Frustration grows over unsolved homicides, despite state investigation

15 Finds Out

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — Families of several Fort Wayne homicide victims are angry because charges have not been brought against the suspected killers, even though independent investigators believe there is enough evidence to prosecute. 

Multiple sources have told WANE 15 that the Cold Case Unit of the Indiana Attorney General’s Office began looking at specific Allen County homicide cases in 2018. The team, which is comprised of experienced homicide investigators and former prosecutors, spent a “considerable” amount of time reviewing cases at the request of Allen County Prosecutor Karen Richard’s request. 

“I can confirm that we’ve had assistance on several cases from the Attorney General’s office,” said Sgt. Tim Hughes, who heads the homicide division of the Fort Wayne Police Department. “We’re still working on those cases. We have not closed them out. We have not put them on a back shelf. It’s still a work in progress.” 

WANE 15 has learned that the team identified at least four homicide cases from 2016 and 2017 that had enough evidence to take to trial, but the county’s top prosecutor has not filed charges. 

Sources close to the investigation said those cases include the 2017 killings of Eddie Campbell and Spencer Smith at East Central Tower and Gardens Apartments, the 2016 shooting death of 14-year-old Nick Scroggins on Lillie Street, and the triple homicide at Sports and Spirits bar later that same year. Nicholas Powers, Demario Burnett, and Jerry Coleman were shot to death inside the bar. Two juveniles were hurt. 

Cold Case UnitOffice of the Indiana Attorney General

According to the Office of the Indiana Attorney General’s website, the Cold Case Unit “provides assistance for the review of unsolved homicides and other major crimes.” Investigators work closely with prosecutors and the investigating agencies to determine whether charges will be filed, the website said. 

The agency’s website indicates that the final decision to file charges is at the discretion of the local prosecutor. 

A spokesperson for the Indiana Attorney General’s office would not confirm or deny if the investigation took place in Allen County. However, prosecutor Karen Richards and FWPD Sgt. Tim Hughes confirmed that the team spent months in Allen County investigating cases.  

“[The Attorney General’s Office] did a fantastic job for us but at the end it still wasn’t enough to prosecute,” she said. “You’ve either got to have really good circumstantial evidence or really good eyewitnesses.” 

Richards did not indicate what was lacking in Campbell and Smith’s cases. When asked about the 2016 shooting death of Scroggins and the triple homicide at Sports and Spirits bar, she denied they were included in the Attorney General’s investigation.  

“We only sent two cases,” said Richards.

Multiple sources with the Fort Wayne Police Department told WANE 15 there were at least four. 

Background on the homicide cases in question

2017 Killings at East Central Tower and Gardens – Eddie Campbell, 39, was shot multiple times at East Central Tower Apartments on Aug. 4, 2017. First responders found Campbell slumped over in a wheelchair outside the front entrance of the apartment building around 1:10 a.m. He was pronounced dead at the scene. 

Spencer Smith, 20, would meet the same fate on Aug. 19, 2017. Fort Wayne Police responded to several reports of shots fired around 1:30 a.m. When officers arrived, they found Smith near a building suffering from apparent gunshot wounds. He was taken to the hospital where he later died. 

Investigators believe they know who killed them and they believe there is a link between the two cases. 

2016 Killing of 14-year-old on Lillie Street – A home surveillance video captured the moments before Nick Scroggins, 14, was shot and killed on Lillie Street on June 21. Scroggins was found shot in the middle of the street around 4:20 a.m. He was taken to the hospital in critical condition where he was later pronounced dead. 

2016 Sports and Spirits Triple homicide – Three men were killed and two other people were injured in a shooting at the Sports and Spirits Bar that once sat along East Wayne Street. Fort Wayne Police were called before 2:30 a.m. on a report of shots fired. Nicholas Powers, 30; Demario Burnett, 21; and Jerry Coleman, 31 died of gunshot wounds. Two children were taken privately to a hospital and were in good condition. 

The bar, which had been plagued with violence, was demolished a year later. 

A look at how many homicides are ‘cleared’

Fort Wayne Police Department’s homicide detectives said they continue to work every angle to bring justice for victim’s families.  A case is considered “cleared” if police make an arrest, identify a suspect, or the act was considered to be in self-defense. WANE 15 obtained homicide records from the Fort Wayne Police Department.

  • In 2015, there were 29 homicides; 13 were cleared.
  • In 2016, the city’s deadliest year on record, there were 48 homicides; 25 were cleared.
  • In 2017, there were 41 homicides; 16 were cleared.
  • In 2018, there were 46 homicides; 24 were cleared.
  • In 2019, there were 29 homicides; 24 were cleared.

“If you’re not getting the results that you want it’s certainly not from lack of effort from the police department,” said Hughes. “I can’t promise that homicides are going to decline or that we are going to solve every case that comes to us but I promise we are going to try like hell. We just need the community to keep doing what they’re doing and bring us information. If they do their part we promise we’ll do ours.” 

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