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Cold Cases Get Hot at New Mexico Department of Justice

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Jeff Scism
Creative Commons
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Cold Cases Get Hot at New Mexico Department of Justice

Deputy Attorney Greer Staley talked with KSFR reporter Mary Lou Cooper about the first-ever Cold Case Unit at the New Mexico Department of Justice. The small unit of four will work with law enforcement agencies all over the state to reopen major homicide and sexual assault cases. Such cases number at least in the hundreds and likely more.

Staley said that her group will prioritize investigations based on factors like physical evidence that can be tested or re-tested and whether or not the statute of limitations would permit prosecution if suspects are found guilty.

When Cooper asked for examples of cold cases being pursued by the new unit, Staley discussed the murders of Annie Tapia who was killed with a blunt instrument at a local Santa Fe business and Stephen Sandlin, a law enforcement officer who was killed inside a Mountainair police station.

So how does the Cold Case Unit expect to solve violent crimes that in some cases are decades in the past? Staley said technology such as DNA testing will be key. And a new procedure known as forensic genealogy. Forensic genealogy compares physical evidence at a crime scene with DNA results from commercial tests (viewed with permission) like Ancestry.com. A genealogist then works back from any “hits” from this database to family members who might assist in locating a suspect. In the end, good old-fashioned police work or reviewing old files for new insights will play a major role in solving old cases.

For more information about New Mexico’s new cold case unit, visit

https://www.dps.nm.gov/nmsp/cold-case-unit/. Call 505-570-5244 if you have a tip on an unsolved major crime featured on the cold case website.

Mary Lou Cooper reports on consumer issues for KSFR as well as on politics and elder affairs. She has worked for the U.S. Congress as well as for the Nevada and Tennessee legislatures, and remains a political junkie. She worked many years for an association of Western state legislatures and was a contributor to “Capitol Ideas,” a national magazine about state government. In 2016 Cooper received a public service award from the New Mexico Broadcasting Association for her KSFR story on Internet romance scams. She has received journalism awards from the Society of Professional Journalists and from the National Federation of Press Women. She grew up in Oak Ridge, TN and received her BA from Emory University in Atlanta and her MA from the University of Texas Austin. She also holds fiction and screenwriting certificates from the University of Washington.