Possible new evidence in seven-year old murder investigation

Nov 30, 2017, 6:33 PM

SOUTH SALT LAKE – Could it be the “big break” in the cold case murder of prominent book dealer Sherry Black?  Investigators believe they have a composite sketch of a man who they believe may have killed Black seven years ago.

Plus, family members of the victim are boosting their reward from $50 thousand to a quarter of a million dollars.

The sketch was made by Parabon Nanolabs from Virginia. Investigators say they can take the DNA from the crime scene, and the lab will determine that person’s ancestry along with things like skin color and hair color.  Unified Police Detective Ben Pender says the suspect’s DNA showed his ancestry is 46 percent west African and 34 percent north European.  “Generally speaking, the suspect has more European ancestry than most African-Americans do,” Pender says.  The composite sketch of the suspect shows him having brown or light brown skin, brown or black eyes, black hair and no freckles.  Three composites were made, showing the suspect at how he may look at different ages.

Pender says this composite is not necessarily a 100 percent likeness of the suspect.  There are certain things like weight, facial hair or scars that can’t be predicted through the DNA sample.  However, he says this kind of testing has proven to be effective, helping investigators in Texas solve a murder there.  “They’ve even done a lot of ‘known samples.’  They would send somebody’s [DNA] sample in, who they already know, and you can see the likeness of that individual.”

Black’s daughter, Heidi Miller, says the past seven years have been filled with ups and downs when it comes to this case.  She tries to stay optimistic, but, she won’t be satisfied until an arrest is made.  However, she says the officers have been dedicated since the killing.  Miller says, “If we never find the person and they continue to work as hard as they can, that’s as much as I can ask.”

She’s also hoping the increased reward would convince people who have been quiet about the murder to come forward.  “That’s a lot of money and, hopefully, somebody who knows something will think, ‘That’s enough that it could change my life.  I’m willing to give up what I know for that,” Miller says.

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