A Cherokee County grand jury impaneled Sept. 26 to investigate the murder of Deborah Denise Cordell, 49, concluded its probe Tuesday afternoon without returning an indictment.

A report issued by the grand jurors criticized the way Tahlequah Police Department officers handled the Cordell investigation back in 2003, and homicides in general.

The panel wrote in an eight-page final report to the court that it strongly urges law enforcement personnel to continue their investigation of the Cordell death and present the probe to the appropriate prosecutorial authorities.

Clarence Cordell, the victim’s father, led the petition drive for a grand jury and vowed to continue seeking justice.

“We’re not going to stop here,” Cordell said. “We’re going to get to the bottom of this.”

Cordell said the killing of his daughter and subsequent investigation have been really hard on him.

Deborah Cordell was found beaten to death in her apartment in July 2003, and died as a result of blunt--force trauma. Members of the grand jury offered consolation and words of encouragement to Cordell and family members, who sat quietly on the front row of the courtroom as Chief District Judge Bruce Sewell read the final report into the record.

“Don’t give up,” one panel member urged the Cordells.

The report states the crime scene was altered, and some elementary and universally accepted investigative techniques taught during the basic police academy were not followed by TPD officers during the probe. It also states there was no need to move items or alter the scene.

Jurors said the TPD did not secure the crime scene, write investigative reports, document items located through the crime scene, or do basic crime scene investigation. It also alleges several people “too numerous to name” were allowed access to the scene before the crime was fully investigated.

Investigative reports had not been written as of Sept. 30, 2005. Some officers took field notes, but never wrote official police reports.

The report states the investigation was “compromised from the start” because the scene was altered and poorly documented, and law enforcement took a “head in the sand” approach, even in light of the grand jury’s investigation.

Although TPD officers may have identified a suspect or suspects, no detailed interrogations were attempted or conducted, the panel said. It also alleged some forensic evidence may have been lost, potential witnesses may have gone unidentified, and the person responsible has gone unpunished, at least for now.

The report states some TPD officers “seem to lack an appreciation for the need to correct or improve” the manner in which investigations are handled.

“This fact is most troubling, and an embarrassing reflection on the community,” the report states.

It states such actions are not illegal, but are “below the prevailing professional standards” in place, both then and now. It suggests local law enforcement personnel – including current administrators, detectives and patrol officers – should be required to complete a basic crime scene investigation course, and all homicide cases should be investigated by the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation until local agencies are certified.

Local investigators voiced concerns about that grand jury recommendation, adding some of them have as much crime scene training as a number of their peers with the OSBI. The local agencies do request OSBI assistance when they believe it’s warranted.

The report states TPD investigators initially said Deborah’s death was an accident, but then-Detective Steve Farmer, the investigator assigned to the case, later said it was a homicide. The medical examiner said it was a homicide, and that the victim suffered “extensive and innumerable” bruises, cuts and scrapes over her entire body. Her head injuries caused brain swelling.

The report states former Police Chief Norman Fisher asked the victim’s father to “give his guys a chance,” meaning to let local authorities investigate the case before involving the OSBI.

“The only time I remember [Clarence] Dutch [Cordell] asking me to call in the OSBI was when we did [involve the OSBI],” Fisher said Tuesday. “I told him I would give them [OSBI] control of the investigation.”

Fisher, who is now Cherokee County sheriff, said he was never asked to appear before the grand jury, and would have talked to them about the case. He said he’s concerned about some of the statements made in the grand jury report, since they were made about him and his former department.

“I assigned the case to Steve [Farmer], and we called the OSBI when Dutch asked us to,” Fisher said. “It’s unfortunate we [law enforcement] haven’t been able to give a case to the DA.”

Farmer, who is now police chief, said he just received a copy of the grand jury report late Tuesday, and reserved comment for now.

“I want a chance to review their findings before I make a statement,” he said.

The grand jury also wants to see local law enforcement be accredited through a national law enforcement association, and wants the Tahlequah City Council and Cherokee County Commissioners to appoint a panel of civilian and law enforcement – but primarily civilian – to audit each agency, their cases, investigative procedures and training. That commission would report semi-annually to the public.

The report states the jury explored all reasonable theories to explain Deborah’s death and leads available. The panel received evidence to explore the possibility the victim was killed for her prescription medication. She was being treated for chronic pain as a result of an injury sustained in the Army.

The grand jury also pursued leads on information and a belief that incriminating statements have been made that constitute “admissions or a confession” regarding Deborah’s death. At this time, however, the panel said it can’t identify persons known to them who should be called and could offer further information on Deborah’s death.

Cordell believes the grand jury did what it could to solve his daughter’s homicide.

“They had to go by the law,” he said. “There wasn’t any solid information.”

“The grand jury wishes to express its most sorrowful regrets to the Cordell family for failure to bring closure to this case,” the panel wrote.


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