The Escambia County Sheriff’s Office is pulling together the expertise and years of experience of retired homicide detectives to hopefully thaw out six local cold cases.
About 20 law enforcement detectives have answered the call ECSO put out back in December for participation in a two-day Cold Case Symposium set to take place Feb. 23 to 24. While Escambia County has many cold cases spanning the decades, investigators chose six specific cases for the symposium.
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“They looked at cases that they thought a new set of eyes would be beneficial,” said Sheriff Chip Simmons.
Simmons said his investigators chose some older cases and relatively newer ones in which the detectives who initially worked the case might still be available to weigh in.
Forensic capabilities and technological advancements have changed modern-day homicide investigation, which instilled hope in investigators that new techniques can be applied to older cases.
“It used to take a long time to get DNA analysis,” Simmons said.
Simmons said they hope to combine fresh perspectives with newer methods utilizing facial recognition, fingerprinting and DNA testing. ECSO has made use of DNA registries in the past and will continue to on future cases.
“The importance there is it may not give you exactly who, but it’s an investigative aid,” Simmons said.
Simmons said they’re looking forward to applying new technology to existing evidence, re-interviewing people from the past and finding new possibilities from the perspectives of seasoned detectives.
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“We’re hoping they can reach back in their memory and experience and give us some of that insight,” Simmons said.
Simmons said realistically, it may be difficult to solve a couple of the cases chosen for the symposium, but investigators will sleep better knowing they gave the victims’ families another shot at closure.
“I think the families of the victims deserve that,” Simmons said.
Cases that will be re-examined at ECSO’s Cold Case Symposium:
Jessica Eve Schuchman
Date of birth: 1979
The body of Jessica Eve Schuchman was found in the water near NAS Pensacola on Oct. 19, 2001. Authorities believe the 22-year-old was murdered.
Ernest Lamar Finklea
Date of birth: Aug. 12, 1978
Ernest Finklea was reported missing Oct. 6, 2019. It had been nine days since Finklea’s family last spoke to him, and he was considered homeless at the time. It was common for the family to go days without contact. On Oct. 10, 2019, Finklea’s family told investigators they received a tip that his body was dumped in a wooded area near North Miller Street. ECSO investigators and Escambia Search and Rescue combed the area with help of other agencies, but Finklea’s body was never found.
Patricia Lynn Stephen
Date of birth: May 18, 1955
On March 1, 1985, the body of 29-year-old Patricia Lynn Stephen was found on a dirt road off Saufley Pines Road. Investigators believe she was murdered.
Date of birth: Dec. 13, 1979
On May 16, 2011, ECSO deputies responded to a gunshot victim on Diego Circle and found 31-year-old Broderick Johnson dead from a gunshot wound to the head in his driveway. So far, no witnesses to the murder have come forward. Many people in the neighborhood said they heard gunshots just before Broderick was located.
Lakerian Demell Thomas-Peters
Date of birth: Dec. 27, 1993
Lakerian Thomas-Peters was reported missing June 1, 2016. The last time he was seen was three days prior on May 30, walking near the railroad tracks near Lincoln Park and Wedgewood. Thomas-Peters is currently featured on billboards around the county.
Joanna Kay Otto
Date of birth: Aug. 3, 1978
Joanna Kay Otto was last seen Nov. 21, 1992, by her best friend and other witnesses after leaving a party on Yacht Harbor Circle. According to a witness who drove her home, he dropped her off at her apartment on Royce Street after the party. Family and friends have not seen or heard from her since.