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Saturday, Apr 03 2010 09:57 PM

Unsolved crimes fall victim to budget cuts

BY STEVE E. SWENSON, Californian staff writer sswenson@bakersfield.com

Back in the good old days -- about a year and a half ago -- the Kern County Sheriff's Department had enough money to pay a retired sheriff's homicide sergeant to focus on unsolved murder cases.

But the state and local budget crunch squeezed out the job Mike Moore was doing to match old cases with new DNA technology in hopes of finding a suspect.

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Kern County Sheriff's Department

* J.R. Mozingo, 46, was on his water bed after falling asleep while watching television on the night of Feb. 9, 1984. His wife, Doris, and some of her relatives, had gone on a trip to Arizona. The family dog, a 3-year-old Queensland healer, was gone from the home in rural Wasco where Mozingo was a well-known farmer. Someone who knew Mozingo would be alone walked into the house and bashed Mozingo in the head with a weapon, deputies said. The killer struck him five times, sheriff's deputies reported. Rewards of up to $35,000 were once offered in the case. The FBI created a criminal profile of the killer more than a year later. Two psychics and a private investigator worked on the case. Deputies have said they believe they know who did it, but they can't prove it.

* Wendy Kyle, 24, was stabbed to death and her apartment at 1081/2 Circle Drive in Oildale was set on fire on May 29, 2001. She was last seen talking to people at The Mint, a bar at 1207 19th St. at about midnight, less than two hours before her death. A recent suspect in a 2000 murder case, Michael Charles Brown Jr., 34, has been questioned in the death and sexual assault of Kyle. He has not been ruled out as a suspect in Kyle's death, deputies have said. Brown is facing a trial in the stabbing death of Ruby Lee Jackson-Meriweather, 39, in the 500 block of Grace Street. Brown was arrested last year after a DNA hit in the Jackson-Meriweather killing.

* Dominga "Dee" Montoya, 23, was found April 28, 1967 in a storeroom of a laundromat in the 2800 block of Niles Street. Her clothing had been ripped and she suffered severe head injuries. She was a receptionist to Assemblyman Kent Stacey at the time of her death. An arrest was made 10 days after her body was found, but the case never reached the point where the suspect entered a plea. The person arrested died in a motorcycle crash several years later. A former California Highway Patrol officer, Tony Galindo, 60, has been privately looking into the case. Galindo's older sister was a friend of the victim.

* Terry Langston, 12, was shot to death at 9:30 p.m. on July 31, 2002, in the area of Jastro Avenue and McNew Court. The killer shot Langston multiple times in his upper body with a small-caliber firearm. Langston had been with a group of friends from a house on Gay Street, but he became separated from them and was along when he was shot in the middle of Jastro Avenue. Langston's friends and relatives said he was a sweet boy who played basketball every day. He loved to fish and ride bicycles. Deputies said they believe the killing may be gang related even though Langston was not a gang member. "At 12 years old, he couldn't have done anything to die for," sheriff's investigator Jeff Hunt said shortly after the killing.

* Elizabeth Joy Birgen, 42, was last seen at the Red Caboose Bar in Tehachapi on Nov. 11, 2001. She reportedly was dropped off at the Tehachapi K-Mart parking lot the next morning and has never been heard from again, according to sheriff's deputies. There's very few details about the case because her body has never been found. It is one of the cases retired sheriff's homicide sergeant Mike Moore reviewed in 2008. Anyone with information of any of the above cases is asked to call the Sheriff's Department at 391-7500 of Secret Witness at 322-4040.

Bakersfield Police Department

* Jessica Martinez, 4, was abducted May 10, 1990, shortly after 8 p.m. from the Timber Cove (now Pine Brook) Apartments at 5000 Belle Terrace. Her dead and decomposing body was found 11 days later in a cotton field about 15 miles southwest of Bakersfield. An autopsy showed she was strangled. Over the years, new information was developed in the cases -- artist renderings of two possible suspects in 2002, and the disclosure in 2008 that DNA was found on her shoes. Police said a possible suspect was death row inmate Christopher Charles Lightsey, 55, who was convicted in 1995 of a stabbing death of a cancer patient and pleaded no contest in 1993 to molesting a 4-year-old girl. But the DNA tests were completed in 2008 and no arrests have been made in the case.

* Wendale Davis, 16, went with a 20-year-old woman in a car on April 23, 2006, to the 900 block of Bradshaw Street. There as he was sitting in the car at 2:50 a.m., he was shot and killed by someone in a dark, 1980s to 1990s Ford Thunderbird, police said. Four people were in the Thunderbird and one of them asked, "Where's the weed? Where's the homies?" Davis asked the woman with him, "Do you know these guys?" For that he was shot in the head, according to his relatives who regularly sponsor events to call attention to the crime. No arrests have been made.

* Kathleen Heisey, 50, a McFarland school principal, was stabbed to death in her home at the west end of Raymond A. Spruance Court in south Bakersfield. Her body was found on July 1, 1998, and the killing was so brutal, Hall Ambulance paramedics were visibly shaken at the scene. A couple of possible suspects have been questioned, including one whose DNA samples were tested, but the case remains unsolved. Her death stunned her family, fellow educators and students. She was the daughter of the late Walt Heisey, a former Bakersfield city councilman. An annual scholarship program in her honor helps keep the memory of the case alive.

* Jamie Lynn Walker, 17, at about 9 p.m. on April 29, 1978, drove a blue Toyota pickup from her home in central Bakersfield toward Memorial Hospital where she was going to visit a friend who gave birth to a baby son an hour earlier. She never made it to the hospital. Her mother reported her missing at 11:30 p.m. About two hours later the pickup with most of her clothes inside was found at 36th and San Dimas Street. Six hours later, her nude body was found in an almond orchard near the Famoso Drag Strip. She had been shot once in the head with a small-caliber gun after being raped, deputies said. Police believe she was abducted at the hospital and her attacker drove back there after killing her. That tragedy was compounded in 1987 when a police lieutenant ordered physical evidence in the case destroyed to make way for more storage space. Less than five years later, DNA technology began being used in Kern County to solve cases. There is no legal deadline to file murder cases.

* Stacey Renee Shaw, 21, was stabbed multiple times on September 6, 1994, in her apartment in the 6000 block of Nogal Avenue (Near Ming Avenue and Ashe Road). She is the daughter of Jim Shaw, a piano player in the Buckaroos band for the late Buck Owens. She went to sleep as four other persons remained in her apartment, police said. They were friends of her boyfriend, who was in jail at the time on a drug charge. A few weeks after she was killed, Jim Shaw was packing up her belongings when he ran into four young boys. They asked him, "Are you the dad of the blonde girl?" When he said yes, they said they missed her because she used to buy them popsicles. That's just the kind of thing she would do, Shaw said.

Police Homicide Sgt. Joe Aldana said all of the above cases have been reviewed in the past year. Anyone with information may call 327-7111 or Secret Witness, 322-4040.

Top story | COLD CASES

OPEN AND UNSOLVED CASES

Moore spent about five months resurrecting dormant files and finding evidence that might produce "a hit" in DNA data bases to point a finger at a suspect who got away with his crime.

In April 2008 when Sheriff Donny Youngblood announced the program, he said, "These cases are near and dear to us. If we can solve one or two , it will be worth it."

Moore did find two suspects in two different cases, although neither of the suspects have been charged. One was in the case that Youngblood highlighted in the 2008 news conference -- the stabbing death of an as-yet unidentified woman whose body was found July 15, 1980, in an almond orchard near Zerker Road and Merced Avenue.

"We know who did it," Youngblood said.

But the suspect, Wilson Chouest, is serving a life term for two rape convictions in Tulare County that occurred shortly after the Kern County woman was killed, Moore said. Chouest has admitted he may have had sex with the woman in Kern County, but denied killing her, Moore said. A second case is a shooting death of a man in southeast Bakersfield, but that case remains under investigation, so the details cannot be publicly released, Moore said.

Moore said he reviewed about 40 cases, but examined 15 of them "real hard," including reading the entire case file, calling previous investigators and opening up evidence bags. Tracking down witnesses who have scattered around the state or country is another lengthy chore in the process, he said.

"There are cases that I absolutely know can be solved" if there was someone dedicated to the time-consuming process of delving into them, Moore said.

Friends and relatives of homicide victims were grateful that someone was looking into the cases, Moore said. "They still hurt," he said. "They were glad that the victim was not forgotten."

To do the job right, it's critical that the investigator and the Kern County Crime Lab work together to process evidence, Moore said.

Now the sheriff's department reviews cold cases when time permits -- the approach the department took before Moore's job was established. That's also the way the Bakersfield Police Department treats cold cases. The advantage Moore had was that "he wasn't interrupted by the next robbery," Youngblood said.

Sheriff's homicide Sgt. Craig Rennie said his staff puts current homicides at the top of their priority lists followed by robberies, assaults, domestic violence and other crimes against persons. "We have a heavy caseload," he said.

But if someone comes in with a tip or new evidence in an unsolved homicide, investigators will check it out, Rennie said.

Youngblood said "it would be a very high priority" to bring back Moore or, if he's unavailable, another experienced homicide investigator. But that won't be possible under current budget restrictions.

Bakersfield Police homicide Sgt. Joe Aldana said all nine of his detectives review unsolved cases. Two of the detectives have specialized training in technical evidence for such cases, he said.

"We have identified suspects in some cases," he said. "We are continuing to investigate to make the cases airtight. They are all extremely important to us."

One DNA hit led to the arrest by police last year of Michael Charles Brown Jr., 34, in connection with the 2000 stabbing death of Ruby Lee Jackson-Meriweather, 39, in the 500 block of Grace Street.

The sheriff's most celebrated success on a DNA match led to the arrest in 2002 of Larry Kusuth Hazlett Jr., now 62, for the 1978 rape and strangulation murder of Tana Woolley, 20, a Rosamond beauty queen. Hazlett was convicted and sentenced to death in 2004.

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