Latent Hit of the Year
Each year we highlight a cold case that was solved through analysis of latent fingerprints.
On the right is a latent print taken from the San Diego crime scene. On the left, the fingerprint in the IAFIS database matched to the crime scene print by a San Diego Police Department latent print examiner.
Two Cold Cases Solved
Fingerprint Technology Played Key Role
January 1972. A man was murdered—stabbed more than 50 times in his San Diego, California home. His house had been ransacked, and his car was stolen. Police recovered latent fingerprints from the crime scene, but at that time there was no national automated system available to match the prints. All possible leads were followed, but the case eventually went cold.
October 1978. Similar story: A man was stabbed to death inside his home in Bird Key, Florida. The house had been burglarized, and his car taken. Police found latent prints on the victim’s television set, but weren’t able to search the prints on a national level. Investigators exhausted every lead, but they could never identify the perpetrator.
What do these decades-old murder cases have in common? Two things. They were both recently solved by local law enforcement…with the assistance of the FBI’s Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System, or IAFIS, a national repository of fingerprints and criminal history records launched in 1999. And both cases were chosen by our Criminal Justice Information Services Division (CJIS) to receive its “Hit of the Year” award.
The annual CJIS award was first presented in 2007 in an effort to share details among police agencies about major cold cases solved when IAFIS identified latent prints.
The 2010 Hit of the Year recognized the 1972 San Diego case, which was reopened in 2008 by the San Diego Police Department. Latent prints collected from the victim’s house back in 1972 were submitted to IAFIS. The system came up with 20 possible matches. A San Diego Police Department latent print expert compared the matches with the crime scene latents and made an identification—an individual who had been previously been tried and acquitted on murder charges in Texas. The suspect was located in Texas, and his prints were taken and compared to prints found on a cigarette lighter at the crime scene and in the victim’s recovered car. The case went to trial with the fingerprints and other evidence, including DNA. And even though the trial ended with a deadlocked jury, the defendant eventually pled guilty to the crime in order to avoid a second trial.
Key members of the team responsible for closing the case included lead Detective John Tefft (now retired), Crime Scene Specialist Dorie Savage, and Latent Print Examiner Gloria Pasqual. Congratulations on a job well done!
The 2009 Hit of the Year went to the Florida case. The Sarasota Police Department reopened the investigation in 2008 with the hope that current forensic technology would help solve it. The latent prints recovered from the television set were searched in IAFIS, and within 15 minutes, a response was returned with a list of possible suspects and their prints. A latent print expert from the Sarasota PD compared the prints and made a positive identification—a California man with extensive criminal records in multiple states. He was located in California and extradited to Florida. And with the help of additional evidence, including DNA evidence left at the crime scene, he was convicted of the crime.
Special recognition goes to Sarasota Police Department Detective Patrick Robinson and Crime Scene Unit Supervisor Jocelyn Masten for their excellent work on this case.
While there will never be any substitute for solid police work, today’s forensic technology can be a great help in identifying violent criminals and getting them off our streets.