APPLETON (AP) – The four candidates for Wisconsin attorney general praised the state Department of Justice for its strides in solving cold cases, and all four pledged to keep up the pressure on tackling unsolved crimes.
The state has at least 300 unsolved homicides dating back to 2003, Post-Crescent Media reported Monday. The state has relied on federal funds to help finance cold case investigations, but as the money dried up cases have languished.
The National Institute of Justice, a federal agency in Washington, D.C., plays the main role in providing extra cold case funding. The last large disbursement in Wisconsin was in 2010 when the state Justice Department received $506,000, which it used to reopen 72 cold cases.
The candidates to replace outgoing Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen proposed variations of the same theme in addressing the issue.
Republican Brad Schimel and Democrats Ismael Ozanne and Susan Happ are district attorneys and recalled their own work on cold cases. They said they’d like to see more state funding for the cases as well as the creative use of existing funds.
Happ recalled growing up in Jefferson County, where the battered bodies of two teenage sweethearts were found in the woods in 1977. Authorities reopened the case in 2009 with federal funds and retested DNA evidence, which led to the arrest of a serial killer who confessed to the homicides.
She said she would prioritize the search for extra funding because she saw firsthand the difference the money can make in solving old crimes.
Schimel said he worked on the reopened case of a 20-year-old woman who disappeared from West Allis in 1988 and is presumed dead. He praised the current relationship between the state Justice Department and local agencies, and said if elected he’d continue to strengthen the partnership.
Ozanne noted that cold cases can involve extra staff time, travel expense and DNA testing. He said he’d like to see the Legislature make more funding available.
Democratic state Rep. Jon Richards said he would like to see the Justice Department provide more resources up front, to keep cases from going cold in the first place.