An advocate for cold-case murder victims from Jacksonville recently joined a special statewide task force to examine unsolved cases.
Ryan Backmann traveled to Miami last week for his first meeting.
Backmann founded the nonprofit “Project: Cold Case” last year, about five years after his own father was murdered. His dad, Clifford Backmann, 56, was a construction worker, who was working a side job the day he was shot and robbed of his wallet.
His is one of about 1,200 Jacksonville unsolved cases dating back to 1970, and they’re all listed in a database he started, which he’s making statewide. Year after year, Backmann works with Fernandina Beach Republican Sen. Aaron Bean to try to get the state to pass bills to fund more cold case resources.
Now, Backmann’s on a 24-member cold case review team started by the Florida Sheriffs Association last year. Other members include experts in crime scenes and DNA, medical examiners, prosecutors and investigators, and they look at five cold cases at each of their quarterly meetings.
“The resources that they’re looking at are forensic pathologists that can study the bones. There’s DNA experts that can offer a little advice as far as where technology is today versus where is was maybe when the murder happened,” Backmann said.
Backmann is an outsider to the group, the only person with no direct investigation experience. He said at first he didn’t know what value he would add, but the team told him he brings a needed perspective.
“(They said) we want you to talk about what it’s like from the victim perspective,” Backmann said. “We want everybody in here to remember that these victims are people and that somebody out there loves them. And it’s important to us that everybody working these cases know that.”
Backmann said in the past he’s felt pushback from law enforcement, but the team has welcomed him. Members have even asked him to prepare a presentation from the persepctive of a victims’ family member for the next meeting in a few months.
The review team is similar to one started in Colorado a few years ago. Boulder (Colorado) Assistant District Attorney Ryan Brackley said in an interview earlier this year, in five cases looked at by the team, arrests have been made.
With a non-state-funded database and a cold case review team in Florida, Backmann said he’s rethinking what legislation to pursue during the next session. A lot of the work he wanted the state to help with is now being done independently.
For the past three years, Backmann worked alongside Sen. Bean recommending legislation that would establish a task force, review team and database. Every year they requested fewer dollars, hoping to get something passed. Last year, Governor Rick Scott vetoed $50,000, that would have funded travel travel for volunteer task force members.
Backmann said he sees another area needing funding: cold case departments in individual police agencies.
He said while the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office has a cold case team, “A lot of the other agencies have either their regular homicide detectives that pull double-duty or they have a retired homicide detective that comes in once a week and looks at cold cases.”
Lindsey Kilbride can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 904-358-6359 or on Twitter at @lindskilbride.