Handcuffs to hearings: What to expect during a homicide investigation
Anchorage has seen eight homicides so far in 2015. There were a total of 14 homicides in 2014, and 16 in both 2013 and 2012. All of those resulted in investigations and in many cases arrests. But how long does it take to get those suspected of homicide through the court system?
The journey from the initial arrest to the day the first juror is interviewed for a trial can take years. Deputy District Attorney Clint Campion says for a victim’s family, that can seem like a lifetime.
“A lot of victims are hopeful that throughout the trial process there will be some level of closure,” Campion said. “A lot of times that’s true, but not always.”
Campion says the victims’ families find themselves forced into a world they never expected.
“What we owe them is communication about the process, and why things take as long as they do,” Campion said.
In the case of the Jan. 25 shooting death in a Walgreens parking lot, police made arrests within two weeks. Still, the investigation was in its early stages. Prosecutors say arrests are often just the beginning.
“Lots of follow up leads need to be looked into. The forensic evidence needs to be analyzed and stuff like that,” Campion said.
That process can take months. Reports have to be written by patrol officers, detectives, crime scene investigators and the medical examiner’s office. Those get turned over to the prosecution so they can build their case. At the same time, new crimes are being committed almost every day and need attention as well.
“I often tell people that practicing in a prosecutor’s office is kind of like an emergency room where we’re doing triage everyday,” Campion said.
Once the prosecution is ready, they turn over all that information to defense attorneys for review.
“You’re going to have thousands of hours of police work on a case, hundreds of hours of experts — both forensic and otherwise — who’ve reviewed and evaluated the case,” said defense attorney James Christie.
Christie says the defense’s investigation can be time consuming as well.
“Both sides are supposed to have enough time to adequately present their case and do a good job, and that’s going to maximize the odds that justice is really done by a jury,” Christie said.
Christie says one of the biggest challenges in getting a case to trial is getting all of the players involved to be available at the same time. Attorneys, judges and witnesses all need to be available at the same time for three weeks or more.
“In some cases you have witnesses who may scatter to the four corners of the earth in the time it takes to prepare for trial,” Christie said.
Once in the courtroom, an average murder trail will take about a month. If the suspect is found guilty, it’s another three to four months — or longer — until a sentencing hearing is scheduled.
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