Weekend Reads: The Difficulty of Murder Prosecutions

In a series of well-investigated articles, Cheryl Thompson of The Washington Post shares some startling statistics regarding D.C. homicides.

In a 15-month study, The Post found that less than a third of the homicides that occurred between 2000 and 2011 have led to a conviction. Why? Because “murders are now inherently more difficult to prosecute.”

The study shows that even as homicide trends improve — as caseloads lessen and police pursue innovative crime strategies — a hard residue remains of killings that are difficult to solve and prosecute, mainly involving drugs or retaliation.

This is a good-news, less-good-news story,” said Richard Rosenfeld, a criminology professor at the University of Missouri at St. Louis. “The good news is that there’s a drop in homicides in the District of Columbia and the United States. What does that mean? What D.C. and other cities are faced with is a different mix of cases that end in homicide, and those cases are tough to prosecute.”

Thompson also found that between 2000 and 2011 police closed at least 189 cases without an arrest. In some cases the families of the victims were not notified.

The Post also provides an interactive map marking citywide trends.

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