2012 Latent Hit of the Year
July 3, 2012
Originally published in the July 2012 edition of the CJIS Link, Volume 14, Number 2
Each year, the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division selects a Latent “Hit of the Year” and shares details about the case solved when latent prints were identified by a search of the FBI’s Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS).
On October 17, 1978, the Omaha (Nebraska) Police Department (PD) responded to a crime scene at an apartment where a man had been brutally assaulted and stabbed to death. The man was later identified as 61-year-old Carroll Bonnet, an employee at the local hospital.
Law enforcement officers investigating the case collected a variety of evidence, including latent fingerprints and palmprints lifted from the victim’s bathroom. Officers believed that the suspect left behind the biometric evidence while attempting to clean up blood and other evidence before leaving the man’s apartment and then allegedly stealing his vehicle. Of particular interest to officers was a note left by the suspect that read, “I am leaving this crime with one clue. Find it yourself. Die Pig.” Days later, officers recovered the stolen vehicle without incident and obtained additional latent print evidence from the vehicle for further analysis.
The Omaha PD processed all of the evidence from the crime scene and searched the latent prints against all available latent prints from its known fingerprint repository without success. In an effort to identify a suspect in the investigation, the Omaha PD forwarded a teletype to various law enforcement agencies and requested additional support to search the latent prints against other available biometric repositories. Unfortunately, the suspect remained at large, and with no new leads, the case went cold for the next 30 years.
However, in December 2008, the Omaha PD’s Cold Case Squad received a facsimile from the Criminal Laboratory Services Section of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) regarding the latent print evidence from the Bonnet Case. The FDLE wanted to know if the latents had been searched and linked to a suspect, or if the case had been solved. After confirming the case was still unsolved, the Omaha PD’s Cold Case Squad contacted its Crime Laboratory to determine if the latent prints should again be searched for potential suspects, since new and automated biometric technologies that did not exist in 1978 were now available to them.
On December 19, 2008, Laura Casey, a Crime Laboratory Technician for the Omaha PD, searched the latent prints against the FBI’s IAFIS. In less than five hours, the IAFIS returned responses containing possible candidates for comparison purposes. Casey devoted several days to examining the latent print evidence and made a positive identification to one of the returns from the IAFIS response. Investigators later located the suspect, Jerry Watson, at the Lawrence Correctional Center in Illinois, where he was serving time for burglary.
As a result of the identification, the Bonnet Case was officially reopened and assigned to Cold Case Squad Detective Doug Herout. Herout coordinated with Omaha Crime Laboratory Technician Steve Vaccaro and Nebraska State Highway Patrol Analysts Angela Adle and Kim Van Den Akker to further analyze the evidence originally collected in the case. Consequently, a “Thrifty Nickel” advertisement was found amongst the evidence with the name “Jerry W.” scribbled on one of the pages. Detective Herout believed this referred to the suspect and was the clue referenced in the note left at the crime scene. After researching the suspect’s background, investigators discovered that he had lived only a few blocks from where the stolen vehicle was recovered. Because of the biometric evidence, investigators were able to obtain a warrant just days before Watson was to be released from the Lawrence Correctional Center. During an interview, the suspect denied having any involvement in the murder, knowing the victim, or being in the victim’s apartment. However, investigators presented the suspect with an order to obtain his deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and a DNA sample was collected. In addition to the latent fingerprints positively identifying Watson as a suspect, his DNA further substantiated that he was responsible for the homicide of Carroll Bonnet.
In August 2011, the man faced a jury for the crime from more than three decades earlier. After 10 days of testimony, the jury returned a guilty verdict for first-degree murder and possession of a deadly weapon to commit a felony. On October 17, 2011, 33 years to the day when Carroll Bonnet’s body was discovered, Watson was sentenced to life in prison.
Laura Casey, Senior Crime Laboratory Technician, Latent Prints, Certified Crime Scene Analyst
Laura Casey began her career as a Crime Laboratory Technician with the Omaha Police Department in 1995. In 2001, Casey was certified by the International Association for Identification as a Crime Scene Analyst, and in 2011, she was promoted to Senior Crime Laboratory Technician.
Douglas Herout, Detective
Douglas Herout began his civilian law enforcement career with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Department in 1996. Herout was later hired to the Uniform Patrol Bureau of the Omaha Police Department, where he became a detective in 2005. He currently serves as a member of the Omaha PD’s Cold Case Homicide Squad. Herout was nominated for the “Crime Stoppers Officer of the Year Award” for his work on the Bonnett Case.