Suspect or Person of Interest?
How police define what they’re calling the man arrested in relation to the Koenig abduction
ANCHORAGE - Is Israel Keyes, the man arrested in relation to the Samantha Koenig abduction, a suspect or a person of interest?
They're two easily confused terms police say helps them narrow down who actually committed a crime. But defense attorneys say the stigma is the same whether you're a suspect or person of interest.
While Anchorage police await the return of Israel Keyes back to Alaska, exactly what they are calling him has some wondering whether Keyes is the person authorities believe kidnapped Samantha Koenig.
So far Keyes has only been named a suspect for access device fraud for using someone else's credit or debit card. But when it comes to the kidnapping itself, police say Keyes is not a suspect right now.
“He may only be a witness in that, or he may not be involved in any way except using these credit cards, or he may be a suspect,” said Lieutenant Dave Parker. “The fact that he was in possession of these items and he has acted in certain ways makes him a person of interest in the disappearance.”
The last major case in which someone was charged with access device fraud was in January of 2008, when Joshua Wade was called a person of interest in the disappearance of Mindy Schloss. Wade was caught using Schloss's debit card.
“Often those are the things that we can hold a person on until a case is built, as in the Joshua Wade case, until a case is finally built to the point where we can obtain a conviction and prove in a court of law that he had actually done that homicide,” said Parker.
According to police a person of interest may be a suspect, a witness or potential suspect or potential witness or nothing at all.
But if you ask criminal defense attorney Rex Butler whether you're a person of interest or a suspect, he says the results are similar. “You can lose a job, you automatically lose your standing,” said Butler.
Whether you're a suspect or a person of interest, it's a label that's tough to get rid of. “Once you’re labeled as a person of interest you might as well hire an attorney because you are now unofficially the suspect, and in the eyes of the public officially the perpetrator,” said Butler. It’s a tag that he says could put someone in harm’s way. “John Doe is a suspect, even John Doe as a person of interest, you’re going to take some heat, you better watch out for your welfare and the welfare of your family,” said Butler.
But police say the public shouldn't jump to any conclusions, because they are determined to solve crimes and make sure the right person is actually charged. “That's why we don't try people in the court of public opinion, instead we have the court of law,” said Lieutenant Parker.
Police do state when a person is no longer a suspect or person of interest, but say when someone is called a person of interest the best way to get that title removed is to cooperate with police and tell them what they know.