VENTURA (CBSLA) — Closure didn’t come soon for Shelly Knappenberger and her parents after Shelly’s older sister Stacy was murdered in 1980. The 15-year-old was found dead after she was raped, beaten and stabbed in her family’s Oxnard apartment. For over 30 years, the case remain unsolved, and it took its toll on Shelly, her father and Shelly’s mother, who found the body. “My family, we lost hope,” says Knappenberger. “Dealing with the loss of her daughter, the mess, the gruesomeness that she saw. To get through those years … they were dark, they were ugly, ugly, ugly,” she says. But in 2011, investigators got a hit in the database of DNA profiles of violent criminals. The DNA collected in Stacy’s case matched that of Thomas Young. His DNA was put into the database after he moved to another state and raped someone else. After a jury trial in 2015, Young was convicted of Stacy’s murder. Justice finally served 35 years later. “Families need it, we should’ve had it. My family should not have had to wait that long for answers,” Knappenberger says. That’s the reason Ventura County District Attorney Greg Totten is now working on a bill that would help bring families like Shelly’s closer to closure. The proposal known as the Justice Served Act would secure federal funding to help solve and prosecute cold cases involving violent crimes, where suspects have been identified through DNA evidence. “It’s a huge step forward for prosecutors and more importantly, crime victims,” Totten says. Totten says the DNA left at a Ventura County couple’s home helped lead to the arrest of a man suspected of being the Golden State Killer. And the district attorney says DNA can also exonerate the innocent — like in the case of Craig Coley. He was recently released from prison after he was wrongfully convicted for the murder of his former girlfriend and her son in Simi Valley. He spent nearly 40 years in prison. “We have a duty not only to hold the guilty accountable but to protect the innocent. And DNA is a remarkable tool for us,” Totten says. The DA says with the renewed interest and advances in DNA technology, this proposed bill would help speed up the investigation and prosecution of the 107 cold cases that have DNA evidence in Ventura County, “It is a silent witness that is timeless and that also is able to reveal the truth,” Totten says. Knappenberger believes the Justice Served Act would do exactly that. “If it could give hope to one family, if it can answer one family’s questions, it needs to pass,” Knappenberger says.
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D.A. Works On Bill That Will Grant Federal Money To Solve Cold Cases