“I think I've had more family members upset with me over suicides than homicides. We could have 14 letters in their own handwriting, and they still can't believe you. Nobody wants to think that their children were so bad off,” Damron said.
Search for the truth
Interviewing suspected killers and witnesses — what television programs call an interrogation — must be by the book.
“Our interviews are recorded. A judge and jury can sit there and listen to your interview. You have to be careful that you're not feeding them information that they didn't already know,” Damron said.
During the interview, the detectives work to separate the truth from the lies that many suspects and witnesses tell them.
“They think it's easier to lie than it is to tell the truth,” Damron said.
“You can really look for their body language to tell if they're telling the truth or not,” Hurst said.
“The trick is not figuring out they're lying to you,” Benavides said, “but to get them to tell you the truth. It's taking ‘good cop' to a whole new level. Some of these people haven't ever had anyone use their first name without being mad at them.”
Benavides, who is fluent in Spanish, handles translation duties for the unit.
“To me, it's an important part to be a Spanish speaker because it allows the people we talk to, to open up and be more comfortable,” he said.
Even when someone tells the truth, it can be a challenge to get them to corroborate that in court.
“We've had witnesses threatened after they talk to you. We're not with them 24 hours a day. I wish there was something we could do to ease that,” Benavides said.
But finding and caging a killer is only one aspect of the job. Each case has mounds of paperwork that must be organized and presented to the district attorney. The binders homicide detectives assemble include a number of reports, including the initial police reports, ballistics results and blood tests.
“The case doesn't end when you arrest someone. You still have to have all of those things that tie your case together so it's complete and it's thorough,” Hurst said. “You've got to be flexible and not rigid. We seek the truth, and not just any bad guy.”
“A lot of the CSI-type programs are a problem for us because we can't do what they can. They (a jury) may vote ‘not guilty' because you didn't have piece of DNA or something like that,” Damron said.
A new year
The calendar on the office computer reads Monday, Jan. 7, 2013.
Benavides and Damron caught the first homicide of the year two days earlier. The victim is Jenna Flippo, 35, whose body was found in her front yard.
Damron sits at his desk writing a probable cause affidavit from an interview conducted over the weekend.
The dry-erase board behind their desks has been cleared of 2012's cases.
“You take a deep breath and you take a look at the board being clean and completely wiped out, and wait to see what the year brings for you,” Benavides said. “It's a new beginning.”