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A grant to solve murder was wrote

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By Lee Helscel

We love to get letters to the editor and we try to print them all. It’s usually lack of space that’s the problem but sometimes there are other reasons.

Once in a while, letters can be the source for an editorial – like this week. One of our regular contributors, who can wax very witty with the keyboard, wrote about a bone of contention with the way the Marion County Sheriff’s Office is spending money during these times of troubled budgets.

And it’s apparently a point of view held by other residents as well. The criticism is about spending $180,000 to investigate 23 cold cases – old unsolved crimes.

If it’s about the money, it did not come from the sheriff’s operating budget provided through the county’s tax base. Chief of Staff Tom Wilder assures us it came from a federal grant that was applied for to investigate unsolved homicides.

The money can only be used to investigate cold cases it cannot be used for other areas of law enforcement. And one of the reasons the county’s request was granted was due to Marion County having an onsite DNA laboratory.

The Ice Unit, formed by bureau chief Major Chris Blair, has stretched the money 18 months and one 10-year-old murder case has been solved as a result. The grant will run out March 31 but the heart of the unit will still beat.

Five volunteers, retired detectives, do the tedious searches for details and evidence for major crimes investigators to follow up , which they will still do in a more limited capacity. Part of the grant paid for staff overtime and travel expenses – that will no longer be available.

A lot of other evidence has been gathered on the remaining cases but sheriff’s officials are reluctant to comment on them for fear of letting any cats out of the bag. These are all murder cases – not penny ante crimes – and the killers may still live among us.

There is no statute of limitations on murder or on the grief family members will bear. What is called “closure” is the only thing they can hope for. To know who took that life from them, and bringing the murderer to justice is the only peace of mind law enforcement and the judicial system can provide to them and the community.

People do get away with murder – and only the families of the slain know the torment of not knowing who or why. The rest can’t even imagine while feeling they can empathize.

But if anyone has intimate insight to the nightmare that mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers are caught in, it would be gumshoes like Wilder, Blair, the detectives, patrol deputies and volunteer professionals who beat the pavement with the tearful pleas of victims for justice ringing in their ears. Finding murderers is a priority with them – not only because it is part of the job, they do it from the heart.

They see first-hand the brutality one human being is capable of senselessly inflicting on another. The sadness of witnessing unspoken horrors instills a sense of dedication to work toward lessening the grief of victims’ families.

Part of that dedication has been for Sheriff Ed Dean and his staff to look outside the county for money to improve the capabilities of the Sheriff’s Office – even before the budget crunches over the past two years. The Ice Unit investigation wasn’t done with county taxpayer money.

It was money we all paid to Uncle Sam through one tax or another. It was Marion County money that would have gone to some other city or county – maybe in another state – if the Sheriff’s Office didn’t have a DNA lab or hadn’t applied for the Federal Cold Case Grant.

And trying to catch 23 murderers in the community is $180,000 well spent.