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Expanded Cold-Case Operation Is Sought

LAPD chief wants to double the homicide group and create a rape unit to capitalize on DNA use to solve crimes.

April 06, 2006|Richard Winton | Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton wants to triple the size of the department's cold-case operations, saying that 18 extra detectives are needed to keep up with the growing number of potential DNA matches in old cases.

Bratton said that in taking a fresh look at some of the city's more than 9,000 unsolved slayings, the department would be using technology not available to the original detectives and perhaps nabbing assailants before they strike again.

Since the unit was formed four years ago, detectives have made arrests in 30 old homicides.

Perhaps the best-known case involves Chester D. Turner, who is awaiting trial in the killings of more than 10 women in South Los Angeles in the 1980s and 1990s. Turner was charged after detectives matched DNA from victims to a sample he was forced to give state prison officials while serving time for rape.

In another case, DNA evidence from a coffee cup led to the arrest of a 77-year-old man in the slaying of a woman in the San Pedro area in the 1970s. He had been a suspect in the slaying at the time but had never been arrested.

Under Bratton's plan, the cold-case homicide unit of nine detectives would double in size. An eight-member cold-case rape unit also would be created and a detective lieutenant would be added. The expansion would cost about $1.7 million, but Bratton said it would result in a worthwhile crime-fighting tool.

"Very often these predators aren't only in unsolved cases, but they are out there actively committing crimes," he said. "This isn't just a matter of going back into past history. We are dealing with contemporary issues."

Detectives have been aided in their cold-case work by some recent developments. A state proposition approved in 2004 requires all state prisoners to give DNA samples that would be submitted to an expanded state DNA database. Police laboratories would be allowed to maintain local databases.

Additionally, a state-of-the-art crime laboratory slated to open within a year in Monterey Park will allow detectives to process DNA tests more quickly and make it easier for detectives to examine some of the 6,000 fingerprints in cases from 1960 to 1987.

In announcing the plan Wednesday, Bratton said detectives had made an arrest in another cold case.

The case involves 29-year-old Ella Lawrence, who was found sexually assaulted, stabbed and beaten at Manual Arts High School in South L.A. in 1988.

Apparently killed at night, she was found the next morning by a school maintenance worker.

The killing occurred during one of the most violent periods in Los Angeles history and got little publicity.

Nearly 18 years later, officials at Soledad state prison took a DNA sample from Timothy Pinckney, 43.

Police said Pinckney was about to be released after serving time for a parole violation when detectives matched his DNA to evidence found at the crime scene.

"A sexual assault kit was taken at the scene. Thank God because that has led us to be here today," said Det. Rick Jackson, who investigated the case with partner Rich Bengtson.

Pinckney was charged with murder on March 20.

L.A. City Councilman Jack Weiss, head of the council's Public Safety Committee, said he supported expanding the unit.

"It is not a 48-minute television show," he said. "Each of these detectives is worth dozens on the streets. They and only they can get recidivist rapists or killers off the streets."

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