DISTRICT ATTORNEY STATEMENT
GRAND JURY REPORT ON COLD CASES
May 31, 2019
The San Joaquin County District Attorney's Office (SJCDA) is in receipt of the San Joaquin County Grand Jury Report regarding "Cold Cases in San Joaquin County."
The District Attorney is pleased to see the Civil Grand Jury acknowledge the importance of funding and resources for cold case investigations in San Joaquin County.
In its report, the Grand Jury notes that, "The San Joaquin County District Attorney's Office also made an unsuccessful budget request to add a Cold Case Investigator and an Investigative Assistant for 2018-2019." (Report, page 12.) This is correct. This request was made and denied. Not mentioned in the Report, however, was that we have also made this request in the upcoming 2019-2020 budget.
Our stated purpose for this request is partially noted in the report: "In their 2018-2019 Proposed Budget Request, the San Joaquin County District Attorney's Office stated their desire to assist law enforcement agencies throughout the County by reviewing and triaging unsolved homicide cases. Their goal is to identify DNA evidence that has not been previously submitted for testing, and submit that evidence to the California Department of Justice crime labs for analysis. Current staffing levels and priorities prevent this level of assistance from the District Attorney's Office."
The Grand Jury report mentions "priorities" a number of times without stating what those competing priorities are. In the context of the SCJDA, the competing priorities are current cases that have a person in custody and charges have been filed. In other words, deputy district attorneys are currently prosecuting a large number of solved cases requiring time, energy and focus on those cases.
Nevertheless, our prosecutors work closely with local homicide investigators to solve and charge cases that have seemingly gone "cold." The DA's office has always had a well-known open- door policy with law enforcement. Prosecutors from the Homicide Unit, Violent Criminal Enterprise Unit, and Officer Involved Critical Incident Unit are on-call 24 hours a day. Every week, a prosecutor from these units is assigned to be on 24 hour on-call duty. A list is disseminated to all local law enforcement with the names of the on call prosecutor and their contact information. This on-call duty includes weekends and all holidays.
Supervisors and prosecutors from these units work closely with investigators on all solved and unsolved cases. A quick sampling of "cold cases" prosecuted by the SJCDA include:
- People v Roger Kibbe: Date of Offenses: 1977, 1986-1987. Date of Charging /Indictment: March 2008.
- People v Michael Simons and Kathleen Belflower: Date of Offense: October 2002. Date of Charging: March 2003
- People v James Gorman: Date of Offense: March 2005. Date of Charging: September 2006.
- People v Gurparkkash Khalsa: Date of Offense: March 2007. Date of Charging/Indictment: April 2008.
- People v. Alphonze Fitzhugh and Robert Barnes: Date of Offense: November 2009. Date of Date of Charging /Indictment: March 2011.
- People v Alvin Davis: Date of Offense: July 2012. Date of Charging/Indictment: April 2016
- People v Michael McKuen: Date of Offense: January 2013. Date of Charging /Indictment: April 2014
- People v Laandre Hale: Date of Offense: October 2015. Date of Charging: August 2017
- People v Kenneth Vanderford and Kevin Etherton: Date of Offense: February 2016. Date of Charging: January 2018.
- People v Tony and Tyrienta Dunigan: Date of Offense: May 2016. Date of Charging: November 2017.
Other "cold cases" have been solved but not charged because the suspect is now deceased.
The SJCDA remains committed in continuing to provide advice, guidance, assistance, and investigators in a number of cold cases. Throughout the years, our prosecutors have been able to take advantage of advances in forensic technology. For example, recently, in prosecuting Alvin Davis for the murder of Hazel Dingman, the SCJDA introduced evidence using new STRmix software to analyze DNA collected years before. We continue to work with the Department of Justice crime lab and other experts in these technological advances.
Of course, not all unsolved cases can be solved using new technology. As correctly noted by the Grand Jury report, "[A] limitation in the investigation of cold case homicides in San Joaquin County is the significant percentage of cases involving street gangs. [..T]he number of cold case homicides involving street gangs is estimated to be as high as 50% in San Joaquin County." Given this reality, the SJCDA is employing a number of strategies to encourage witnesses to come forward. Recently, District Attorney Tori Verber Salazar joined the family of a triple murder in a walk around Sierra Vista speaking to neighbors about the crime.
As with any crime, somebody knows something. And we just need that one person to raise their voice and help this family and bring justice to our community
." - District Attorney Tori Verber Salazar.
We are eager to review each of the recommendations and work collaboratively with our law and justice partners in this very important area.
As required, we will submit our formal response to the Grand Jury within the statutory time frame.