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Case Closed?

View the Graphic

In September 1997, under mounting pressure to reverse a steady decline in his department's ability to solve murders, D.C. Police Chief Larry Soulsby ordered a reorganization of the homicide unit. Six weeks later, police announced a stunning turnaround. They had solved 42 murders since the shakeup-double their usual rate.

But a look at what became of those 42 cases offers a more sober view. Only 16 produced convictions-and just six for murder.

In another 15 slayings, court records show that suspects avoided conviction. Four led to acquittals. In 11, all charges were dismissed. Two cases are still pending. Another went to juvenile court, where records are not public. One case, dating back to 1988, is a complete mystery: prosecutors say they know nothing about it and police now say the case is still open.

The rest of the 42 were closed without arrest. One was a murder-suicide. Four were blamed on dead suspects. One police case file yields no clue why it was closed. And one was closed because the suspect was already in prison for another crime.

In November 1997, the new commander of the homicide squad singled out one of the cases for special recognition. A full squad of six homicide investigators from headquarters, together with a sergeant, helped detectives make two arrests in 48 hours in the beating death of a 78-year-old woman.

But one of the defendants was acquitted after two trials, and charges against the other were dismissed.

As these 42 cases illustrate, short-term reforms may not bring lasting results. Only a third of the cases led to convictions for murder or manslaughter. That was worse than the four-in-10 rate found in a 1993 Washington Post study detailing the city's problems in delivering justice for murder victims.

View the Graphic

2000 The Washington Post Company





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