Three decades after the death of a 17-year-old Malden girl, a Middlesex jury found a Georgia man guilty of her murder. Rodney Daniels, 50, was convicted of first-degree murder this month for shooting Patricia Moreno on the fire escape of her apartment on July 20, 1991.
Moreno had been staying at the home with her foster mother, the woman’s two teenage daughters, and Daniels, who was the older daughter’s boyfriend. Daniels admitted being home at the time of the killing, according to a press release by the Middlesex District Attorney, but said he had been sleeping.
No weapon or cartridge casing was recovered from the scene and no witnesses could identify the shooter. Although police investigated the murder extensively at the time, they were not able to gather enough evidence to make an arrest. Moreno’s case went cold — until a few years ago.
What Did the New Investigation Find?
After the district attorney’s office launched a cold case unit in 2019, authorities began to re-examine the case in 2020. They discovered a new witness who lived on the floor below Moreno at the time of the murder. He had been awakened by a loud noise on the night in question and saw a woman on the fire escape struggling to breathe as a man stood over her. The physical description he gave of that man was consistent with the appearance of Daniels.
In another new discovery, an alibi witness who had protected Daniels in 1991 later admitted that she lied to police investigators and a grand jury. She had told friends and family that Daniels had killed Moreno, hid the gun inside an armchair, and subsequently disposed of it.
Why Are Cold Cases Difficult to Solve?
Cold cases can be quite complex, with numerous roadblocks and challenges caused by the passage of time. For starters, there is the question of evidence — if it’s still available. In some cases, crucial evidence may have been destroyed or lost over the years. Also, key witnesses may have disappeared, passed away, or forgotten the details of the events. Other times, a case may go cold because of a lack of evidence or a flawed investigation from the beginning.
How Do Cold Cases Get Solved?
Many police departments around the country are dedicating resources to solving unsolved cases, including creating special cold case units. The increasing use of DNA analysis has led to a significant number of cold case arrests. In the past, cost and technology put limitations on the use of DNA evidence. However, modern advances have made DNA testing much faster, more accurate, and more sensitive than ever before.
But DNA evidence doesn’t always point to guilt. It can also exonerate someone who has been wrongly accused or convicted. Similarly, just as witnesses testifying for the defendant may later admit they lied, witnesses testifying against the defendant may admit they lied. Changing stories, witness credibility issues, and newly discovered evidence can help the prosecution, but they can sometimes help the defense too.
Massachusetts Criminal Defense Attorneys
If you have been accused of a crime, it is essential to have a skilled criminal defense lawyer at your side. With over 50 years of experience in Massachusetts law, the knowledgeable attorneys at Altman & Altman LLP can help protect your rights and evaluate your legal options. Contact us as soon as possible for a free, confidential consultation on your criminal case.