Tuesday, June 19, 2007

THIS WEEK'S SPOTLIGHT: TOMMY RAY


Polk's top whodunit agent
Amy L. Edwards
Sentinel Staff Writer

June 17, 2007

When the Florida Department of Law Enforcement needs a cold-case homicide solved in Polk County, there's one investigator they turn to -- Special Agent Tommy Ray. With 34 years of law-enforcement experience, 20 of which have been logged with the FDLE, Ray has played a role in solving about a dozen cold cases. Ray spent nearly a decade investigating the worst mass murder in Polk County history -- the Nelson Serrano case. Serrano was convicted in October in the slayings of four people, including his former business partner and a prosecutor. A jury recommended that Serrano receive the death penalty. He will be sentenced next week. Ray spoke with Sentinel reporter Amy L. Edwards.

What is the most challenging aspect of working cold cases?

Cold cases can be very labor- and time-intensive and may require innovative investigative techniques. Cold cases with no physical evidence, or key witnesses who are hard to locate or deceased, at that point you have to rely on your interview skills and hope for a confession from a suspect.

What is the greatest aspect of working cold cases?

The best part when you solve a cold case is for the victim's family. Just the joy and the amount of closure it's able to bring to the victim's family. You know, when someone's murdered, the family members, they never get over it, but it's just a small part of the closure or at least the healing process.

What case has had the most impact on your life and why?

Without a doubt the Nelson Serrano case, because it's such a senseless homicide. Four victims -- all over greed and money. And the victims, they were just unbelievable people as far as character. They're the kind of people that you would definitely want to be associated with. . . . You hope your family are as good as what the victims were.

Can anyone get away with murder?

I think they'll always be caught. I don't think there's such a thing as the perfect crime. There are crimes that just go undetected for years and years but eventually, especially with the new technology -- we're going back now, and cases are being solved that are 25 and 30 years old.

Has DNA technology made your job easier?

It has. To me, the DNA is the best thing that's come along since fingerprints. Now, almost monthly there's some advances in the DNA. What used to take maybe a spoonful of blood or other body fluids to get DNA results, now we can get it from a pin-drop size.

What's the longest you've spent working on a case?

It was Serrano -- 91/2 years.

Why do you think the public is fascinated with cold cases?

They say they get caught up in the emotions [and] the victim's families. Like all of us, they want to see some kind of conclusion to it. And they're fascinated by the way and the technology that's come out now that these cases are solved. Although that causes problems, because a lot of the jurors now have that CSI [TV show] effect.

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