Arrest in 38 Year Old Bay Area Murder Case
Most large law enforcement agencies now have a special “Cold Case” unit in charge of solving old but serious crimes. The Oakland police cold case unit’s work led this week to the Alameda county District Attorneys office filing of murder charges in one of the oldest, unsolved Bay Area murder cases.
According to the Oakland Police Department, Julie McElhiney, age 13, was attacked, sexually assaulted, and murdered in a residence on Pleitner Avenue, in Oakland. She was discovered laying face down on the floor of the residence around the evening hours on August 9, 1974. She was declared dead after being transported to a local hospital. It was later determined that the cause of death was blunt trauma to the head. She also sustained injuries consistent with being sexually assaulted.
The case went cold for 38 years until just recently when investigators from the Oakland Police department tested the clothing the young girl was wearing at the time of her death. The clothing revealed DNA which was then entered into a national DNA database. The DNA from the girl’s clothing matched the DNA of Curtis Tucker. Curtis Tucker, now 63, had his DNA collected following an arrest for rape in Washington state in 1978. Authorities arrested Mr. Tucker this week at a veteran clinic in Oakland. The Alameda County District Attorney’s Office has filed murder charges.
Mr. Tucker is now facing first degree murder charges with special circumstances involving a sex crime on a child and homicide while in the course of a burglary. The special circumstances filed in the case make the defendant eligible to receive the death penalty if convicted. The Alameda District Attorneys office has not made a statement as to whether they will actually pursue the death penalty in this case.
Law enforcement has not released any additional information regarding the investigation including whether Mr. Tucker’s DNA was found anywhere else at the scene or on the victim’s body. Likewise there is no available information as to whether Mr. Tucker knew the victim in any way or whether Mr. Tucker provided a statement to law enforcement at or after the time of his arrest.
From a bay area defense attorney’s point of view, in the absence of any additional evidence, this may be a though case for a prosecutor to prove. While it is undisputed that the young girl was brutally attacked and killed, the evidence pointing to Mr. Tucker as the perpetrator may not necessarily be strong. Sure, DNA has proved to be very reliable and in many situations has helped to convict or exonerate people charged with terrible crimes. However, depending on the quality of the DNA sample recovered from the clothing and the integrity of the DNA testing, the issue here may not be whether the DNA belongs to Mr. Tucker. The real issue will likely be proving that Mr. Tucker was the perpetrator. The simple fact that his DNA was found on a piece of clothing is likely not enough to prove that he committed this terrible crime. For example a small amount of DNA on the outside of a jacket may be easily explained by a chance touching in a crowded public area.
On the other hand, the location of his DNA on the clothing may prove to be very incriminating. If the DNA was located in an unexposed area, it will become much harder for the defense to argue a chance transfer of the defendant’s DNA.
As the case progresses in the court system, more information will likely become available to the public.
If you or a loved one has been accused of a serious crime, call our offices today at 415-946-4020 and set up a meeting with our team of experienced attorneys. Our team approach is designed to provide you or your loved one with the necessary leverage to obtain the best possible result.