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Harris County Sheriff's Office
Tuesday March 25th, 2014 :: 12:45 p.m. CDT


HCSO’s Cold Case Unit Celebrates 5 Years; 18 Cases Solved

(HOUSTON, TX) – The Harris County Sheriff’s Office Cold Case Unit is celebrating its 5th year anniversary.

Since the unit was reconstituted in 2009 by Sheriff Adrian Garcia, its investigators have solved 18 cases involving 22 victims and 21 suspects. Their conviction rate is 100 percent.

“I am so proud of the work of our cold case unit,” said Sheriff Adrian Garcia. “They have a tough job because in criminal investigations time is of the essence. These guys invest so much time and effort into bringing justice to those who for years have been seeking it for their loved one.”

The oldest case solved was the 1979 murder of Santiago Godinez. Charges against his killer, Martin Palacios Gutierrez, were filed in 2010. Gutierrez was sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2012.

“We receive a great deal of inquiries from the families and friends of murder victims,” said Sgt. Eric Clegg, one of the HCSO’s two cold case investigators. “Many believe that their loved one’s murder case is closed simply because it has been unsolved for many years. We assure them that no case will ever be closed until justice is brought. We make it clear to these folks that their loved one’s case is not forgotten and everything possible will be done in order to bring them closure. Our mission is to diligently seek justice for all that we serve.”

The youngest victim among the solved cases was 19 year-old Sherri Strong. Strong was strangled to death in 1982 by her boyfriend, Manuel Richard Pena. In April 2013 Pena was sentenced to life in prison for her murder.

“After receiving a guilty verdict and a life sentence in the Sherri Strong murder case, Rebecca Sweetman, our cold case analyst, and I went to a nursing home in the Woodlands to visit Sherri’s mother,” said Sgt. Clegg. “She could not attend the trial and did not know the outcome. We told her of the news and we watched her face light up as if years of sorrow had been finally lifted. She cried and thanked us. Sherri was only 19 years old when she was murder; it had been over 30 years of waiting for the elder Strong.”

“It was our way of making sure that she knew,” said Sweetman. “We felt a responsibility to make sure that she knew, that she could rest easy, that he was going to jail.”

Coincidentally the nursing home where Mrs. Strong was living in was the same nursing home Sweetman’s mother had passed away in 13 years earlier. “Had that been my family, I would’ve wanted my mom to have that closure,” Sweetman adds.

The oldest victim was Clarence Payne, 88. His 2004 murder was the first case to be solved by the newly reconstituted Cold Case Unit in 2009.

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Harris County Sheriff's Office
1200 Baker St
Houston, TX 77002

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