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The worst homicide squad in the country, continued


Murder is a growth business

With every passing year, murder becomes a bigger problem. In the past four years (2001-í04), Boston has seen a 53 percent rise in homicides over the previous four-year period (1997-2000) ó by far the highest increase among the 40 largest cities in the US. Thatís even more remarkable given Bostonís shrinking population since 2000.

Compiled by the Boston Phoenix from FBI reports, city police departments, and US Census data.

* estimated: 1997 data unavailable

 

Related Links

FBI crime data

Hereís where you can access the official Uniform Crime Report (UCR) data compiled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The year-by-year data files include crime rates and arrest rates for a variety of offenses, broken down different ways for comparison.

Criminal Justice Policy Coalition

A Boston-based organization that advocates for reform in the stateís law-enforcement and corrections agencies.

BPD Homicideís Most Wanted

The unitís official public-outreach page shows only four wanted suspects ó one of whom, Renardo Williams, has actually been in custody and arraigned on murder charges since February.

DPH Injury Surveillance Program

The stateís Public Health office tracks injuries and violent deaths and provides the data here. It includes city-by-city data and incident reports from hospital emergency rooms.

 

 

 

Previous Phoenix stories on the Boston Police Department
"Whereís the Evidence?", June 24, 2005Bostonís homicide detectives keep finding evidence they didnít even know they had. What else is lost in the disarray of the BPD?

"A Lethal Spike," April 29, 2005

After months of relative quiet, Boston saw nine unrelated murders in 20 days.

"Did He Murder His Mother?", April 1, 2005

A review by the Phoenix suggests that the jury made a mistake when it convicted Abdul Raheem.

"Reasonable Bias," January 7, 2005

For the past year, wrongfully convicted men have paraded out of prisons. Now weíre surprised that jurors are skeptical?

"Bostonís Police Problem," November 5, 2004

The death of Victoria Snelgrove leaves one more stain on the departmentís plummeting reputation.

"Courting Trouble," October 1, 2004

Homicide trials are murder for the Suffolk County DA.

"The Jig Is Up," May 14, 2004

After a string of wrongful-conviction revelations, and anger over the acquittal of an alleged killer, the Stephan Cowans case further erodes trust in the criminal-justice system.

"Blind Spots," April 23, 2004

A spate of wrongful convictions has convinced Suffolk County DA Dan Conley and Boston Police commissioner Kathleen OíToole to reform how the police use eyewitness evidence. While theyíre at it, they should reopen these three cases.

Even the difficulty of finding witnesses often stems from police practice. After canvassing a neighborhood when called to a murder scene, police rarely return to recanvass at a time when residents might be less concerned about being seen talking to police. As of last fall, the BPD had no Spanish-speaking homicide detectives, nor any conversant in Cape Verdean Creole. (The BPD did not respond to inquiries or agree to interview requests for this article.)

Most important, police often just donít seek out obvious people to talk to, as the Phoenix has repeatedly discovered. In one unsolved murder case from earlier this year, the victimís roommate had yet to be approached by police two weeks after the murder. In another open case, from last fall, the victimís business partner, who had been with him on the day of his death, says she has never been contacted by police.

"Thatís not uncommon at all," says Rick Hamilton, a private investigator in Natick. Hamilton frequently works for murder defendants in Boston, seeking out potential witnesses ó as he did for Anthony Parrish, acquitted this year of the July 2002 murder of Darrel Vilifana Noriega. "People who [Parrish] was with that night, some of the key people, they never tried to talk to," Hamilton says.

"I canít tell you how frustrating it was to do my civic duty with how the BPD handled the case," says a juror from a 2005 trial, which ended in a hung-jury mistrial for Cordell Jones. "If the BPD had at least canvassed the neighborhood, used the IBIS [ballistics-matching] system, and had original notes along with the typed file, it may have made it easier to come to a unanimous decision," he tells the Phoenix.

In March, 18-year-old Giresse Dianswecki was fatally shot on his doorstep. Although the Phoenix reported in April that three girls in a nearby park had seen Dianswecki holding a gun and driving with several other men roughly 15 minutes before the shooting, police still have not questioned the girls.

Perhaps thatís because detectives investigating Diansweckiís murder have a set theory of the case, formulated early at the scene based on one personís suggestion. According to this theory, Dianswecki was surprised at his doorway by a 15-year-old from down the street who had come to kill him. That 15-year-old has since been indicted, without any direct evidence, witnesses, or motive, according to people close to the case. Meanwhile, police have not looked into alternative avenues of investigation, such as what the girls in the park saw.

This is unfortunately typical of how murder cases are often investigated in Boston: detectives leap to a conclusion based on one bit of circumstantial evidence or one personís often-questionable claim, and then seek ó and believe ó only evidence and testimony that supports that conclusion.

Suffolk County prosecutor Mark Lee has formerly explained to the Phoenix that at some point in every investigation, the focus switches from solving the case to proving it. He was speaking specifically about the investigation of Abdul Raheem, convicted in 2002 of murdering his mother, Mary Chatman (see "Did He Murder His Mother?", News and Features, April 1). Detectives "solved" the crime almost immediately. Once they switched to "proving" the case ó against Raheem ó they no longer collected or tested evidence, or interviewed witnesses, that were not part of their case against him.

Unfortunately, many detectives remain in the habit of jumping from solving to proving too quickly, and based on too little. Take the case of 17-year-old Tacaray Jones, who was fatally shot on an MBTA bus this spring. A few weeks after the killing, Sergeant Detective Daniel Keeler ó now no longer assigned to the homicide unit where he earned the nickname "Mr. Homicide," but still working closely with those detectives ó told this reporter there was "no question" that Ivan Hodge had committed the murder. Hodge had been found in the area afterward, and is believed to have shot at Jones once last year. Case closed, apparently. But Hodge did not do it; thanks to a witness who came forward to Hodgeís defense attorney, the Commonwealth has charged another young man with the shooting, and reduced the charges against Hodge.

RUSH TO JUDGMENT

Given all this, the BPDís inability to solve murders is not so surprising. In fact, whatís surprising ó stunning, even ó is the departmentís success in solving certain kinds of homicides.

In homicides committed from 2000 to 2002, for instance, the BPD homicide unit made arrests in every case with a female victim, every case with a victim younger than 17, and in all but one case with a white, non-Hispanic victim.

This huge disparity in homicide-solution rates based on the race, gender, or age of the victim simply does not exist in most other cities. In fact, a major University of Maryland study of 1999 homicide-clearance rates found that "the sex and race of the victim did not have a significant effect on closing the case" in the cities they examined, which did not include Boston. A more recent study, by Ohio State University researcher Richard Lundman, found the same thing. Another study, soon to be published by Kenneth Litwin of the University of Michigan, finds that the race of the victim has a slight but growing effect on whether police make an arrest ó but nothing close to the difference seen in Boston.

"I donít know how to make sense of [the Boston data], except that it looks very, very strange," Lundman says.

What did matter, the Maryland study found, were police practices, including the actions of the first officers on the scene; how quickly detectives, evidence technicians, and medical examiners respond; the number of detectives assigned; and interviewing of neighbors.

Itís possible that BPD homicide detectives are running great investigations in high-profile cases, such as those involving children, women, or older victims. But itís also possible that they are pushing ahead with arrests in those cases to appease the public, and that the investigations are just as flawed as those that attract less attention.

In fact, these high-profile cases are the ones that most often seem to fall apart in the end. Investigations into the murders of 12-year-old Tiffany Moore and nine-year-old Jermaine Goffigan led to the wrongful convictions of Shawn Drumgold and Donnell Johnson, respectively. James Bush was recently acquitted in the death of three-year-old Malik Andrade-Percival, as was Marquis Nelson in the death of 10-year-old Trina Persad, Kyle Bryant in the death of 14-year-old Chauntae Jones, and Peter Granara in the death of a 74-year-old white man.

The Phoenix has raised additional serious questions about convictions ó all of young black men ó for the murders in 2000 of a 41-year-old woman, a 20-year-old woman, and a 15-year-old boy. (See "Blind Spots," News and Features, April 23, 2004.)

That same year, the BPD investigated the homicides of 22 black men aged 17 to 35. To this day, not one murder conviction has been obtained for any of them. Three have ended in manslaughter convictions, and five are awaiting trial.

Are they unsolved because of reluctant witnesses? Bad police work? Faulty forensics? Unfortunately, we are in the dark ó open cases are closed files.

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Issue Date: August 19 - 25, 2005
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