Unsolved cases: technology helps solve cases
SIOUX FALLS (AP) - New technology on DNA-fingerprint and other evidence has breathed new life into unsolved death cases in South Dakota, but closure remains elusive in dozens of others, according to an Associated Press review.
The cases within state and federal jurisdiction include homicides, unexplained deaths, missing persons cases in which foul play is suspected and some findings that are disputed. The earliest is from 1943; the most recent, from January.
In some, the likely culprit was acquitted or not charged because of a lack of evidence. In at least two, the prime suspects committed suicide. Another died in World War II. Other cases have resulted in convictions without the victim's body being found.
Several stem from the American Indian Movement's battles with federal agents on the Pine Ridge Reservation in the 1970s and are outlined in a 2000 FBI report detailing the status of 57 deaths. It concluded just four had remained unsolved.
Since that report, one man has been convicted in federal court for one of the cases, the 1975 slaying of Anna Mae Pictou Aquash, and a second man is scheduled to stand trial in October.
That case also led to the revelation that a black civil rights leader from Alabama, Perry Ray Robinson, likely was killed during the 1973 Wounded Knee uprising and buried there.
In 2003, new DNA and fingerprint matching technology helped Lawrence County State's Attorney John Fitzgerald tie the 1982 beating death of David Rose near Deadwood to Fred Bates, who was arrested in Illinois and sentenced to South Dakota prison.
And just last month authorities pulled Heath Styer's car from a Huron lake 13 years after he disappeared. Dental records confirmed his remains were inside but authorities are still investigating it.
Though the lake had been searched before by divers and sonar, a new kind of side-scanning sonar located the car buried in silt.
``The backbone of successful cold case work is typically the application of sophisticated new techniques to old evidence,'' said Attorney General Larry Long, who used a federal grant to form a cold case unit in 2004.
``Now you can search millions of fingerprints and it only takes a couple of hours,'' he said, adding that investigators still need old-fashioned detective skills and fresh eyes to solve a case.
The unit's work resulted in the conviction last year of James Strahl for the 1998 beating death of a Beresford man, largely because new DNA technology tied him to the scene. Cold case investigators also brought charges against David Lykken for the 1971 disappearance of two Vermillion girls.
But the cold case approach has its place and is a good way to bring closure for families, Mike Butler, Lykken's attorney said.
``The idea of it - of pursuing resolution of unsolved cases - is good in concept.''
The issue is how it's applied, he said.
Strahl's lawyer, Phil Peterson, said he has two big concerns in presenting old evidence to a jury.
``The first danger is that memories have faded and you get conflicting stories, which makes it difficult for both the prosecution and the defense,'' he said.
Another worry for defense lawyers is that a jury that feels obligated to convict someone so the victim's family finds closure, Peterson said.
``It appears to me that there's an anxiousness on the part of the public to clear these matters up,'' he said. ``If they find them not guilty, it isn't cleared up. So the tendency would be if they want to clear them up, the only way to do that is a conviction.''
Long doubts that would happen.
``My experience is that juries in South Dakota are conscientious and they follow the instructions and do what the judge tells them to do. And I think the more serious the case, the more conscientious they are,'' he said.
The attorney general did acknowledge that theoretically, Peterson's concern has some merit.
``The older the case gets, you either have memories fade or witnesses die,'' Long said.
But in some cases, the passage of time creates loose lips that give investigators the lead they couldn't get immediately after a crime, said FBI spokesman Paul McCabe.
Or a divorce.
The 1980 slaying of Candace Rough Surface of Kenel languished until 1995 when James Stroh II was splitting up with his wife. He had earlier told her about his role in the murder and she shared it with her mother, who told authorities.
Stroh confessed and told authorities the killing was the idea of his cousin, Nicholas Scherr, who also was 16 at the time. After a party, Scherr raped and shot Rough Surface, Stroh said.
Both men pleaded guilty. Stroh got 15 years and Scherr is serving a 100-year term -thanks to a motherin law who talked.
``There might be that one person who heard someone talking about it, the crime, even if it's second hand, that might be the tip that leads us to the perpetrator,'' McCabe said.
Because of witnesses talking and the new technology, several other cold cases have moved from unsolved to pending:
* Randy Swaney is standing trial ..
in Luverne, Minn., on charges he killed Carrie Nelson of Sioux Falls in 2001 at Blue Mounds State Park near Luverne, where she worked. He was in the South Dakota State Penitentiary for an unrelated crime when a DNA analysis tied him to the crime.
* Curtis Don Brown is scheduled
to stand trial in Texas this fall on charges he killed Sharyn Kills Back in 1985, two years after she ran away from the Pine Ridge reservation. Brown, already serving a life sentence, was tied to the crime through a DNA database.
* John Graham is scheduled to ..
stand trial in October in Rapid City for the 1975 slaying of Aquash, a fellow Canadian, on the Pine Ridge reservation. Fritz Arlo Looking Cloud was convicted in 2004 and is serving life in prison for his part. All three were members of the American Indian Movement.
Aquash's older daughter, Denise Maloney Pictou of Halifax, Nova Scotia, said she views Graham's trial as the latest chapter in a decades-old story that might never end. More than two people probably had a hand in her mother's murder, she said, adding that other slayings from that era likely will go unsolved.
``It's been difficult for our family to wait for 33 years,'' said Maloney Pictou, who was 10 when her mother was killed. ``It's obviously not going to bring my mother back.
``There's other families out there that might never get closure.''
Through fresh reporting and reviewing news archives and reports, The Associated Press has compiled the following list of deaths in South Dakota considered solved, pending, unsolved, disputed or whose status remains unknown. Also included are unsolved deaths of South Dakotans found or reported missing elsewhere. Several deaths initially considered suspicious are not included because verification couldn't be obtained.
1980 - Candace Rough Surface, 18
1982 - David Rose, 25
Recent Cases Solved Without a body
2001 - Pamela Dunn, 38
2004 -Troy Klug, 26
1985 - Sharyn Kills Back, 18
1995 - Heath Styer, 25
1998 - William O'Hare, 52
2001 - Carrie Nelson, 20
1968 - Gwen Miller, 60
1975 - Anna Mae Pictou Aquash, 30
1973 - Ray Robinson, 35; Priscilla White
Plume; Jackson Washington Cutt;
Melvin Spider; Allison Fast Horse
1974 - Ellabeth Lodermeier, 25; Dennis
LeCompte; Robert Reddy
1975 - Lawrence Stieger Sr., 71, and
Ranae June Uithoven, 37; Jolene
Hass;Jeanette Bissonette;Hilda Good
Buffalo; Ben Sitting Up;
1977 - Raymon Rosales, 16
1979 - John Franklin Schroeder, 27
1981 - Warlene Gayton, 17; LaDonna
Mathis, 30, and sons Brian, 4,
and Patrick, 2
1984 - Mary Monica Korzan, 17
1986 - Katrina Wind, 21; Clara Olson, 93
1987 - Karen Weeks, 28
1989 - Phillip Quentin Eagle Jr., 26;
James Silva, 61
1990 - Candace Hope Grey, 17; Irving
Audiss Jr., 32
1991 - Constance Rae Clown, 25; Thomas
Nelson Thompson, 34
1992 - Tammy Haas, 19; Arnold
Archambeau, 20, and Ruby Ann
1993 - Steve Binde, 29; Monica Wickre, 42;
Robert Black Bear, 30
1994 - Tina Marie Marcotte, 30;
Charles Green, 66
1995 - Unidentified man with alias of
Roberto Ramirez; brothers Luis
Viet, 78, and George Viet, 85; Tony
King, 45; Darell White Eagle, 52
1997 - Tony Max Meyer, 33; Robert Lee
Warner, 30; Richynda
1998 - Benjamin Long Wolf, 36; George
Hatten Jr., 56;
Randelle Two Crow, 48;
Loren Two Bulls, 33
1999 - Dirk Bartling, 44; Arthur
Timothy Bull Bear Sr., 49; Pamela
Halverson, 27; Marvene Ross, 20;
Wilson Black Elk, Jr., 40, and
Ronald Hard Heart, 39
2000 - Skeletal remains of American
Indian man in his 20s found near
2004 - Morgan Lewis, 46
2008 - Dakota Fischer, 18