Trial for suspect in cold case delayed

Man arrested 30 years after 10-year-old girl's killing

Author: Kumasi Aaron, Reporter, weekend anchor, kaaron@wjxt.com
Christopher Yazbec, News editor, News4Jax.com, cyazbec@wjxt.com
Published On: Jan 09 2014 04:30:45 PM EST   Updated On: Jan 09 2014 08:55:20 PM EST
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -

The family of a Jacksonville girl raped and killed in her apartment complex waited nearly 30 years for an arrest in the case.

Now they'll have to wait a little longer before the man accused will stand trial.

James Jackson, 60, was supposed to have his final pretrial hearing Thursday before jury selection in his trial started Monday, but those dates were pushed back.

Police said Jackson killed 10-year-old Tammy Welch, his neighbor, in 1984, but was only arrested last year when DNA evidence connected him to the crime.

Jackson will continue to be held at the Duval county jail until his next pretrial hearing, which is now scheduled for February.

It's been a long wait for groups like the Justice Coalition, which wrote articles years ago pleading for the public's help in Welch's killing. But the coalition says when Jackson does go to trial, it'll be there to make sure Welch has a voice.

"Little Tammy was an innocent little girl just outside playing," said Ann Dugger, executive director of the Justice Coalition. "How do you take the life of an innocent child? Even though it's taken 29, 30 years later, justice will be served."

Welch and her sister were playing in their apartment complex courtyard when her sister went inside, leaving Tammy alone. When she came out, Tammy was nowhere to be found.

So they searched, finally discovering her body in the courtyard.

Police questioned Jackson repeatedly over the years. He was the family's next door neighbor. He said he'd been asleep, and twice provided DNA samples. In 2012, investigators got a match with evidence from the crime scene. 

"Every little bit of evidence, every little bit of testimony from either witnesses or the suspect during the interview is really important, even in as scenes like this decades later," said Gregory DiFranza, a former Jacksonville police officer.

He said especially with cold cases, DNA technology and, in turn, evidence is key because it's extremely difficult to bring cases to trial without it.

"The evidence just doesn't suggest anything else that we can go to a trial with," DiFranza said. "Now with this type of technology and others that are being developed we can take those cases to trial."

The funding for this investigation came from a Justice Department grant. Dugger hopes more families waiting for answers in cold cases can find justice as technology advances.

"It is amazing, and I hope that they are able to open many more cold cases and have more unsolved murders solved here in Jacksonville and the First Coast," Dugger said.

Even though a date has been set for Jackson's next hearing, a date for his trial has not yet been determined. He has continued to deny any involvement in Welch's killing.