.
The new law requires federal law enforcement agencies to review a cold case upon a written request from a victim’s immediate family, if the case is still “cold” after three years and has probative leads. The federal government must inform the family members of victims of cold cases of their rights under the new legislation.
The agency must then “determine if full reinvestigation would yield either the identification or likely perpetrator of probative investigative leads.”
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Swalwell released a statement saying that too many murders continue to go unsolved in the country, leaving families devastated and communities in pain.
READ THE BILL RIGHT HERE
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Joseph Giacalone, an adjunct professor at New York City’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice and the former commanding officer of the NYPD’s Bronx Cold Case Squad, said unsolved cold cases mean a risk of additional violence. Particularly when the perpetrators of homicides are serial killers or involved in gang- or drug-related killings, he stated. As many as 39% homicides end up without arrests each year.
He said that as an investigator he took pride in helping victims’ families find closure.
“We’re finally seeing elected officials get it right: Victims matter; victims’ families matter,” he said. “This is exactly the message that people such as myself have been shouting for over the past two decades during the progressive era in criminal justice: the victims have been forgotten and the families ignored. This is a good step in the right direction.
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Giacalone, who wrote an actual textbook on cold case investigations, said the law’s requirement that the cold case’s previous investigators be left out of the reinvestigation is another key component in the new law.
“One of the things that I always talk about is, don’t read the reports right away; don’t talk to the detectives who did the case right away; because you end up going down the same path they did,” he said. “This law addresses just that…Now I hope it’s not a total thing, because I would want to talk to the case detectives eventually – just not initially.”
However, he said he’s hoping for at least one “tweak” he would like to see.
The cold case currently under review must have been previously under federal jurisdiction.
“The feds have access to techniques that it mentions local police departments don’t,” he said. “It’s really kind of a gray area, in one instance, you get the feeling that the family can reach right out to the police department, and the other it says it has to be a federal investigation.”
The White House didn’t respond to a request to comment on the new law.
Source: Fox News