Oklahoman series, forum spark discussion on unsolved homicides
Shannon Hazen knows what it's like to yearn for justice for a loved one.
In May 1997, Hazen's 8-year-old daughter, Kirsten Hatfield, vanished from her bedroom in the middle of the night. Last year, authorities arrested Anthony Palma, of Midwest City, after new DNA testing connected him to evidence found at the crime scene.
Tuesday night, Hazen stood at the microphone during a public forum organized by The Oklahoman to discuss unsolved homicides and offered a connection to other families.
“I welcome myself to you in any way, that we can maybe band together as survivors and figure out a way to communicate and survive together,” said Hazen, 45, of Newalla.
Sitting in the audience, Tina Adams felt a little hope hearing that a suspect was arrested in Hazen's daughter's case after 18 years. But 18 years is a long time. After the forum, Adams found Hazen among the crowd and introduced herself.
Adams' 33-year-old son, Ray Anthony Adams II, died after being shot in September 2015 in the 2500 block of NE 12. His death remains unsolved and his mother worries his case will be forgotten.
With encouragement from Hazen, Tina Adams approached Oklahoma City police Chief Bill Citty after the forum to talk about her son's case. Citty listened to her concerns and told her he would have detectives give her a call. He also gave Adams a hug and told her not to give up on them.
“It was comforting
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because he was so personable,” Adams said. “He's approachable. He wasn't standoffish, and I felt that he was sincere.”
Hazen and Adams exchanged phone numbers after the forum, and Hazen texted Adams the next day to let her know she was thinking of her and praying for her. Hazen also has invited Adams to attend a survivor's support group meeting with her.
Citty said cases like Adams' — those in which detectives haven't been able to find the killer — are difficult to deal with.
The families of homicide victims never stop suffering from the loss of their loved one, he said. That's especially true in cases where the killer is never caught, he said. Investigators who work those cases want to help, he said, and it's frustrating when they're unable to do so.
“That's why we're in this business, is to help people,” he said. “And when you're unable to do that, it's very hard.”
Citty said forums like the one held Tuesday evening give police an opportunity to meet with residents who have concerns about individual investigations or broader police practices. At Tuesday night's forum, Citty spoke with several family members of unsolved homicide victims. He said he plans to meet again with a number of them in the coming weeks to discuss their cases.
Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater said he's also planning to follow up with family members of unsolved homicide victims who he spoke with after the forum. He has a meeting scheduled next week with one family and their lawyer, and he has been reviewing the case file for a 19-year-old victim whose mother he spoke to after the forum. Some family members who weren't able to stay behind to talk after the forum told Prater they would call him later to inquire about their loved one's case.
Prater said those who work in law enforcement care about what's going on in the community, and they make every effort to ensure the right thing is done in every case.
“I appreciate the support that we enjoy, especially here in our community from all segments of society,” Prater said. “I'm hopeful that this series, the forum and other opportunities to engage in positive conversations about the issues that affect our community will continue. I'm very encouraged by that.”
Tuesday's forum at Prospect Baptist Church in northeast Oklahoma City was organized by The Oklahoman in conjunction with a three-day series of stories that examined unsolved homicides in Oklahoma City. An analysis by The Oklahoman found that, since 2008, nearly half of all potentially prosecutable homicides ended with the killer walking free. The rate of unsolved homicides was even higher in cases involving a minority
In a section of northeast Oklahoma City bounded by NE 10, NE 36, N Lincoln Boulevard and Interstate 35, about two-thirds of all potentially prosecutable homicides go unsolved, the analysis showed.
The analysis also found that no agency, either locally or nationally, appears to keep systematic records of the rate at which homicide investigations result in the killer being convicted of a crime.
Citty said he sees value in tracking the long-term outcomes of criminal investigations through the prosecution and sentencing phases, but sees no effective way of doing so.
The department tracks the rate at which its own officers make arrests in homicide investigations and other cases, and homicide detectives generally know which of their arrests result in convictions.
Because police, prosecutors and corrections officials use different systems of record-keeping, it's difficult to track those outcomes in any systematic way, he said. The Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Task Force, a committee that includes a number of state and local officials including Prater and Citty, has discussed the topic, Citty said, but no solution appears in sight.
Ward 7 City Councilman John Pettis, who represents east Oklahoma City, said during a phone interview Friday that it bothered him on many different levels to know that so many homicide cases ended up with the killer walking free.
“I think everybody must work together to decrease that number,” Pettis said.
Having a community dialogue is important, he said.
“We have to continue to talk about it,” Pettis said.
JoNita Normore attended the forum on what would have been her son Ra'Mon Robinson's 32nd birthday. Robinson was shot to death Dec. 14, 2009, at a northwest Oklahoma City apartment complex. His death also remains unsolved.
Normore, who spoke during the forum, said afterward that it touched her heart to be part of the event. Normore keeps a box of information related to her son's death. For a long time, she hasn't wanted to open it. But this weekend, she said, she was planning to pull out the box.
“Some hope came back in me,” Normore said.
Silas Allen is a news reporter for The Oklahoman. He is a Missouri native and a 2008 graduate of the University of Missouri. Read more ›
Darla Slipke is an enterprise reporter for The Oklahoman. She is a native of Bristol, Conn., and a graduate of the University of Kansas. Slipke worked for newspapers in Kansas, Connecticut, North Carolina and Oklahoma, including a previous... Read more ›