Missing the Mark : Upstate Police Not Testing Critical Clues

Upstate police fail to test their own evidence for connections to unsolved murder cases.

Upstate Officers Aren't Testing Clues That Could Solve Murders

Critical clues that could crack cold cases may have been ignored or destroyed by Upstate police, evidence in some of the area’s most notorious unsolved cases.

In some cases, important clues may have been missed because Upstate detectives haven’t used readily available technology to scrutinize important evidence.

THE UNSOLVED CASE

Sylvia Holtzclaw was murdered on a Friday.  The Blue Ridge Savings Bank teller and two customers were shot and killed with a 40 caliber Glock handgun on May 16th 2003.

Twelve years later, Greer Police have still haven’t recovered the murder weapon, have never identified a suspect and have never brought justice to Holtzclaw’s family.

“I think it’s as fresh today as it was 12 years ago. I can go through that day just like it happened today,” said David Holtzclaw, Sylvia’s son.

A KILLER BUSTED

In July 2007, Darlington County deputies were also faced with a triple murder.  44 year old Diane Grant, her 20 year old son and 15 year old daughter were killed with a 40 caliber gun.

Just like the case in Greer, deputies found no weapon, had no suspect and the detective on the case had few clues.

But within a month, deputies in Dorchester County arrested a suspect.  Three years later, in 2010, Anthony Sanders was convicted of three counts of murder.  He’s serving life without parole.

The difference?

Lowcountry police were willing to work together and analyze evidence that may have been ignored in the Upstate.

THE CRITICAL CLUES

At the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office, Deputy Brian Sommerfeldt and retired detective James Perkins specialize in ballistic evidence.  They’re testing “crime guns”, weapons seized by police at the scene of a crime, and testing the shell casings for analysis.

Shell casings left behind after a gun is fired at a crime scene, or test fired by deputies are scanned and uploaded into a nationwide database operated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.  The National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN) can compare those casings to other evidence found by police nationwide.

Every gun has small imperfections that leave a unique set of markings on every round fired from it.  The spent shells can be inspected under a microscope and catalogued like fingerprints.

“You look for the outer edge for where the ejector grabbed the bullet to pull it out, looking for the firing pin hole and you’re looking for the primer,” Sommerfeldt said.

ARRESTING ANTHONG SANDERS

It was matched NIBIN evidence that put Anthony Sanders in prison for life without parole.

In 2007 the bouncer at a North Charleston bar called police and said he’d seen a man fire eight shots into the air.  Charleston County deputies put the casings left behind into NIBIN.

Then, because Dorchester County Deputies submitted the casings from their own triple murder case, they were able to get a match with the shells from North Charleston.

The triple murder had no suspects, no murder weapon and no motive but it had a hot lead.  The same gun used outside the bar was used in the killings.

Deputies used that information to get warrants that led them to Anthony Sanders.

Today there are NIBIN terminals in both Charleston and at SLED Headquarters in Columbia.  Upstate police have access to the system.  They just don’t use it.

UNTESTED INVENTORY

Since 2013, police and deputies in the cities and counties of Greenville, Anderson, and Spartanburg  have had more than 44 hundred guns in evidence.  98% of them were never tested through NIBIN.

Deputies in Greenville and Anderson and police in the cities of Greenville and Anderson never sent a single piece of evidence.

Spartanburg County deputies sent 79 samples to NIBIN in that time out of more than 1,000 guns in evidence.

Because Sylvia Holtzclaw was killed with a .40 caliber Glock 7 News looked in police inventory for guns matching that description that were made before the date of the murder.

“It’s a piece of that puzzle that we hope to recover. That we have to recover,” said Greer police Lt. Eric Pressley who is investigating the case.

7 News found possible matches in evidence at the Spartanburg Police station right now.  Two glock .40 caliber guns, one made in 1991 and the other in 2001 remain untested.

Captain Regina Nowak, of the Spartanburg Police Department, said her agency does not test all guns because it would require more money and manpower than the agency can afford to commit.

“I think, typically, what we submit is shell casings on cases that we’re working on,” Nowak said.

By only testing a small number of crime guns, specific to individual cases, Upstate police strip NIBIN of it’s greatest ability, to compare evidence across borders and over long periods of time.

Nowak admitted it was “possible” that another Upstate agency may have a critical piece of evidence for a Spartanburg case sitting in evidence that they’d never discover.

Spartanburg County investigators said the same thing.

Investigator Brandon Letterman, a cold case detective working the quadruple homicide at SuperBike Motorsports, said the murder weapon in that case may already be in the possession of police in the Carolinas and he would never know.

THE OPPORTUNITY LOST

Until 2009, there was a third NIBIN terminal at the Greenville County Law Enforcement Center.  The ATF removed it that year because Upstate police didn’t use it.  A spokesperson for Sheriff Steve Loftis called the system “pointless” because other Upstate agencies never sent any evidence.

In an interview with 7 News, Sheriff Loftis said he knew NIBIN has solved South Carolina murders and put killers behind bars.

“We had it, it was first put in use in 2001.  It was taken out of use in June of 2009 by ATF because it was very expensive to operate.  We’re looking at $10,000 a year,” Loftis said.

An ATF agent said the system now costs closer to $50,000 a year but that the federal government paid that cost.

In Charleston, the Sheriff pays full time deputies to run the NIBIN system, but Loftis said his own $37 million dollar a year budget was largely tied up in employee salaries already and there was no room for the added cost.

“We have a limited budget and we don’t have the money for that,” Loftis said.

“So there’s no money in this case for a tool that might solve a murder,” 7 News asked.

“In this case,” Loftis answered, “as expensive as it is, no sir.”

In the last two years the Greenville County Sheriff’s office has had 55 murders.  Loftis said his detectives, through good investigative work, had cleared 50 of them and that another case was about to be solved.

In that time, his office did not submit a single piece of evidence to NIBIN.

Loftis said his investigators are doing fine without it.

Asked if NIBIN might help solve the 4 remaining unsolved homicides, Loftis said, “That would be strictly a guess on my side and I don’t like to guess I like to be sure.”

Wouldn’t testing the guns be a good way to be sure?

“Well we don’t have the capability any more so we can’t be sure,” Loftis said.

None of the Upstate agencies contacted by 7 News has any police about using NIBIN.

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