Envisioning Justice: The Complex Journey of Cold Case Homicide Survivors

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While police make an arrest in the majority of homicide cases occurring annually in the United States, a portion remain unsolved and are eventually classified as “cold cases.” Family members of the victims are not only left grieving the loss of their loved ones, but also plagued by the knowledge that the murderer has yet to be officially identified or held accountable. How do these family members—cold case homicide survivors—navigate their open-ended journey through grief? Using a social constructivist approach, we analyze in-depth interviews with 24 cold case homicide survivors to describe the unique dimensions of their experience, including how their hopes are tied to understandings of achieving justice for their loved ones. Three themes emerge from their narratives: a certainty that the killers will be identified; a demand for the harshest punishment possible; and an underlying anxiety about what the identification of the offender will ultimately mean for them. We consider the implications of survivors' expectations for the future, especially for their relationships with the police, other family members, and the criminal justice process in general.

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