ATLANTA — Georgia lawmakers heard from the families of murder victims Monday, who want the state to get better at handling cold cases. A bill in the House would let families petition to reopen such cases.
Backers of the bill said there are at least 500 unsolved murder cases in Georgia, most likely more. Next of kin want to be able to give those cold cases a new look.
One was the sister of Tara Louise Baker, a UGA law student murdered 21 years ago, a case still unsolved.
"Tara was brilliant, she was gorgeous and she was successful academically," Meredith Baker Schroeder told the House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee Monday via Zoom. "She was truly the most thoughtful person I’ve ever known in my life."
Schroeder told the House committee thieves stole Baker’s identity as the case dragged on.
"Now imagine not only losing your daughter but to be denied her cause of death; and to have no death certificate issued for 10 years, allowing her to be continually victimized through identity theft," Schroeder said.
The bill would also make it easier to issue a death certificate in a cold case. It would also add resources to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s cold case unit.
Natasha Bennett testified by phone about her cousin’s case. Rhonda Sue Coleman was murdered in Jeff Davis County in May 1990, a case still unsolved.
"For 30 years, a crucial piece of evidence sat unprocessed in the evidence room of the Jeff Davis County Sheriff’s Office," Bennett told the committee. "It was an oversight that could have been discovered earlier had her family had a process by which to initiate a cold case review."
Some witnesses and lawmakers pushed back on some of the details in the bill – which they said could force investigators to devote resources to questionable cases. But, next-of-kin said they need tools they can’t legally use now.
"Please give police and the families the tools they need to find their answers," Schroeder told the committee.
The cold case bill got reassigned to a subcommittee – adding another hurdle before it can pass the legislature in the next seven weeks.