The father of two men who were killed and whose cases eventually went cold and became one of Hamilton County's most prominent murder cases is speaking out for fear of the local cold case unit being eliminated.
David Goetcheus, father of Sean and Donny Goetcheus — who were shot at 25 and 19, respectively in 1997 — in a Thursday interview told the Times Free Press that the families of cold case victims are at risk amid the heated district attorney's primary race in May that could end its cold case unit if the challenger is elected.
"After the murders, we were obviously just devastated, and I could hardly focus, hardly live," Goetcheus said during a phone interview. "As time went on, I became bitter our case wasn't being solved. It was just excruciating."
After 20 years of whittling down suspects, authorities in 2017 announced they'd finally cracked the mystery of who shot and killed Goetcheus' sons.
District Attorney General Neal Pinkston announced that a grand jury returned an indictment against Christopher Jeffre Johnson for the double slaying of the Goetcheus brothers.
The killer already was in prison for the kidnapping and rape of two teenage girls. Later, he admitted killing the pair and provided information only the person responsible for the deaths would know.
Investigators said their cracking of the decades-old cold case in October 2017 led to Johnson being sentenced to life without parole.
Differences over the district attorney's cold case unit have been a central issue in Pinkston's re-election effort, as he faces a challenge in the Republican primary from Coty Wamp, general counsel at Hamilton County Sheriff's Office.
Wamp has criticized the office for its focus on its cold case unit, which she said has distracted from current crimes, leaving more cases to go cold in the meantime.
In a Friday statement, Wamp, who has proposed eliminating the unit to implement more resources for current gang violent crimes, elaborated on her position.
"First, let me be very clear, the investigation of cold cases is extremely valuable," she said. "We have at least eight law enforcement agencies in Hamilton County that should always be aware of the cold cases within their jurisdiction so that peace and resolution can be provided to any family who has lost a loved one at the hands of an unidentified murderer."
She added, however, that the district attorney's office "does not have unlimited resources," and that Pinkston has focused too much on the unit, with its definition of a cold case as a homicide that hasn't been solved within five years.
"Whether it's a week old or 25 years old, we should care the same about it," Wamp wrote. "I want to prevent them from getting 'cold' on the front end."
Also in a Friday interview, Pinkston emphasized the importance of a cold case unit given the fact those who commit unsolved crimes are still walking among citizens in the streets of Hamilton County.
"This is a public safety issue," Pinkston said, adding that the unit is integral to ensuring no crimes go unpunished in the county.
There are about 200 unsolved homicides Hamilton County, according to Pinkston's office, 65 of which were classified as cold cases in the past decade.
Since its inception in 2014, the unit has looked into 154 cases and solved 25.
The unit is composed of five individuals from the district attorney's office, one from the Chattanooga Police Department and one from the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office.
It's still difficult to interpret the efficacy of cold cases units, said Ryan Backmann, executive director of Project: Cold Case, a nationwide organization that tracks unsolved murders.
"It's kind of hard to judge because cases go cold for so many reasons," Backmann said in a phone interview. "It's hard to compare them one to one with other jurisdictions and other agencies. For those of us in this world who are trying to see cases solved, anything one or more a year is something to celebrate."
Although, he added, there is no national standard for what is deemed a cold case. That could mean a case that is considered cold could range from one year unsolved to years beyond that.