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Cold Cases: State Law Enforcement Widens The Scope

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In this installment of our report on cold cases, Dave Dunwoody speaks with a local agent with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement – who says part of their cold case work is “in the cards.”

Dennis Haley (named FDLE agent of the year for 2014) works in the Pensacola office. He says often they receive cold cases from police departments and sheriff’s offices that don’t have the time to follow up on them.

“The luxury FDLE has over local law enforcement, we have the ability to sit down and dissect the case from A to B,” says Haley. “Examine the evidence and go back over the witness’ testimony and see what was left out. Local police departments are constantly being pressured. New cases come in, and constantly something else is going on.”

The cold cases sent to FDLE usually are several years old. The most recent is from 2006. Last year, Haley’s assistance led to a half-dozen arrests in four cold cases. They resulted, he says, while working with the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office on a 1981 murder case out of Niceville.

“Through informants, and through wearing wires, they uncovered the fact that these individuals were involved in other homicides,” Haley said. “At the same time was working a separate cold case with Okaloosa [County] of an elderly lady that was murdered back in 1997 in Crestview. We were able to finally bring that to a conclusion through testimony and witnesses that finally came forward after all these years.”

Haley echoes other law enforcement officials in saying the investigative techniques and technology have made dealing with cold cases – indeed, all criminal cases – a lot faster and easier. He points to a homicide from 1987 in Fort Walton Beach, where a suspect was identified but not charged.

FDLE has teamed up with the Department of Corrections and Attorney General’s Office in developing a new way to crack Florida’s unsolved cases, through a deck of playing cards. Haley says it’s the brainchild of FDLE agent Tommy Sands in the Lakeland office.

“He’s going to prisons and jails, interviewing convicts and people arrested,” Haley said. “And he noticed that everybody sits around playing cards all day. He had the brainstorm that if he started putting victims’ pictures on these playing cards, then maybe this would generate some leads.”

Each card features a photograph and information about an unsolved homicide or missing person. The first 100,000 decks of the cards were handed out in 2007 to inmates at state prisons ; inmates in all 67 county jails, and to supervised state offenders.

“There are so many things they know of over crimes, and those they didn’t get arrested for,” Haley said. “And sure enough, it developed a lot of leads through the years.

At least two cases have been solved as a result of the playing cards: arrests were made in 2007 in the separate murders of James Foote and Ingrid Lugo, both in 2004. In 2008, a third deck was issued, featuring another 52 unsolved cases.

Besides DNA testing, another innovation that’s come along is The Automated Fingerprint Identification System – or “AFIS.” Haley says it was instrumental in cracking the 1984 homicide of an elderly man in Fort Walton Beach.

Haley, who’s currently working three cold cases, says the public’s help is essential. He urges anyone with such information to come forward, without fear of arrest. Anyone with information on cold cases – or any others – are encouraged to contact FDLE, or their local law enforcement agency.