Protect Alabama Victims' Families' Rights & Clear the Unsolved Case Backlog
Protect Alabama Victims' Families' Rights & Clear the Unsolved Case Backlog
Why this petition matters
We ask that you assist the families of the missing and murdered by promoting the efforts of Alabama Cold Case Advocacy and introducing a Victims’ Families’ Rights Act specifically tailored to Alabama criminal law and procedures and designed to raise clearance rates in cases like the ones listed below. You have the power to make a difference.
On May 19, 2021, H.R. 3359, also known as the Homicide Victims’ Families Rights Act of 2021 (HVFRA), was introduced to the House of Representatives. The bipartisan bill, co-sponsored by Representative Eric Swalwell (D-CA) and Representative Michael McCaul (R-TX), is designed to provide a system for reviewing cold case files at the federal level.
The Committee on the Judiciary report cited the following statistics:
- There are currently over 250,000 unsolved murder cases in the U.S., and the number increases by 6,000 each year;
- This number is a conservative estimate since 48% of “death investigation and missing person cases” are classified as “undetermined cause” and not included in the unsolved murder case data; and,
- 4 in 10 murder victim’s families do not receive closure for their loved ones’ cases.
On March 29, 2022, H.R. 3359 passed in the House of Representatives and is now pending in the Senate.
A bill similar to H.R. 3359 would not only provide Alabama law enforcement agencies and families access to resources, but it would allow them to be partners in the process.
According to the Murder Accountability Project, 9,836 of the 21,570 homicides reported in the U.S. in 2020 were unsolved at the time the FBI gathered their data. The U.S. homicide clearance rate was only 54.4%, a figure that has been steadily declining since 1965.
Based on data available through crime.alabama.gov, 212 of the 396 homicides reported in 2017 were cleared, giving Alabama a clearance rate of 53.53%. While the numbers for 2020 and 2021 are not available yet, 430 instances of homicide were reported in 2019. It is not clear how many were cleared.
A crime is considered cleared, either by arrest or exceptional means, when one or more suspects are charged and taken into custody.
In addition to the unsolved homicides, Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (“ALEA”) lists over 200 adults and children in the Missing Person Database, dating as far back as the 1980s. Much like crime reporting statistics are dependent on law enforcement agencies voluntarily submitting information, ALEA also relies on law enforcement agencies to submit missing person cases to the database and update the status. Unfortunately, cases slip through the cracks for a variety of reasons, which causes delays in reporting and updating.
A bill similar to H.R. 3359 could make a world of difference in cases like the ones listed below.
19-year-old Brittney Wood (Mobile, AL) was last seen leaving her mother’s home in Tillman’s Corner, a small community just outside of Mobile, on the evening of May 30, 2012. She was picked up at the end of the street by her uncle, Donnie Holland. According to cell phone records, the two traveled to Robertsdale for the evening before returning to Mobile County in the early morning hours of May 31, 2012. After 10 years, Brittney has not been found nor has any person(s) of interest been named in her disappearance, leaving her family with a multitude of unanswered questions.
20-year-old Rickem Samuel (Montgomery, AL) was last seen on April 2, 2016, getting into a black 4-door Nissan Versa at the Eastern Boulevard Walmart with two of his coworkers from Hyundai Glovis. On June 30, 2016, Rickem’s body was located in the 300 block of South Hopper Street. His cause of death is undetermined and his case remains an open investigation.
21-year-old Christian Charles Hollis (Dora, AL) was on his way to his father’s home in Gulfport, MS, in the early morning hours of November 2, 2018, when he realized he’d made a wrong turn. While attempting to turn around on the Cochran Causeway in Mobile, Christian’s car became stuck on the shoulder. With the headlights and hazards on, he got out of his car to see what was wrong. It was during this time that he was struck and killed by a driver who fled the scene without even calling 911. While the driver and passenger of the vehicle are known, no charges have been filed.
25-year-old Danniella Vian (Mobile, AL) disappeared on the evening of July 17, 2018, after meeting up with a small group of people to hang out. Almost a year later, in May of 2019, Mobile Police Department discovered Danniella and the Chevy Cruz she’d purchased the day she went missing submerged in Bayou Sara Creek. While Mobile Police Department has stated the evidence is consistent with an accident, her cause of death is undetermined and her case remains an open investigation.
We propose the following:
- Establish an Independent Review Board to review unsolved case files after 4 years to determine: 1) what investigative steps or follow-up steps may have been missed in the initial investigation; 2) whether witnesses should be interviewed or re-interviewed; 3) whether all appropriate forensic testing and analysis was performed on the physical evidence in the initial investigation or if additional testing may produce new and relevant information, such as DNA testing; and, 4) whether there was any bias in the initial investigation.
- For example, the Golden State Killer remained unknown until 2018 when law enforcement entered his DNA into GEDmatch. Through this process, they were able to identify relatives that shared his DNA and ultimately identified the perpetrator.
- If the IRB determines a reinvestigation is necessary, they will issue a report of their findings to the investigating agency .
- The reinvestigation will not be conducted by a person who previously investigated the case at issue, and the agency will provide periodic and consistent updates to the immediate family during the process.
- The IRB will forward any cases where bias is suspected in the initial investigation to the Alabama Attorney General’s Office.
- If the IRB determines a reinvestigation is not necessary because all leads have been exhausted and/or a likely perpetrator will not be identified or a case remains unsolved for a period of 8 years or more, the immediate family shall have the right to obtain a full, unredacted copy of the investigative file to learn about the death of their loved one.
- The family and investigating agency will jointly discuss and decide what information, if any, could and/or should be released to the public, if the family so chooses.
- At the close of an investigation involving a death by any means other than natural causes, the immediate family shall have the right to request an IRB review of the investigation, as well as obtain a full, unredacted copy of the investigative file.
- Establish mandatory processes for reporting and updating missing person(s) cases to ALEA, NCIC, and other national databases, such as NamUs.
- Establish cold case units staffed with retired law enforcement, private investigators or members of academic institutions with experience in cold cases. This not only gives families the opportunity to work with a dedicated law enforcement officer who has not previously worked on the case, but also allows cold case files to be reviewed in a timely manner without taking officers off of current cases.
- Secure funds for faster processing of DNA and other evidence.
These changes will provide much-needed resources to law enforcement and provide support and relief to families like those of Brittney Wood, Rickem Samuel, Christian Hollis, and Danniella Vian, which in turn will ensure that all cold cases receive the attention they deserve.
HVFRA garnered support from national organizations, including: Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, National Organization of Parents of Murdered Children, National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, American Investigative Society of Cold Cases, Murder Accountability Project, Uncovered, Project: Cold Case, and Cold Case Digital Advocacy.
Please join this growing list of supporters by introducing legislation in Alabama based on the excellent framework of HVFRA in the U.S. Congress.
For more information on Brittney’s case, please visit uncovered.com/cases/brittney-wood.
For more information on Danniella’s case, please visit uncovered.com/cases/danniella-vian.
For more information on Rickem’s case, please visit https://redcircle.com/shows/missing-our-voice?fbclid=IwAR2B5qYVDe4Zm98sbTV7UvW02Bh-zoKkxGqaeIYMkAE9pl2Q0u04cg6Slpg.
For more information on Christian’s case, please visit https://www.facebook.com/justiceforChristianHollis.