The Routt County Sheriff's Office helped Ohio authorities solve a 7-year-old murder case.
Investigator Ken Klinger worked with the Columbus Police Department to track down and interview a witness that gave information leading to the arrest of Robert O'Neal, 26, Undersheriff Dan Taylor said.
O'Neal was arrested outside a homeless shelter last week in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on suspicion of first-degree murder in the Aug. 18, 1996, death of 16-year-old Eric Tong, said Columbus police Detective Dave Morris.
O'Neal signed a confession to the murder last week, Klinger said. A grand jury indicted O'Neal on one count of first-degree murder, Morris said.
Those interviewed had indicated that a man living in the Routt County area had driven O'Neal from the scene the night of the murder.
The sheriff's office had been working with the Columbus police for about a year and a half to find and question the witness, Taylor said. The sheriff's office first traced the witness to Florida, Taylor said, and then tracked him down again when he returned to Routt County.
As they drove away from the scene, O'Neal allegedly made comments to the man, who is in his mid- to late 20s, that O'Neal had committed the crime. Later, O'Neal is alleged to have called the witness telling him not to say anything, Taylor said.
The sheriff's office said Tong's death was a gang-related incident.
Morris, who worked on the case in 1996 and again when he moved to the Columbus Police Department's cold case division, said the death occurred at a party where a fight broke out, and Tong was stabbed. Tong bled to death, Morris said.
"We were faced with a group of kids between 17 and 21 years old, and we just couldn't get anyone to talk," Morris said. "As the investigation continued, I stuck with it."
Morris worked off assumptions, reread the files and re-interviewed witnesses. O'Neal had been identified as a suspect a while ago, Morris said, but there was not enough information for prosecution until recently.
The sheriff's office interviewed the witness in November and sent the Columbus Police Department a videotape.
"(Klinger) gave us very important information," Morris said. "We probably couldn't have moved the case like we did without it."
Taylor said this was not the first time Klinger and fellow investigator Rochelle Redmond helped solve a homicide case outside Routt County. A few years ago, the two also worked on a homicide case stemming from a murder in Mesa County.
"Sometimes a homicide case can turn on a very small thing," Taylor said.
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