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July 04, 2010 10:10 PM

Cold Case Unit Important In Solving Crimes


Twenty-one years after an eleven-year-old boy was abducted in Minnesota, new leads have investigators getting closers to answers. Officials have seized items from a farm near where Jacob Wetterling was taken. While the past two decades have deemed the Wetterling a cold case, one break can make the difference.

That's why in 2004, South Dakota started a cold case unit. While there are challenges to investigating old, unsolved crimes, any resolution can give grieving families an answer.

The cold case unit in South Dakota hasn't been around long, but in the last six years, it's helped to answer decade old questions.


“When we have new technology that comes forth, we're able to test, determine a little more information, gain a few leads,” Attorney General Marty Jackley said.

It was that new technology that helped the South Dakota cold case unit with its first conviction. It was DNA and fingerprint evidence that helped a jury find James Strahl guilty of murdering Bill O'Hare near Beresford in 1998. He was sentenced to 35 years behind bars.

“There are a list of cases that we prioritize that we keep working on in hopes of bringing closure to a victim's family,” Jackley said.

One of those cold cases is decades old, from 1975. Recent developments have led officials to John Graham and Thelma Rios. They're accused of kidnapping and murdering Annie May Aquash. The trial is set for November.

It's efforts like that that cold case units around the country are using, and they've played a part in new developments in the Jacob Wetterling case.

“When you look at it, there's an individual that's very dangerous in our community that needs to be taken out of there,” Jackley said.

As authorities keep working, even on cases gone cold, time and technology are making the difference and helping solve cases.

The cold case unit also played a part in the David Lykken investigation. He was accused of murdering Cheryl Miller and Pamella Jackson, who were last seen in 1971. All murder charges were dropped against Lykken because a star witness was lying to investigators.
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