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San Jose, Calif.—It’s hard to ignore the bookshelf at the back of Charles Constantinides’ sixth-floor office. It is stacked with boxes marked with big black lettering. They look like they should hold personnel files or tax records, but Constantinides, a Santa Clara County deputy district attorney, explains that each box represents a homicide victim whose murder remains unsolved. Some cases are decades old, but none, Constantinides assures, are forgotten. “This is my favorite case,” he said, pointing to a lump of papers near his desk. “It’s almost solved.” Constantinides, an expert in criminal law and a dominating presence in the courtroom, has temporarily given up trial work in favor of some full-time detective work. He is part of the DA’s new cold case unit, a two-person team that recently announced it had suspects in three notorious murder mysteries, including the 1988 stabbing death of prominent Palo Alto, Calif., defense attorney Gretchen Burford. Constantinides is teamed with Michael Schembri, a 28-year veteran of the San Jose Police Department who became an investigator with the DA’s office seven years ago. The unit was created in March to offer investigative assistance to county law enforcement agencies. “We aren’t supplanting what [police] are doing. We are there to lend support. It’s like an assembly line,” Chief Assistant DA Karyn Sinunu said recently. Sinunu started floating the idea late last year as a way to close the gap on the county’s roughly 300 unsolved murder cases, some of which date back to the 1940s. “We are pretty excited about it here,” said Lieutenant Luther Pugh, who is in charge of investigative services for the Santa Clara County sheriff’s office. Pugh is grateful the DA is willing to put the energy into trying to solve these old homicides. He admits the sheriff’s office simply doesn’t have the manpower to give cold cases the attention they deserve. With only one detective assigned to cold cases, Pugh said, his department is stretched pretty thin and is gladly turning to the DA for support. What makes Santa Clara County’s cold case unit unique, Sinunu said, is that the DA isn’t waiting for the crime lab to come back with a DNA hit. Constantinides and Schembri are approaching police departments to see whether they need help or extra manpower to solve old homicides. Sinunu said she doesn’t think there is another DA’s office in California with a similar setup. With three cases solved, Constantinides and Schembri said last week that they are close to cracking three others.

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