District Attorney Tony Rackauckas Secures $500,000 for Unsolved Homicide Task Force

For Immediate Release
December 18th, 2001

Contact: Tony Rackauckas (714) 347-8405

District Attorney Tony Rackauckas Secures $500,000 for Unsolved Homicide Task Force

SANTA ANA — Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas was successful in securing federal funding in the amount of $500,000 for the District Attorney’s TracKRS program (“Task Force Aimed at Catching Killers, Rapists and Sexual Offenders”).  This project utilizes an information database to compile data on unsolved murders and sexual assault cases.  Using new technology, specifically computer systems and forensics, TracKRS provides a state-of-the art system to link cases with predators.  To compliment the information system, TracKRS offers a multi-agency resource team of experienced investigators to agencies that seek to work and solve their unsolved murder cases.

The funds were made possible through the efforts of Orange County’s congressional delegation including Christopher Cox, Darrell Issa, Gary Miller, Dana Rohrabacher and Loretta Sanchez.  Each Congressmember played a key role in ensuring these funds were earmarked in this year’s Commerce, Justice, State & Judiciary bill.  Congressman Cox stated that he was “pleased that the Congress has recognized the importance of this program’s use of computer forensic information systems to aid law enforcement in finding and prosecuting violent criminals.” Rackauckas added, “It is vital that law enforcement utilize the newest tools and technology to apprehend these vicious perpetrators of crime.  I applaud the efforts of Orange County’s congressional delegation for making this possible.”

Since its inception in 1996, TracKRS has shown itself to be an effective resource for law enforcement agencies in Orange County. One of the project’s most notable accomplishments is solving the 20-year-old murder of Simone Sharpe of Seal Beach. Evidence in that case was reexamined by TracKRS in 1998. The Sheriff’s Department crime lab found that Sharpe had been sexually assaulted and was able to obtain DNA from the evidence. On March 20, 2001 a match was made to Benjamin Watta, who was in prison at the time on an attempted murder in Florida. The Orange County case is awaiting trial.

TracKRS was also responsible for the apprehension of a serial rapist.  Steven Morales’ arrest on DNA and fingerprint evidence resulted in 23 counts of sexual assault, five counts of kidnapping, and two counts of burglary in crimes that spanned a seven-month period in 1998 and 1999. The case was filed in 1999. He later pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 101 years in prison.

Currently, the database contains information on 5,000 cases in which the suspects and evidence can be compared to unsolved crimes. The TracKRS unit is currently scrutinizing more than a dozen cases, hoping to find forensic matches that will result in an arrest.

District Attorney Tony Rackauckas has aggressively pursued alternative funding sources for the TracKRS program.  Recently, with the assistance of Assemblyman Lou Correa, the District Attorney’s Office acquired $95,000 in state funding for TracKRS. “This project is essential to enhance public safety and I will continue to provide whatever resources are necessary to increase its capabilities,” Rackauckas said.