Murder closings vs. convictions in Pr. George's
Prince George's County officials on Thursday crowed about a 79 percent case closure rate for homicide detectives -- a stunningly high number for a large department in a semi-urban area with high levels of violence -- during a press conference in which they discussed 2009 crime statistics in the county.
But when pressed by reporters about whether they believed they had the evidence to get convictions for many of those arrests -- some of which came in old cases in which no new evidence appears to have been found -- Chief Roberto L. Hylton turned the question elsewhere.
"That's a question you have to ask the State's Attorney," Hylton responded.
In 2009, 92 homicides were recorded in the county. The closure rate reflects arrests in not just those cases, but in murders from previous years. Under this tallying method -- which is used by the FBI -- it is possible for a department to have a closure rate higher than 100 percent.
A reporter at the press conference noted that many of last year's arrests were for old cases, in which it did not appear that new evidence had surfaced. One example: the arrest in the 2005 murder of Stacey Seaton.
Before police obtain arrest warrants in murder cases, Hylton said, a lieutenant, captain, and a deputy chief review the evidence. He said nothing, however, about whether a prosecutor was part of the review process. And when asked whether "cold case" warrants are reviewed by prosecutors before arrests, Deputy Chief Kevin Davis referred questions to the state's attorney's office.
State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey has been careful to not criticize police investigators. At times, however, prosecutors have grumbled that police have made arrests without seeking their guidance.
Police can arrest someone if they have probable cause. But to obtain a conviction, prosecutors need to prove guilt to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt. Prosecutors at times have expressed frustration that police made arrests before they had enough evidence for a conviction.
There is no statute of limitations on murder, so police do not have a deadline in such cases. Last year, police made an arrest in an old triple murder based on the accounts of two alleged witnesses, apparently with no physical evidence to corroborate.
Ivey's office did not immediately respond to questions about the matter.
County police yesterday announced statistics showing crime in the county was way down in 2009 from 2008 levels -- the lowest it has been in 35 years, County Executive Jack B. Johnson noted.
-- Ruben Castaneda
January 8, 2010; 12:48 PM ET
Categories: Homicide , Pr. George's , Ruben Castaneda
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