Senate panel gives first OK to bill easing cold case reinvestigation requests
TALLAHASSEE, FLA. 1/5/23-Sen. Rosalind Osgood, D-Tamarac, during the Appropriations Committee on Agriculture, Environment, and General Government, Thursday at the Capitol in Tallahassee. COLIN HACKLEY PHOTO

The bill is named for a Davie woman and Jacksonville man whose decades-apart murders remain unsolved.

Legislation that could help thousands of Floridians seek closure in the violent loss of a loved one is advancing.

The Senate Criminal Justice Committee voted unanimously for a measure (SB 350) that would make it easier for families of unsolved murder victims to reopen their cases.

If passed, the bill would require law enforcement agencies in the state to review an unsolved murder that happened within their jurisdiction at least five years earlier upon receiving a written application from a victim’s family member.

The review would then determine if a full reinvestigation of the case could identify new leads or a likely perpetrator. If a reinvestigation is merited, the agency must conduct one.

Tamarac Democratic Sen. Rosalind Osgood, the measure’s sponsor, said a pair of detectives from the Davie Police Department who work on cold cases asked her to file the bill.

“We have been working with a dedicated group since the end of last Session,” she told the panel. “There are local law enforcement agencies that have cold case units like Miami and are funded to deal with requests from family members to review these cases, but that’s not the case statewide.”

SB 350 and its House companion (HB 837) by Miami Gardens Democratic Rep. Christopher Benjamin are titled the “Decker-Backmann Act” after Marilyn Decker, whose 1987 murder in Davie remains a mystery, and Jacksonville man Clifford Backmann, whom an unknown assailant robbed and killed in 2009.

Backmann’s son, Ryan Backmann, has since created Project: Cold Case to help people like him share tips, support and advocate for policy changes. He told Florida Politics he worked with Osgood and Benjamin on their bills.

According to Project: Cold Case, there were 57,181 homicides in Florida from 1965 to 2021. Of those, 19,549 remain unsolved.

“Accurate data on cold cases is difficult to obtain because not all cases are reported as cold cases,” Osgood said.

SB 350 would apply only to unsolved murders on or after Jan. 1, 1970. If a reinvestigation fails to uncover “new probative leads” or a likely suspect, the case in question may not be reinvestigated for another five years unless “materially significant evidence is discovered.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, Osgood proffered and received approval for an amendment that would require the Global Forensic Justice Center at Florida International University to create and publish on a searchable website a list of resources for family members who requested cold case reviews.

The bill would go into effect July 1, 2025.

SB 350 is to next receive a hearing at the Senate Appropriations Committee on Criminal and Civil Justice, after which it would have one more stop before reaching a floor vote.

HB 837 awaits a hearing before the first of three committees to which it was referred.

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.


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