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Friday, July 2, 2010

New cold case unit turning up the heat

Telegraph Editorial

If you were to compile a list of noble professions these days, chances are pretty good that lawmakers – whether they be based here in Concord or the nation’s capital in Washington – wouldn’t be found anywhere near the top of the page.

The only thing our elected officials are consistently good at, if you listen to the critics, is making a bad situation worse – oftentimes at our expense.

But every once in a while a situation arises where even the most cynical among us can’t help but appreciate the direct link between a piece of legislation and a positive outcome for society.

The arrest of a former New Hampshire man this week in connection with the deaths of a Keene family 21 years ago – mother, father and two young daughters – is one of those occasions.

On Wednesday, New Hampshire Attorney General Michael Delaney announced that David McLeod, 53, had been arrested in West Sacramento, Calif., on four counts of second-degree murder for “recklessly causing the death of the Hina family members under circumstances manifesting an extreme indifference to the value of human life,” according to a written statement from the attorney general’s office.

McLeod is accused of setting a fire to a multi-unit apartment building in the early morning hours of Jan. 14, 1989, that claimed the lives of Carl Hina, 49; his wife, Lori Hina, 26; Carl’s 12-year-old daughter, Sara, and the couple’s 4-month-old daughter, Lillian.

He was arraigned Wednesday on a fugitive from justice charge in Yolo County Superior Court in Woodland, Calif., and held without bail while New Hampshire officials attempt to extradite him to face charges here – a process that could take up to 90 days, according to officials.

The arrest, in and of itself, is a significant breakthrough in the pursuit of justice, one certain to bring satisfaction to family and friends of the Hina family, some of whom still reside in the western part of the state.

But the arrest is notable for one other important reason – it was made possible by the passage of legislation last summer that led to the creation of a four-person cold case unit to review the state’s more than 100 unsolved homicides, suspicious deaths and missing person cases in which foul play is suspected.

The bill was the brainchild of Rep. Peyton Hinkle, R-Merrimack, a four-term legislator who recently announced he would not seek re-election this fall.

Hinkle was inspired, in part, by former Merrimack police Detective Joseph Horak, who has spent three decades investigating the murders of two Merrimack teens, whose bodies were found in a wooded section off New Boston Road in Candia in the summer of 1973.

Still, despite broad support in both chambers of the Legislature, the bill creating the special investigatory unit almost didn’t come to pass over a lack of state funding.

If it weren’t for the receipt of $1.2 million in federal stimulus money through the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant program, the unit might not exist today – and the Hina case might be no closer to being solved.

The cold case unit’s dependence on federal money isn’t lost on Hinkle, who reiterated that point when a Telegraph reporter broke news of the arrest to him Wednesday night. Federal funding for the program is expected to run out in three years.

“The important thing is that in three years this is going to have to be re-funded,” he said. “The cold case squad wanted to show some progress to help with that, and this is very good news. I think this is good progress.”

An action initiated by a state politician with the assistance of federal stimulus funding – certainly not the most popular combination amidst all the antigovernment talk now enveloping the nation.

But one that could make a real difference here between justice being served and someone getting away with murder.