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Police share frustration of unsolved cases

By Terri Richardson
Feb. 17, 2012 at 10 p.m.

The Marshall Police Department shares the frustration of victims' families when homicides remain unsolved, despite their efforts to gain information from witnesses.

"We want to solve these crimes as much as any of these victims' families or any in the community," said Assistant Chief Leland Benoit. "The frustration of victims' loved ones is equal to the Marshall Police Department's frustration that people will not come forward to tell what they know, and it takes outside help."

Meaning witnesses and informants who share what they know as the crucial kind of "outside help," the MPD holds out hope for open homicide investigations to be cleared.

Marshall Against Violence, led by Demetria McFarland in memory of her brother Anthony "Boogie" Thomas, will be holding a meeting from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday in the Gold Auditorium at the library for the family and friends of victims to make a public call for answers.

She and others who have lost family members share a perception that more can be done by the authorities as well as the community.

"I admire the efforts of Demetria McFarland and her organization in keeping public awareness about the unsolved murders," said Chief Stan Spence. "But, there are others in the community who need to come forward with information on the unsolved crimes so we can solve them."

In 2008 Lt. Patrick Clayton took over cases of violent crimes against persons, and the first homicide after taking this position was that of Graylon Williams, followed by Kenneth Clark one month later, Benoit said.

"The Clark case was solved and we checked for every connection in case. We have run every lead for Williams," said Benoit.

Statistically, the Marshall Police Department has an 80 percent clearance rate for homicides since 2008, above the national average of 60 percent from 2008, also above the 64 percent national average from 2010 Uniform Crime Reports, Clayton said.

"There have been 10 homicides in Marshall since 2008, and two are unsolved," said Clayton. "There are 12 open cases since 1997, and an outside agency has assisted with five of those."

Marshall Police Sgt. Lynn Ames participates in the regional efforts of outside agencies and is part of the East Texas Violent Crimes Task Force, the U.S. Marshal's Service and the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area narcotics task force.

"To get involved with a local crime, there has to be a narcotics nexus. There are certain requirements for when they become involved with a homicide in a municipality or county," said Ames.

The FBI task force was first called to Marshall on a homicide following the death of Edgar Dawson in 1998 and has assisted with the homicide investigations for Jaden Houston, Patricia Wilson and Dan Tatum, said Clayton.

"An FBI investigator has also been actively involved with the Graylon Williams homicide along with Sgt. Ames," said Clayton. "We spoke with the Texas Rangers on the Anthony Thomas case, but they will not just come over and take a case just because we cannot determine a suspect at this time."

The only other unsolved homicide from the times of the task force's cooperation was that of Harvey Wookins, who went missing from Marshall but was found dead in Harrison county, outside MPD's jurisdiction, Clayton said.

"We are not too shy to ask for assistance outside our agency and have done it on numerous occasions," said Benoit. "We've tried to get people to talk, but we cannot force them to come and give us information."

Determining whether an investigation should receive attention from an assisting agency begins immediately, and is usually known within a couple of hours, Benoit said.

"Graylon Williams was in an area where there are a lot of people all the time. There were probably 1,000 people out there that night on Grand," said Ames. "With Dan Tatum, we asked for assistance within an hour. He was found in an area where there was not likely to be a lot of witnesses."

The MPD cannot discuss open cases, but Ames said if they could, "we could show why we didn't have the Rangers or FBI involved from the get-go with Williams."

The officers said the most important piece of evidence in a homicide investigation is a witness account, but gaining an account is difficult, especially when the community reinforces the stigma on "snitches."

"We have to overcome the mantra of snitching, especially in the age of Facebook when the charges can be posted online within 10 minutes," said Ames.

Ames and Clayton estimated 75 percent of all cleared homicides are solved with witness information, and some of these crimes are only known by the killed victim before being left to the conscience of their killer.

"It takes serious responsibility to speak for the ones who are not here to speak for themselves," said Ames. "We dedicated six months to Graylon Williams' case and still send every gun recovered since for a ballistics test to see if we can match it to this or any other crime."

Chief Spence added that of the 10 homicides since 1976 there have been some killers who were incarcerated on other charges and offered a confession or information in bargaining.

However, the MPD was "not in a position to deal" which left it out of their hands. Others are known to be deceased, Spence said.

"None of our determination is in any way meant to downplay the frustration of the families," said Ames. "We become detached to do an investigation, but when we go home at the end of the day, we think about it."

There's no going home to forget about it, and retired officers still revisit the details from old and unsolved cases in their minds, said Spence.

Trouble with getting the public to come forward with information about a homicide is nothing new for Marshall as Chief Jim Wilkins observed:

"A police department can do little to prevent violent crime between persons known to each other or when one's lifestyle puts them at risk. There is a huge difference in knowing who committed a crime and developing the evidence to secure a prosecution. Public perception may be that cases are cold, when in reality ongoing investigative efforts continue and have led us to knowing who committed the crime. But at this time, we are unable to go forward until we develop prosecutable cases."



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