Our goal is to see NY state introduce a bill around Homicide Victims’ Rights Act that’s specifically tailored to NY State criminal law and procedures.
On May 19th, 2021, H.R 3359, also known as the Homicide Victims’ Families Rights Act of 2021 (HVFRA) was introduced in the House of Representatives. This bill is bipartisan and designed to create a system to review cold case files on the federal level. The collective goal is to provide both law enforcement and victims’ families with the tools and resources to solve these cases.
The bill, co-sponsored by Representative Eric Swalwell (D-CA) and Representative Michael T. McCaul (R-TX), was recently passed by the Judiciary Committee and sent to the House Floor for consideration. I’m asking you to support this outstanding effort!
There are currently over 250,000 cold cases throughout the United States, and it is estimated that approximately 5,000 new cases are added to that figure each year, according to FBI Uniform Crime Report
According to the Murder Accountability Project, there were 19,719 homicides throughout the United States in 2020. Of that number, only 10,114 homicides were solved and cleared.
In New York State, the murder clearance rate is only 60 %
The term ‘clearance’ means that a suspect was at least identified and ultimately charged. It doesn’t account for convictions, which are a smaller subset of cleared cases. Regardless, the overall murder clearance rate is declining.
When a person is murdered, and that case goes cold, the impact is felt beyond the victims, their families, and their respective communities. That is true in the case of Kristin O’Connell, who was murdered in a small rural town in upstate NY in 1985. Her mother, Phyllis, has waited 37 years for an arrest. Phyllis has had to fight bureaucratic inertia and hire a lawyer to advocate for DNA testing of the substantial physical evidence available. She is fighting the very system that is supposed to bring justice for her daughter and their family.
A bill like H.R. 3359 in New York State can provide families with access to resources and allow them to be partners in the process.
When a case goes cold, it can be for a myriad of reasons: lack of leads, lack of resources, lack of available technology, and so on. However, by allowing the families to work with a dedicated law enforcement officer who has not previously worked on the case, authorities can gain new insight and make new connections in the hopes of breaking a case. For most cases, that means using current DNA technology.
Genetic genealogy has undergone phenomenal advances in recent years. Perhaps the best example is that of the Golden State Killer, a serial killer, burglar, and rapist at large from 1974 to 1986. In 2018, law enforcement entered his DNA to GEDmatch. Officials found twenty relatives who shared the same distant family member and were able to narrow their investigation down to two individuals before ultimately identifying the perpetrator.
As an advocate and constituent, I urge you to support our efforts by introducing a bill similar to the Homicide Victims’ Families Rights Act in the state legislature in Albany.
Please join this growing list of supporters by introducing legislation in Albany based on the excellent framework of HVFRA in the U.S. Congress. Please sign out Petition here, or view our campaign here