GRAND JUNCTION — Mesa County District Attorney Pete Hautzinger said Tuesday he is confident he can successfully prosecute five unsolved cases dating back half a century if enough evidence can be re-examined and witnesses located.
Grand Junction Police Department spokeswoman Kate Porras said Tuesday there is no indication the cases are related, but investigators are hoping advancements in DNA testing will help bring justice.
Police Sgt. William Baker, supervisor in charge of investigations, said detectives are several months into new work on the five unsolved cold cases.
The oldest case involves the death of Patty Haywood, 18, who was found shot in the head on the morning of July 1, 1964. Her undergarments and shorts were torn down to her ankles and a yellow blouse was pushed up around her neck.
The department has also reopened the 1975 death of Deborah Tomlinson, the 1979 homicide of Clyde Peterman and the deaths of Gerald Burns and David Lavender in 1986 and 1987, the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel reported Tuesday (http://tinyurl.com/qgyqgzl ).
Tomlinson, 19, was found partially clothed in the bathtub of her apartment, beaten, strangled and sexually assaulted on the night of Dec. 27, 1975. Peterman, 45, was beaten to death in the bathtub of his apartment on March 19, 1979. Burns, 44, was found Oct. 11, 1986, beaten and strangled near railroad tracks along the Interstate 70 Business Loop, and Lavender, 45, was found beaten to death Aug. 26, 1987, under the Broadway bridge near the Colorado River.
The renewed effort is being funded by a grant from the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, which is paying 30 hours of overtime per case for detectives and up to $3,000 for travel-related expenses for collection of DNA from possible suspects or victims' families. Eight detectives are currently assigned to cases.
Baker said there are other cases that remain unsolved, but he chose older cases based on age of the evidence and the need to pursue leads.
"Witnesses and suspects are dying every day," Baker said.
So far, Baker said they've identified evidence in two of the cases, Peterman's and Lavender's, that will be sent to CBI's Grand Junction laboratory for DNA testing, potentially including sophisticated so-called "Touch DNA" that looks at tiny numbers of left-behind skin cells.
"Things that seven to 10 years ago we wouldn't have considered to be evidence can now be good for DNA," Baker said.
Hautzinger said investigators have already shown their perseverance will work.
Jerry Nemnich, 69, is serving two life terms for the 1975 murders of 24-year-old Linda Benson and her daughter, Kelley Ketchum, 5, which happened after a team of investigators re-opened the case in 2008 and submitted unknown DNA samples for testing to CBI.
In 2009, Nemnich's DNA was flagged in an offender database as being at the Benson crime scene. Testimony at trial showed his DNA profile was in at least eight places inside Benson's apartment and under her fingernails.