Baltimore homicide closure rate near 50 percent, but figure is complicated

The Baltimore police rate of closed homicides stands at about 49 percent for the year — but that doesn't mean half of this year's killings have been solved.

About a quarter of this year's killings have resulted in handcuffs and charges against a suspect. The rest of the closed cases are killings that occurred in previous years and for which a suspect was only arrested this year. The total even includes cases in which no one was arrested at all.

Here's how it works.

FBI crime reporting guidelines call for police departments to count all cases "closed" by police in a given year — regardless of the year the killings occurred — in that year's rate of closed cases. Half of this year's solved cases are from killings committed in prior years. That includes eight cases from last year, two from 2015 and one from 2014.

The clearance rate also include cases "closed by exception." That's a term for cases administratively closed when a suspect — who police believe they have enough evidence to charge — dies or is unavailable for other reasons.

At least five of this year's "closed by exception" cases involve suspects who were themselves recent murder victims.

Among the cases recently closed by exception was the 2002 stabbing death of 73-year-old Herbert Forrest in an apartment building in the 500 block of Dolphin St. The suspect in Forrest's death, Earline Thomas, 53, was one of two people fatally stabbed in March in an apartment in the 2400 block of St. Paul St., police said.

Police also recently closed the fatal shooting last July of well-known rapper Tyriece "Lor Scoota" Watson. Police confirmed in October that the prime suspect in Watson's killing, 22-year-old Cortez Mitchell, had been gunned down, and Watson's killing was formally closed in February.

The named suspect in the Dec. 31, 2012, killing of Dewey Hampton in the 6000 block of Marjorie Lane isn't dead, but in January, Ronald Cornish was sentenced to life in prison for another killing. Instead of pursuing charges against Cornish, police are administratively closing Hampton's case.

Another case not yet closed by exception but which police recently said will be is the fatal shooting of Shahidah Barnes on Easter Sunday. Baltimore County police found her husband, Deron Deandre Barnes, dead later that night, and city police say he was their sole suspect. Because he can't be charged, the case is closed by exception.

—Justin Fenton

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