DENVER — Answers about 72 cold cases in Denver may soon come to light, thanks to a grant from the National Institute of Justice (NIJ).
The NIJ awarded the Denver Police Department and Denver District Attorney's Office $500,000 to advance their work toward solving 72 violent crime cold cases, Denver District Attorney Beth McCann announced Tuesday morning.
In May, the Denver Police Department's Crime Laboratory crafted a new grant application titled, "2019: Prosecuting cold cases using DNA and other forensic technologies” and in September, was notified that they had won the grant. The police department, Denver District Attorney's Office and the crime lab will divide the grant over the next three years, McCann said. It will enable these groups to advance their work on solving 72 violent crime cold cases — which include 64 unsolved homicides and eight sexual assaults — that occurred between 1970 and 2016. In these 72 cases, a suspect has been identified, but prosecutors have not been able to file charges yet.
The Denver Police Department never forgets the victims of crime, said Police Chief Paul Pazen, adding that time doesn't deter their desire to seek justice.
The NIJ grant will help police investigate cases that may have drifted out of the public eye, he said. They will apply the funding to support overtime pay and to advance the investigations where a suspect has been identified and a potential prosecution is pending.
The grant will also allow the district attorney's office to hire an additional deputy attorney to join the cold case unit and develop more evidence in the cases, McCann said.
“The work that’s going on in Denver is truly groundbreaking," she continued. "We are in the forefront, nationally, with respect to solving and prosecuting cold cases.”
That also goes for the Denver Crime Laboratory. The lab, which opened in 1999, has been recognized as one of the leading crime labs in forensic technology and the development of forensic work, McCann said.
Denver Police Crime Laboratory Director Greggory LaBerge said in 2004, lab staff "administratively looked" at 5,500 cases to see if forensic science could help solve them. From those cases, they were able to analyze between 1,000 and 1,200 and half of those were matched in DNA data banks.
This new grant will help the lab finish this work by paying forensic scientists overtime as they identify, locate, collect, process and analyze evidence to help prosecutors.
LaBerge also commended the collaboration efforts between the three groups.
“Here in Denver, we really work well together as a unit," he said. "That’s where success comes — it comes from the dedication of hardworking people... Things aren’t really fancy, but we keep quiet and we do our work effectively.”
This is the third grant the NIJ has awarded to Denver, for a total of $1 million. McCann said this continued support shows the trust NIJ has in the city.