Sunday, March 28, 2010

Wow! Thanks Tom...

 Tom suggested that he wanted to do a "Feature Story" on CCFHV and our new direction, how we have changed over the past 3 years, etc. As well as also said that we would be able to Thank everyone that donated to our Spaghetti Benefit and told me to tell them that when soliciting donations. Dalton Springers' case is ruled a homicide and has been varified as such through The Sheriff's Department. He died from blunt force trauma to the head. He was 3 years old and was beaten to death. Christopher Joy Jr. is from Wellsville, and his entire family lives there and he is also buried there and we explain that on the website also. Gary Paulin is a Hit and Run (that means unsolved homicide) 


County organization keeps focus on unsolved crimes

POSTED: March 28, 2010

LISBON - Another year, another unsolved murder or suspicious death in Columbiana County, or so it seems to many citizens.
Letters to the editors, blogs and an organization dedicated to remembering these victims have drawn attention to the seemingly growing list of murders/suspicious deaths that remain unsolved.
The county Families of Homicide Victims, established in 2006 to keep the public focus on these unsolved crimes, maintains a Web site that lists 28 such crimes dating back to 1969.
Some of the deaths and missing persons cases on the list either occurred outside the county, have already been decided, or involved questionable cases in which medical examiners were unable to determine the cause of death.
For instance, Tyler Unkefer of Elkrun Township is on the list. He was killed during a shootout with another armed person at an outdoor party in June 2008. There were 10-15 witnesses, and investigators concluded it was a case of self-defense. The county grand jury apparently agreed because it declined to issue an indictment after being presented the evidence.
Also listed on the site is Christopher Joy Jr., the 18-month old boy formerly of Wellsville who was beaten to death in March 2009, but this crime occurred in Jefferson County, where he lived with his mother and her boyfriend. The boyfriend was arrested by Jefferson County officials, but the charges were later dropped.
Then there is the case of Dalton Springer, the 3-year-old St. Clair Township boy who died from blunt force trauma to the head in November 2000. The Allegheny County (Pa.) Medical Examiner's Office was unable to determine the cause of death.
Although nearly everyone on the list is a homicide victim - homicide simply means someone was killed by another person - not everyone is a murder victim, at least not in the common understanding. For instance, Gary Paulin, 53, was killed in a 2008 traffic accident near Guilford Lake caused by another vehicle, and the Ohio Highway Patrol was unable to determine the identity of the other driver, who fled the scene, and the owner reported the vehicle stolen.
But this still leaves a significant number of unsolved murders/questionable deaths/missing person cases. Although the law enforcement agencies in the jurisdictions where these alleged crimes occurred conduct the investigations, they are assisted by county Prosecutor Robert Herron, whose office ultimately decides when and if to seek an indictment.
Herron said these cases remain unsolved due to lack of evidence, not lack of effort.
"The one common denominator .... is they all come down to evidence," he said. "In a lot of these cases we've identified a suspect, but having a suspect and proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt are two different things."
The job of the prosecutor's office is to present evidence to the county grand jury to seek an indictment and then prosecute the case, and Herron will do that only once he is convinced they have enough to obtain a conviction at trial.
"That's what drives these cases," he said.
What about in cases where the investigation has hit a brick wall but there is some evidence indicating guilt? Why not take a chance rather than leave the case unresolved?
"You've got to remember we only get one bite at the apple. If we try someone and lose, we can't try them again," Herron said.
He said they also have an ethical duty not to bring charges unless convinced beyond a reasonable doubt the suspect is responsible and they have the evidence to prove it.
"You don't charge someone because you sense you are close ... In the final analysis that compromises the criminal justice system," Herron said.
The rush to judgment also can result in an innocent person being wrongly charged, with Herron citing the Duke rape case as such an example.
"People were wanting something done and that put pressure on the prosecutor to move a case forward (before it was ready) ... and the end result is injustice," Herron said.
The go-slow approach "exposes us to criticism, but that goes with the territory," he said.
Herron, who has been prosecutor since the late 1980s, expects the backlog of unsolved cases of this sort may be typical for a county this size.
"Probably all jurisdictions have unresolved cases. That's not a justification. That's just a fact," he said. "If you don't have that perspective you'd think only Columbiana County has unsolved cases."
Herron attributed much of the criticism to a "fundamental misunderstanding about what can be admitted as evidence at trial" and the common belief just because someone hears something secondhand, no other evidence is required to back up their claim.
"Talk isn't evidence. We can't base our prosecution on what someone says or hears" because most of it is inadmissible, he said.
County Sheriff Ray Stone said people don't like to hear it but sometimes there is nothing more that can be done unless some new information is received.
"We work the case as hard we can but unfortunately sometimes you come to a dead end and simply run out of leads," he said.
Stone and Herron both agree lack of manpower hampers any investigation. The sheriff's office has only three detectives to investigate all crimes, one of whom investigates sex crimes almost exclusively and another splits duty as a shift supervisor, requiring he respond to calls when needed.
"We need help, that's for sure," said Stone, who would love nothing more than to have the manpower to devote to solving old cases. "We don't have the manpower to turn two people loose on a cold case."
Herron said every law enforcement agency in the county suffers from manpower shortages that are only growing worse due to budget cuts. He has suggested creating a homicide task force in the county, with each department designating someone who could be trained to investigate homicides. This would create a pool of trained investigators who could be called to help another department for a week or two whenever a murder occurs in their town.
"I've taken the position it's just the smart thing to do, but for a variety of reasons it has never gathered traction" among police chiefs, he said.

1 comment:

Michelle said...

I am the sister of Terry Ballard. I knew many years ago that to solve my brothers murder, it was going to be a long and painful process of waiting, watching, listening, and wondering. Although I wish everybody could be immediately accountable for their actions, the waiting is a price I am willing to make. I want conviction beyond a reasonable doubt. Patience is a virtue, and I have it. Justice will be served.