Schenectady police work closely with DA’s Office in quest for justice on cold case homicides

SCHENECTADY – On the heels of the arrest over the summer of the suspected shooter in a 3½-year-old homicide, a police commander is confident that taking full advantage of advances in technology and forensics will help detectives solve other such cases before they go cold .

“Fortunately for us, there’s been a lot of methods that we’ve picked up from State Police, from federal agencies, and just the technology that just wasn’t available at the time when these cases were initially being investigated,” said Schenectady Lt. . Paul Antonovich, who is in charge of the detectives on the day shift, during a recent interview.

He said working side by side with the State Police Major Crimes Unit and the state Intelligence Center has been a big help in “showing us some methods of using the data to paint a picture that we weren’t necessarily aware of before.”

The detective division handles homicides and said it is making good progress on at least three other homicides that could lead to arrests soon, added Antonovich.

Here is a partial list of some of the cold case homicides in the city of Schenectady

Nov. 30, 2007: Denise Hart

Sept. 22, 2012: Justin Coleman

June 15, 2013: Shawn Morgan

June 18, 2015: Marquise D. Solomon

May 19, 2020: Fred S. Gentry

Source: Schenectady Police Department analysts

He credited Sgt. Dean DeMartino for his strong leadership skills and noted how the homicide cases in the hands of his group of about a half-dozen young but seasoned and motivated detectives, most of whom are familiar with the latest technology, led to the arrest in August of the gunman authorities had long believed shot and killed Roscoe Foster in February 2019.

Electronic technology coupled with social media posts, the lieutenant said, “placed a significant role” in solidifying the case against Clifford Charles. Antonovich declined to get into details because the case is still pending and he doesn’t want to give away police investigative techniques.

Now 20 years old and behind bars, Charles allegedly was part of a group of men who allegedly lured Foster, under the false pretense of wanting to buy marijuana from him, to a city street. Police say Charles shot Foster, 38, who later died at the hospital.

The defendant, who was in his mid-teens at the time of the shooting, has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder, attempted robbery and conspiracy. First-degree murder carries a maximum charge of life without parole.

“Based on these new investigative techniques that we were able to utilize and technology that we were able to take advantage of, we were able to push what was kind of a circumstantial case much closer to what the DA’s Office felt was strong and prosecutable,” Antonovich added.

He said for starters they plan to employ a similar strategy on at least three homicide cases, the oldest one dating back to 2013.

“The way that I see it is that the stuff that we did for these cases that we’re working now that’s kind of opening new avenues for us, now that we know how to utilize this technology … we’re going to be able to streamline it, and it’s my hope that putting these techniques into practice immediately is going to lead to investigations that materialize much more rapidly and come to an arrest sooner than what we’ve been able to do in the past,” said Antonovich.

Schenectady County District Attorney Robert Carney said there is some truth to the idea that the first 48 hours, which is the basis for a popular reality TV series, after a killing occurs is “the sweet spot” to find leads in hopes of solving a murder .

“But I have found that a lot of cases can be and are solved after some time has passed, but there comes a point were too much has passed, and it does become harder,” he said, adding that “advances in forensics” have also helped crack some of these long lingering murders.

“A perfect example of that is the Suzanne Nauman case, a young girl strangled at a Schenectady golf course driving range, that was solved years later because of advances in forensics,” he said. The case dates back to 1995.

Although the suspected killer Stanislaw Maciag was dead, authorities were able to get DNA from his relatives, and then later exhume his body for DNA samples that authorities said matched those from the 17-year-old victim.

“There are also cases that are solved because somebody who knows something gets arrested and talks about it, and sometimes that may take some time, or a witness comes forward and that produces other leads, or sometimes you get leads from natural prosecution of other people for other crimes,” said Carney.

Like the Foster homicide, Antonovich said, police often have a good idea of ​​who the killer is, but need to come up with enough evidence to prove their case in court. Complicating the matter are uncooperative witnesses.

Police Chief Eric Clifford said killings are always a priority in the department and investigators follow up on all leads.

Even with promising leads, he said the police need the public’s help.

Clifford harkened back to his days as a lieutenant when he investigated cold cases. Two stand out in his mind, the slaying of Denise Hart and Eddy Dan.

Dan, a vacuum cleaner salesman, was found bound and gagged in his Chrisler Avenue apartment in 1993.

Months later Hart, a mother of two young children disappeared from her Schenectady apartment in 2007, and her dismembered remains were found in the village of Menands.

“We’ve always maintained our interest in keeping these cases active, and we periodically assign them to detectives to take a cursory review of, he said, adding that sometimes “you have to look at the smallest of small details and then run with it .”

Carney said city detectives at times meet with his office to discuss a cold case they are investigating.

“I think a lot of times a victim’s family that is in regular contact with the police helps remind the police that this is a case where they should spend some time if they can follow leads, and I think that the Schenectady police are doing a pretty good job of looking at these old cases and putting people on them, and seeing if they can pick up anything new,” said Carney.