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Lekisha Jones sits on her front porch and talks about the loss of her father, Lervelo Bridgeman, who was killed in a home invasion on Sept. 21, 2001.

GOT A TIP ON A COLD CASE?

Call 423-209-7470 or email coldcases@hcdatn.org

 

Lekisha Jones woke up to someone pounding on her door in the middle of the night.

Your dad has been killed, the person at the door shouted. Your dad has been killed.

That was 13 years ago. Someone burst into 44-year-old Lervelo Bridgeman's home and shot him on Sept. 21, 2001. At the time, police thought it could be a robbery gone wrong. But no one has been charged in the case.

"I done gave up," Jones said. "I don't even think they'll find who did it."

But Bridgeman's slaying could soon be re-examined by local investigators, because Hamilton County District Attorney Neal Pinkston is launching a new multiagency division to investigate cold cases.

The unit will start working on cold homicide cases where there is some evidence to go on, Pinkston said, whether that's witnesses or physical evidence. Old DNA evidence may be retested with new techniques, and sometimes witnesses are more willing to talk after years have gone by, he added.

"Those types of relationships like husband-wife, boyfriend-girlfriend, sometimes disintegrate, so people are more apt to talk because they're not as close as they were in the past," he said.

Chattanooga police have 113 unsolved homicides recorded between 1976 and Jan. 1, 2014, Sgt. Bill Phillips said. The department worked 987 homicides during that time frame, which means about 89 percent of cases have been cleared.

A case is classified as "cold" if the original investigator has left the unit and the case is still pending, Phillips said. That could be anywhere from six months to 10 years or more, he added.

"When I look at this list, I see 113 unsolved murders," Phillips said. "First of all, that's 113 unsolved murders. But I also talk to those families regularly. So it's 113 mothers and fathers and daughters and brothers and sisters. It puts in perspective how many people are hurting because they don't have answers."

The unit will be led by retired Chattanooga police major crimes investigator Mike Mathis, Pinkston said. He'll be joined by Phillips, who will now work full-time on solving cold cases. Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond said he also plans to commit someone to the division.

In all, the unit will have a handful of full-time members, as well as support from several local and state agencies, including the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, the East Ridge and Red Bank police departments and the medical examiner's office.

"Not a one of us in law enforcement don't think back to one or two particular cases over the years that didn't get solved -- there is nothing we'd like better," Hammond said. "And with new technology, a fresh look at it and seasoned officers working on it, who knows? We might just turn some of these."

Hammond estimated the sheriff's office has around 100 cold cases. As the new cold case unit hits on promising leads, the division will pull in resources from each supporting agency to work the case.

"The unit shows we still care and we haven't forgotten," Pinkston said. "The pursuit of justice continues."

Jones said she thinks there are many people around town who know who killed her father, and she's hopeful that someone will come forward as this cold case division starts investigating.

"I hope whoever done it is caught and punished for it," she said.

Contact staff writer Shelly Bradbury at 423-757-6525 or sbradbury@timesfreepress.com with tips or story ideas.

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