Cold case unit celebrates early success and marks departure from previous approaches

    The OSBI announces early success of the cold case unit (Phil Cross/KOKH).

    Upgraded technology and a blended team of crime-fighting investigators led to the arrest of three men in connection to the 2013 murder of Charles Nieman. Nieman was gunned down at a convenience store in Boise City and his case remained unsolved until this month.

    RELATED: Men arrested in Alabama in 2013 slaying in Oklahoma

    The new cold case unit at the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation (OSBI) is a combination of agents, analysts and scientists explained agency director Rick Adams. “We married the technology and the trained criminalists we have at the lab that have a lot of expertise with agents that really are the folks that have to go out and do the ground work.”

    RELATED: Third man arrested in 2013 deadly shooting at Oklahoma store

    The approach is a departure from past efforts to tackle the hundreds of unsolved crimes in the OSBI files. In 2012, FOX 25 reported on concerns of those within the OSBI and former cold case investigators about the way the agency approached cold cases. Our reporting discovered the use of nearly a million dollars of federal grant money that paid for agents overtime if they worked on cold cases. Critics said the approach was a mistake.

    Director Adams said the new unit is taking a more “systematic” approach than in the past and is a dedicated in-house team and not just agents working on their own.

    “We married the technology and the trained criminalists we have at the lab that have a lot of expertise with agents that really are the folks that have to go out and do the ground work,” Adams said.

    In the case of Nieman’s murder, it was the realization by the team there had been an upgrade to the technology that compared bullet and shell casings with a national database. Criminalist Kate Millar explained the upgrade allowed the 3D analysis of shell fragments that was previously not possible. It was this recognition that there was evidence that could be re-tested that led to the initial lead in the investigation.

    District Attorney Mike Boring who represents District 1, which covers the Oklahoma panhandle where the Nieman murdered happened expressed his thanks to Adams for revitalizing the cold case unit. Boring, who is also a member of the commission that oversees the OSBI, read a statement from the Nieman family thanking investigators for the work they put into solving the case.

    “We hope that what has happened and our father's case will give hope to other victims and families of cold cases,” Boring read. “I join you and I know the director joins you in that hope,” Boring concluded.

    Boring said his area of the state relies heavily on the OSBI for major crime investigations. However, the panhandle region has suffered the effects of reduced budgets to the state’s top law enforcement agency.

    “My region,” Boring explained, “We've been operating two OSBI agents short for I don't know how long because of budget constraints.”

    The new cold case unit was a bold move according to Boring because it took current case agents and reassigned them to work on the old cases. Boring said more field agents are needed, but he’s also glad that these old cases are not being forgotten and are now getting the attention they deserve.

    Adams said the cold case unit will remain, but admitted the budget of the agency is tricky to navigate. It could get even more difficult to find funding given the projected losses to the OSBI if lawmakers approve the permitless carry bill that would allow people to carry firearms without getting a permit. The OSBI issued the permits and conducted background checks and could lose $4-$6 million in fees associated with gun permits.

    “Our intention is for our cold case unit to be here and to be here indefinitely,” Adams said. He also wants to increase the number of field agents by 2025. He did not directly address the potential loss of money due to changes in handgun permits, but said he is cognizant of the potential challenges on the horizon.

    “It's just like balancing your checkbook at home you've only got so much and you can only do so much with it,” Adams said.

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