The cold, cold truth

News that Washington police have made a breakthrough in the 2001 murder of government intern Chandra Levy will bring a measure of relief to her long-suffering family and the community that she lived in. It may perhaps be too late to rehabilitate the image of the US congressman Gary Condit who was ensnared in the publicity surrounding the disappearance of the young woman and whose political career collapsed in a tailspin. Mr Condit’s exile was in equal measure a result of his indiscretion – he was said to have had an affair with Ms Levy – and the inclination of the media to go for the jugular when they convince themselves that they have their favoured suspect cornered and weakened. It will now be left to history to revise Mr Condit’s part in this drama and to punctuate it.

Of greater interest to us here is the fact that a case from 2001 which had long been dormant and without any clear path to prosecution has suddenly roared back to life. The truth is that these cases are never far from the consciousness of investigators in the average police precinct and there is a relentlessness that attends them and a constant triangulation of new data, details, DNA and the like particularly with high-profile cases like Ms Levy’s. Sometimes a long reticent witness might provide a key break but more often it’s the hard work of re-evaluating and re-assessing facts for that eureka moment. In this case, the prime suspect had been on the police’s radar but there had not been sufficient incriminating evidence. DNA evidence now links the suspect to the case though the police should have had him under closer investigation as he had been convicted of assaulting two women in 2002 in the same park where Levy disappeared.

While not all cold cases will ever be elucidated, the cold, cold truth in this jurisdiction is that the probability of satisfactory solutions to long unsolved crimes is a very remote prospect. Amid the recent exaggerated optimism and pessimism in the budget debate the most we could do is offer the long view. PPP/C governments have had 15-plus years to create the capacity in the police force and other law enforcement arms to bear down unremittingly on the cases that have defied solution. This, they have signally failed to do. Almost immediately upon assuming office the PPP/C had the wake-up call that it needed: the killing and dumping of the body of Monica Reece on Main Street in 1993. The botched and bumbling investigation that followed exposed all of the frailties of the police force: lack of investigative acumen, inaccessibility to regulation DNA testing, poor public co-operation and compromised policing. These problems are still chronic today.

In the various periods of PPP/C governance since 1992, the decision-makers have not taken this major weakness in law and order seriously. The result is that unsolved murders of all types have become commonplace and there is no hope that Ms Reece’s murderer or murderers will be brought to justice the way that Ms Levy’s killer may soon be. In Ms Reece’s case, DNA testing and other forensic evidence might have indicated with greater clarity who she had spent her last hours with and who should then have answered more definitively about what happened that night.

Though many had warned that the murder of Ms Reece epitomized the degradation of policing over several decades and a line in the sand had to be drawn and the police force re-jigged, nothing was done as the PPP/C appeared more concerned with charting control over the police hierarchy and the rest of the security apparatus.

Almost 16 years after Ms Reece’s body was found on Main Street, not much has changed. There are literally hundreds of murders, maimings, rapes and other heinous crimes that have gone unsolved because the PPP/C has ignored report after report on what needed to be reformed in favour of establishing political comfort with the police hierarchy.

It is exactly why the incapacity to solve cases ranges from the Alicia Foster murder, to the gunning down of boxing coach Donald Allison, to the fusillade that claimed the life of Ronald Waddell to the eight miners at Lindo Creek and the other two massacres. The PPP/C’s calculated resistance to the needed reforms rises to a shocking dereliction of duty and history will hold their governments accountable for the unsolved mayhem, bloodshed and emotional torture that hundreds of families have gone through.

All of the talk of the reforms emanating from the Ministry of Home Affairs remains just that -talk. The Citizen Security Programme, the crimestoppers scheme, the UK-funded plan, the Symonds report, the Disciplined Forces Commission all remain still-born even as the bodies drop; criminals are on the loose and prosecutions are few.

It is beyond ludicrous that months after DNA samples were dispatched to a Jamaican lab in pursuit of information on the heinous murders of the eight miners at Lindo Creek that the lab for whatever reasons is unable to finish the job and the authorities here seem to be completely unmoved by this.

The country is still waiting for a state-of-the-art forensics lab, credible ballistic information and regular access to DNA testing that would lift hopes for the solution of horrific murders like those of Anjanie Mahdoo and Shenese Richardson-Austin even if it is too late for Ms Reece.

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