It was an early spring morning in March 2008 when Charlotte police made a gruesome discovery: Four people shot dead in a top-floor apartment. The bodies were "riddled with bullets," yet nobody reported hearing gunshots.
The apartment complex, in the Montclaire South neighborhood, had been a crime hotspot for years. Many of the other units were vacant at the time of the killings, leaving police with little to follow up on.
Despite arrest, details still foggy
Now, nearly 11 years later, police made the first arrest in the case. They have charged a 32-year-old suspect with four counts of murder (and two counts of marijuana-related charges).
Few details have been released. Police have confirmed it's still an active investigation, and they're confident the suspect didn't act alone.
It's unclear what the victims - one woman and three men, aged 31 to 46 - were doing in the apartment at that early hour. Three of the victims were local. One was from New York. Police have implied that the killings may have been drug-related, stating that the four were believed to be linked to a "lifestyle that put them in jeopardy."
The challenges of prosecuting cold cases
Prosecutors often face challenges in prosecuting cold cases like these. A decade or more later, witnesses may have moved or died. Memories fade. Evidence deteriorates or gets lost. Leads become more and more futile.
While DNA evidence can play a key role in cold cases, in shootings like this one, killers rarely leave behind much DNA. And without biological evidence, the "CSI effect" - that is, heightened expectations of rock-solid physical evidence - makes jurors more likely to doubt the prosecution's case.
More often, it's new witnesses who make or break these cases. Someone close to the killer may finally decide years later to come forward. In gang- or drug-related cases, shifting politics and rivalries may lead to new informants willing to divulge compelling details.