Sheriff's Office had 50% rate of solving 2010 homicides

The success rate is below state and federal averages.

Elaine May holds up a photo of her mother, Lila Leach, who died several weeks after the 96-year-old woman was found beaten and strangled inside her Newberry home.

Karen Voyles/Staff/File photo
Published: Tuesday, January 11, 2011 at 4:55 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 11, 2011 at 11:59 p.m.

The death of Saleha Huuda at the close of 2010 gave the Alachua County Sheriff's Office another homicide to investigate, adding to a year of puzzling deaths that have left the agency with a 50 percent success rate at solving them — a rate of success that is below its own five-year average and state and federal averages.

In addition to Huuda, three other homicides investigated by the Sheriff's Office in 2010 remain unsolved.

All three — the shooting death of 16-year-old Sebastian Ochsenius in his Gainesville home, the beating death of 96-year-old Lila Leach in her Newberry home and the shooting of 82-year-old Arsenio M. Cabezas of Lacrosse, who was killed when a bullet was fired through his bedroom window — are unusual in that there is no apparent motive in the killings.

Sheriff Sadie Darnell said she believes investigators are doing the best they can by following every lead they get to its end point and searching for physical evidence that could link the crimes to someone.

But the victims' families are concerned and in some cases have questioned the tactics and abilities of sheriff's investigators.

Karen Black, the granddaughter of Leach and a career law enforcement officer, said the family feels helpless — comparing it to a doctor not being able to make a family member well.

"You have to be patient and allow those who are pursuing it to do what they need to do," Black said. "I've worked cases like this, and every one is different. I've been involved in cases that have yet to be solved — that's just the nature of it.

"It's concerning, especially because of the size of Newberry," Black continued. "Nobody knows if it is the person filling up your gas tank or in your grocery store or in your neighborhood."

The family of slain Buchholz High student Sebastian Ochsenius has been more critical. His father, Boris Ochsenius, recently told The Sun he believes investigators spent too much time focusing on family members as suspects and mishandled other parts of the case.

The Sheriff's Office investigated eight homicides or suspicious deaths in 2010. That is the highest number of homicides handled by the Sheriff's Office since at least 2005 and tops the five cases in 2006 — the second-highest number of homicides since 2005. Four of the eight remain unsolved — the deaths of Huuda, Leach, Sebastian and Cabezas.

The Gainesville Police Department worked five homicides in 2010 — one of which was solved through an arrest. Two others stemmed from a shooting rampage by Clifford Miller Jr., who wounded several others and killed himself. One of Miller's victims died during the rampage; a second victim died over the holidays.

Two other homicides remain unsolved — the shooting of Stacey Brown during a robbery in a Pine Ridge apartment and the shooting of Patrick L. Williams outside his home.

From 2005 through 2009, the Sheriff's Office worked 11 homicides and has made nine arrests. State and federal authorities base clearance rates on the number of homicides each year and the number of homicide arrests each year. Under that formula, Alachua County had an average clearance rate of about 64 percent over the five years, according to data from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

The state homicide clearance rate from 2005-2009 was about 65.6 percent while the national homicide clearance rate was about 63 percent, FBI data show.

Darnell said a lack of evidence has hampered detectives in the four 2010 cases. Because of a lack of evidence in the Cabezas case, for instance, detectives don't know if the shot was intentional or a stray bullet. With Sebastian, she said, it's not known if the home was chosen randomly or intentionally.

"A couple of these cases have been particularly difficult in not having any leads right out of the gate. With most murders, you do have at least some indication," Darnell said. "The murder of Lila Leach is particularly frustrating because it happened in the daytime. You would think somebody saw something."

Crime experts say homicides are the most-solved crime because the perpetrator and victim often know one another — stemming from family disputes or drug deals gone bad, for example. Those cases often have witnesses or others who have knowledge of the incident.

The Leach, Sebastian and Cabezas cases are tricky because no suspects have emerged and no witnesses with crucial information to solving the crimes have come forward.

William Doerner, a professor at the Florida State University College of Criminology and Criminal Justice, who is also a part-time Tallahassee police officer, said the Sheriff's Office might have just had bad luck in having several difficult cases in one year.

"You are looking for a needle in a haystack. You have no witnesses. Maybe you have physical evidence, but you have to find the physical evidence. It's very, very hard," Doerner said. "A lot of times when dealing with homicides, it's handed to you on a platter. It's hard when you have cold cases or cases in which there are no witnesses.

"Think of a football stadium with 70,000 people. I give you a picture of one — go find him," Doerner said. "That's what you are up against. Until somebody talks or brags, you may not come up with anyone."

Black said Leach's family cannot understand why anyone would kill her. She died in September and had been hospitalized since a July 16 beating that left her so badly injured that the first deputy on the scene could not tell if he was looking at a man or a woman.

Authorities have said someone entered her home between a 1:20 p.m. check by a family member and when she was found at 6:10 p.m. by her daughter.

"Sometimes it's just very strange things that will solve a crime like this. I would like to plead to the average citizen that the smallest, most minute piece of information can break a case like this. Something that somebody saw or heard that may not seem like anything could be the big piece of information that solves it," Black said.

"It's hard to think that it may be somebody who is still in the community. We don't want anyone else to be hurt by whoever did this, but we always wonder — is it somebody we met? That's what drives you crazy," she said.

Contact Cindy Swirko at 374-5024 or

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