The conviction earlier this month of a 50-year-old homeless man in the deaths of two women in Santa Monica more than a decade ago offered yet another example.
When a jury found Edric Dashell Gross guilty of two counts of first-degree murder, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, it brought closure to a set of cases that had troubled law enforcement officials for years.
But it probably would have never happened without the help of DNA evidence, which has given new life to cold-case investigations across the country in recent years.
In early April 2001, construction workers found Jacqueline Lea Osvak’s body in an abandoned building in the 1500 block of 7th Street in Santa Monica. She had been sexually assaulted and strangled.
Then, in late October 2002, the body of Dana Victoria Caper was found on the Palisades Park bluffs below the 800 block of Ocean Avenue. She had also been sexually assaulted and strangled, according to police statements.
Five years passed with little progress on the homicides.
As Santa Monica police Lt. Richard Lewis said, a lack of leads or witnesses can make it difficult to solve violent crimes. It’s even harder when the crimes are committed at night or in secluded areas and other places without security video cameras.
“Now the cameras are a dime a dozen,” he said. “It makes a detective’s job, at times, so much easier. … But DNA has been the most steadfast way for law enforcement to get and have a conviction.”
Around 2007, the number of unsolved murders in Santa Monica was deemed worthy of police attention. According to Lewis, who has been with the department for 14 years, the detective bureau was large enough at the time that it could afford to assign two officers to cold cases. (The force currently has one full-time cold-case homicide detective, Karen Thompson.)
“Every homicide detective was handed a book, and they read it from cover to cover to find out if there might be DNA evidence,” Lewis said. “We looked for anything that had potential DNA evidence. We prioritized those.”
In early 2007, Gross’ arrest for felony cocaine possession led to the inclusion of his DNA in an evidence database, according to Ricardo Santiago, spokesman for the district attorney.
By September of that year, cold-case investigators had reopened their probes into the deaths of Osvak and Caper, according to Daily Press archives. Through DNA processing and new leads, police identified Gross and linked him to both murders.
As it turned out, a conviction was still nearly a decade away.
Santa Monica police were notified in 2008 that the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department had taken Gross into custody in West Hollywood, according to Daily Press archives. He was transported to Santa Monica and booked for murder on $1-million bail.
It’s unclear what happened with Gross until 2012, when he was arrested at Pan Pacific Park in Los Angeles. That arrest led to last year’s murder trial, which ended without the jury being able to reach a verdict.
In the latest trial, which was prosecuted by Deputy District Attorneys Keri Modder and Courtney Zifkin, the jury came to a conclusion. Gross was found guilty June 8 and sentenced June 24 to life in prison without the possibility of parole.