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By Matt Masich, STATE BILL COLORADO
DENVER — The Colorado Cold Case Task Force was created in 2007 to create programs to help crack unsolved murder cases. The state Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday heard a briefing from task force members — who include people from law enforcement, victims’ advocates and family members of murder victims — and others who work with the group. Some reported making progress, while others leveled sharp criticism.
“I think we’ve come a long way in two years,” said Rep. Joe Rice, D-Littleton, sponsor of the bill that created the task force. “When we started, the state didn’t know how many unsolved homicides we had in Colorado.”
Along with the task force, Rice’s bill created a Cold Case Homicide Team at the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, or CBI, that maintains a list of all unsolved murders in the state. There are now 1,350 cold cases on that list; about half of those are in Denver.
CBI is also developing a Cold Case Review Team, said Kathy Sasak, deputy executive director at the Colorado Department of Public Safety and one of 15 task force members. Local law enforcement agencies will present the facts of cold cases to a team of experts, including medical examiners, investigators, forensic pathologists and members of the local FBI field office. The review team is expected to start looking at cases this year.
Task force member June Menger, whose son’s murder has remained unsolved for 26 years, said the task force has fostered cooperation between law enforcement and victims’ families.
“I’m so grateful that this has been created,” Menger said.
But others voiced disappointment. Linda Gruno, a task force member whose sister’s murder is a cold case, said the group has not done enough to actually solve murders. The proposed review team would only be able to analyze about a dozen cases a year, she said, while more than a thousand others remain unsolved. Gruno also said the law enforcement agencies exclude victims’ families from some of the task force’s working groups.
“Grief does not equate stupidity,” Gruno said.
Howard Morton, executive director of Families of Homicide Victims and Missing Persons, was one of the proponents of the Cold Case Task Force’s creation. Morton urged the Department of Public Safety to seek grant money to hire full-time cold case investigators at the CBI. The department would prefer to use potential grant money to distribute to local investigators through an application process.
Morton also said the CBI’s cold case list is lacking. His group maintains its own cold case list that includes more than 100 more cases than the CBI counts. This alternate list includes persons missing under suspicious circumstances, people whose families dispute police conclusions of suicide and people murdered before or after the time limits imposed by the cold case legislation.