Cuyahoga County

Cold Case Unit

The Cold Case Unit was formed in 2006 in response to the growing awareness that unsolved homicides can be prosecuted successfully with forgotten biological evidence. 

To tackle this challenge, the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s office has hired retired homicide detectives to pour over police reports and Coroner’s documents to ascertain whether biological evidence may still exist to compare to possible suspects in those police reports. 

These investigators locate this forgotten evidence from the police property room shelves, Coroner’s refrigerators and Detective bureaus.  Once located, evidence is tested at the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification Laboratory or the Cuyahoga County Regional Forensic Crime Lab.

Scientists can often develop a DNA profile from the biological evidence and then upload that profile into the National Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) – a catalog of genetic “fingerprints” from convicted criminals. If a DNA profile is a match to an Offender in the system, the investigators working the case will look for corroborating evidence in the police reports, interview the victim and the suspect’s family members and gather other evidence such as fingerprints and photo array identification. They will also develop chain of custody documents for the biological evidence.

Lastly, they will confront the suspect in dramatic fashion with a search warrant to collect  DNA to confirm the CODIS match.  Often, suspects try to lie about their whereabouts at the time of the murder.

The amount of time that has elapsed from the crime to the re-opening of a Cold Case compounds the difficult of investigating these cases. Challenges include locating witnesses who may have moved, are deceased or are uncooperative. Does the original evidence still exist and was it properly stored? Was a chain of custody preserved that tracks the proper handling of the evidence?  All these factors weigh-in to the successful prosecution of a Cold Case.

Since inception of the Cold Case Unit in 2006, 14 defendants have been prosecuted for crimes against 24 innocent victims and over 446 cases have been reviewed.

Of the 14 defendants, six offenders have committed crimes against multiple victims. As of December 15, 2013, the Cold Case Unit has solved 12 murders and 13 rapes.

For more information on the Cold Case Unit, please click here.