Last week, Chapel Hill Police Department announced the arrest of a suspect in the murder of Faith Hedgepeth. The UNC junior was found beaten to death in her apartment on Sept. 7, 2012, and her case has remained open since.
This news brings some relief and resolution to the Hedgepeth family and a community that has been grieving for the last nine years. And while the case has not yet resulted in a conviction, it seems to be an anomaly among most homicides in the U.S., which never end in a conclusion.
One-third of all murders go unsolved, with homicides having a clearance rate of 64.1 percent. Not only is this decreased from over 90 percent 50 years ago, but clearance rates do not always reflect convictions. Arrests or deaths of suspects are also counted in this staggering statistic.
This downward trend can be attributed to any number of factors, including the theory of broken windows policing — which suggests that police spend more of their time and resources attempting to prevent crime by patrolling in underserved communities, rather than solving violent crimes. The result is over-policing, which can create social and power vacuums in communities that can inevitably allow more violent crime to occur.
The rape kit backlog is evidence of this. There are 9,268 untested rape kits in North Carolina, and while newly collected kits have resumed testing, the backlog is shrinking at an incredibly slow rate. In 2018, NC passed H.B. 945 to develop a system for tracking and recording rape kit tests. At the time, there were about 15,000 untested kits in the backlog.
And this DNA evidence is important. DNA left at the scene of Hedgepeth’s murder allowed a technology company to produce a composite profile of the perpetrator in 2016. This was the profile used to arrest Miguel Enrique Salguero-Olivares of Durham, who was charged with first-degree murder in the Hedgepeth investigation.
It's been proven that the processing of DNA recovered from felony crime scenes often causes delays in trials of up to three years, calling into question defendants’ rights to a speedy trial. By employing and investing police resources into DNA testing, it's possible that more crimes — murders or rapes — can be solved and closed.
The general shift in policing from preventing crimes to solving them is partially to blame for the at least 200,000 unsolved homicides in the U.S. since the 1960s. Resources are not being used to swiftly bring justice — justice that is deserved for victims and their families.
Resolution in the form of a conviction has yet to occur in the Hedgepeth case, but this arrest is a start. It could serve to be the start of justice for countless other homicide victims as well.
Last week’s news brought a sense of closure to a case that has loomed over the Chapel Hill community since 2012. It demonstrated how important it is to clear the backlog, have police forces that actively attempt to bring resolution and peace and use community resources effectively.
It demonstrates that we need a criminal justice system that produces solutions.
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