The employees of the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office (SCDAO) are starting the New Year by reviewing a series of nearly 50 unsolved homicide cases as part of District Attorney Rachael Rollins’ Project for Unsolved Suffolk Homicides (PUSH). The effort will be the fifth iteration of PUSH, in which staff, both lawyers and non-lawyers, internally review unsolved homicide files.
With fresh eyes, renewed interest and dedication, staff have now reviewed more than 200 cases since the project launched in September 2019. Three of those reviews have resulted in indictments returned against men accused of murders and a rape from 1980, 1988 and 1995. More answers are expected in the future. The newest wave of reviews will bring the total reviewed cases to some 250.
There are presently more than 1,300 unsolved homicides in Suffolk County dating back to the 1960s. Many of those families believe they will never get answers or closure regarding the violent taking of their loved one.
“The trauma experienced with a homicide never fully goes away. Even when the perpetrator is arrested, charged, and convicted. The survivors of loved ones whose lives were stolen are left to pick up the pieces and often deal with gaping holes in their lives and hearts. The pain never truly ceases. When a homicide is unsolved, the pain can be compounded. PUSH attempts to show and prove to survivors that we have not forgotten. That we will never forget. And that we will not rest until we get them answers,” said Rollins.
She continued, “By re-aligning this office’s priorities, by choosing not to drain resources prosecuting every single non-violent, non-serious matter, we are able to focus our attention on the most violent and serious crimes that impact safety, health and well-being. Part of that includes having dedicated staff and resources to focus on and examine our older unsolved homicides. There is no statute of limitations on murder.”
So far, PUSH has resulted in the following indictments: William Sanchez, for the fatal 1995 shooting of Jorge Medina; Steven Fike, for the 1980 rape and murder of Wendy Dansereau; and Richard Vega, for the 1988 strangulation of Judy Chamberlain. Rollins said more cases are moving thorough the internal and external review process. She hopes to have more PUSH-related announcements soon.
Under PUSH, administrative assistants, paralegals, executive staff, victim witness advocates (VWAs), assistant district attorneys (ADAs) and civilian investigators conduct a preliminary administrative review of the case file; give each case a new, clean and clearly marked file; uniformly inventory each file; uniformly summarize its content and evidence; uniformly identify sources and leads; and uniformly conduct an internet search regarding the homicide to capture any articles or other potentially useful information. Next, the PUSH Assessment Committee, which includes several seasoned homicide prosecutors and other exceptional SCDAO staff, examines the findings of each administrative review to determine if the investigative process continues by either of the following: assigning a more senior member of the legal staff within SCDAO to continue the investigation, or making recommendations directly to the Boston Police Department or Massachusetts State Police Homicide Units.
“This administrative review means something. Each of these files, many left without any review for decades, represent a person. Someone who was loved. Someone who is missed. Someone who is more than just their last violent moments on this earth. By giving each reviewed case a new redwell [a type of folder] and the same internal file system, by conducting this targeted and proactive review, we are hopefully showing survivors that we care and that we will relentlessly pursue justice and accountability for their loved ones,” Rollins said.
“Criminal investigations, especially homicides, are very challenging. While the passage of time can make the challenges even harder, there are also benefits in technology and DNA analysis. For example, we hope to move forward in some cases using the analysis of familial DNA to tie an individual(s) to a murder,” Rollins said.
She further stated, “I want to acknowledge the support of former Mayor Marty Walsh and the continued leadership of Boston Police for allocating additional resources and funding to investigating unsolved homicides. Two of the most seasoned prosecutors in the office, Senior Trial Counsel, and former appointed District Attorney John Pappas, and John Verner, the ADA responsible for overseeing all of our unsolved homicides are heading up PUSH. The investigator working with the PUSH unit is Emily Wood, the VWA is Jillian Rose.
“All four have done a tremendous amount of work to help this complicated and important process move smoothly and effortlessly. From law enforcement we have Boston Police Sgt. Det. Michael Devane, Sgt. Det. Gary Mitchell, Det. Kevin Pumphret, Det. Tisha Murphy, Det. Jamie Sheehan, Det. Kenisha Benjamin, and Det. Charlie Daniels, as well as Massachusetts State Police Detective Lt. Robert Murphy the Commander of the Suffolk County DA Office’s Homicide and Narcotics Unit who work tirelessly to find answers for families dealing with unbearable pain and loss. Their work is exceptional, and we are grateful to partner with them on this important initiative. PUSH should absolutely continue to do the important work it does. Survivors deserve it.”