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The Case of Rachelle Escalante

Air Date: Sept. 24, 2013

Cold Justice Insider Blog: Episode 4 "Hit and Run"

September 25, 2013

By Murray Newman

Since 1999, Murray Newman has practiced criminal law, handling cases from DWI to Capital Murder and everything in between. He serves as a consultant for Cold Justice. Follow him on Twitter and visit his blog.

Arriving in Globe, Arizona, the COLD JUSTICE team knew that the investigation would be a difficult one for several reasons. The crime had been committed in 1988, which made it one of the older cases the team investigated. The majority of the witnesses had been teenagers at a party with drugs and alcohol. The biggest issue of working on the case, in my opinion, was proving that Rachelle's death had been an intentionally committed murder, rather than a tragic accident.

In law school, one of the first things a student is taught is that a person's level of intent is the key factor in deciding what kind of crime was committed. A person must intend to kill or cause serious harm to a person when causing their death for it to be a murder. In Rachelle's case, she had been hit by a car on a major highway. Determining the person responsible was only half the battle ahead of the COLD JUSTICE team. Kelly, Yolanda, Johnny and new addition Orlando Martinez had to also prove that the driver of the vehicle meant to kill the young girl.

In the end, neither fact could be proven.

In the team's interviews with the kids (now adults) from the 1988 party, almost none of them remembered the events leading up to Rachelle's death in the same way. Some remembered Rachelle fighting with longtime suspect Laurie Wright. Others remembered her fighting with a friend named Cathy. Some remembered the black Trans Am being parked at the house all night and never leaving. Others remembered it making several trips away from the house. So many of the kids in 1988 had been so concerned about getting in trouble for having a party with alcohol and drugs that they were not completely honest about what happened that night with Rachelle.

Ultimately, the investigation relied on strands of hair found under the black Pontiac Trans Am driven by Laurie Wright or Tony Romero. If those hairs were to be positively identified as belonging to Rachelle, the investigators would have more ammunition in interviewing their suspects. When the evidence indicated that they did not belong to Rachelle Escalante, it made solving the case virtually impossible.

Being in the criminal justice profession can be very rewarding when a prosecutor or investigator gets to give news to a family regarding their loved one's case. It is devastating when the news is bad, however.

Seeing Kelly and Yolanda tell Rachelle's family that her case would remain unsolved shows just why they are inspired to work so hard on the cases they investigate. One of the hardest lessons to learn in the Criminal Justice business is that sometimes the bad guy gets away.

Blog entries are the opinions of their authors and do not necessarily represent the opinions of TNT.