A warm round of applause for the Seattle Police Department's Cold Case Squad.
Old-fashioned detective work combined with cutting-edge advancements in DNA analysis resulted in homicide charges against a Florida man for a 1993 Seattle murder.
Linking a suspect to the slaying of 27-year-old singer Mia Zapata is a triumph alone, but the Cold Case Squad has secured charges in seven other old cases in the past two years.
Civilized society, respectful of life and the rule of law, has a covenant with murder victims to bring the guilty to justice and hold them accountable for their deeds. Homicide has no statute of limitations, nor does the commitment to hunt down the killers.
Seattle has quietly witnessed an extraordinary run of success.
Credit for this achievement goes to Gregg Mixsell and Richard Gagnon, Seattle police detectives, and Tim Bradshaw and Steve Fogg, senior deputy prosecutors with the King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office.
The list is incomplete without the skilled forensic scientists in the Washington State Patrol Crime Laboratory trained and certified in new DNA techniques.
Those advances, which only require a mere speck of DNA evidence to process, helped solve a string of cases. They include:
• An Albuquerque, N.M., man charged with murder for the 1982 slaying of a 19-year-old Seattle woman;
• A sentence of 20 years to life for a man who killed a 75-year-old woman in her lower Queen Anne apartment in 1981;
• Charges brought in late 2001 for the 1985 sexual assault and murder of a young Seattle mother in an apartment laundry room.
Similar threads run through the cases. In some, the suspects were already in custody elsewhere, with additional DNA material on file for comparison. In at least two, suspects pleaded guilty when confronted with DNA results.
As the science has gotten better, so have state and national databases. Many states, including Washington as of last year, are collecting DNA samples from all convicted felons, not just violent felons.
The power of better information cuts both ways. Five young men were recently exonerated of an infamous Central Park attack in New York City.
The National DNA Index System is continuously updated with more DNA profiles from around the country. Consequently, Seattle detectives routinely resubmit DNA profiles from local cold cases. The break in the 10-year-old Zapata case came from DNA information Florida put into the national system last fall.
After the forensic connection is made, detectives and prosecutors still must build a case that leads to charges, an arrest and trial. As a detective notes, DNA profiles are a place to start. Given the success of the Cold Case Squad, they are a great place to start.
The resources invested in chasing down cold cases, and doing the exacting laboratory work, are a duty owed and public money well spent.