IAFIS Hit of the Year 2009
30 Year-Old Murder Solved
By Hit of the Year
May 1977. A man is beaten to death in a suburb of San Diego. Police find a smudged latent print at the scene and search it against California state fingerprint files. No match is found, no leads developed, no suspect identified.
May 2007. The investigating agency—the Escondido Police Department—creates a cold case squad and reopens the 1977 murder case. This time around, law enforcement is able to take advantage of an investigative tool that was not in existence 30 years earlier—the FBI’s Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS) that ties together fingerprint records from around the country. Several hits are made in IAFIS and a suspect is identified.
This is just one example of the thousands of cases investigated every year by state and local law enforcement around the country that get an assist from IAFIS. It was also the case chosen by our Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) Division to receive its 2008 IAFIS “Hit of the Year” award presented late last year.
The Hit of the Year is the brainchild of our CJIS Division, which created the award in 2007 in response to a survey of law enforcement agencies that were asking for more details of major cases solved when IAFIS identified latent prints. The award, presented annually at the International Association for Identification conference, was given out for the first time in 2007. Details about the award-winning case are also published in a CJIS publication available online to all law enforcement.
The Escondido case was selected for recognition because of the persistence of the cold case squad members and the California state fingerprint analyst. Their efforts led to not only an identification but an arrest as well…30 years after the murder.
Here are some of the case details.
Shortly after the Escondido Police Department cold case squad was formed, the team began looking into the 1977 murder. In addition to two homicide detectives, members of the team included two retired officers—one who had actually been on patrol in Escondido the night of the murder—and a retired FBI agent.
The squad interviewed more than 30 people across the country and reviewed crime scene photos. They also submitted photographs of the smudged print to the California Department of Justice, where a latent print analyst checked state databases as well as the Bureau’s IAFIS.
Within 16 minutes, IAFIS kicked out 20 possible matches for comparison. The state analyst determined a definite match—to a convicted murderer who had been arrested in several states and was currently living in Reno, Nevada, out on lifetime parole after the murder of a Reno woman.
The suspect was arrested by Reno authorities and extradited to San Diego. He pled guilty to the murder of the Escondido man and is now back in prison, where he belongs.
Looking for nominations.
If you work at a police department and you think you’ve got a great case for consideration for the 2009 Hit of the Year, e-mail the details to the CJIS Division’s Latent Technology Development Team at firstname.lastname@example.org. The award will be presented in August at the International Association for Identification conference in Tampa. Best of luck!