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Police have suspect in 2000 Ore. teen slaying

| June 25, 2010 2:30 PM

A decade after she vanished, police say they have a suspect in the disappearance and death of a 15-year-old girl on the Oregon coast.

"I'm confident we've identified a suspect in this case," Coquille Police Chief Mark Dannels told a news conference Friday at City Hall.

Leah Freeman disappeared June 28, 2000, just before her boyfriend was scheduled to pick her up. The case was treated as a possible runaway until the girl's bloody shoe was found a few days later in a cemetery near Coquille High School.

Her other blood-spattered shoe was found on a dirt road far out of town before her body was discovered about a month later down a steep embankment off a curving country road.

Coos County District Attorney R. Paul Frasier said Friday he plans to ask Presiding Judge Richard Barron to appoint a grand jury specifically for the case.

Frasier hopes to meet with the jurors once or twice a week to review the facts during hearings expected to take two to three months, with more than 100 witnesses.

He declined to identify the suspect or give more details.

'We're not going to arrest anybody until the grand jury tells us," Frasier said.

Cory Courtright, Leah's mother, said she hopes someone will finally pay for her daughter's death.

"I'm just going to keep my fingers crossed and pray that everything turns out the way it should," Courtright told The World newspaper in Coos Bay. "Do I think they'll solve this case? Yeah, I do. I hope so, anyway."

Since Dannels and Frasier announced they had reopened the case six months ago, the investigation has involved a team of 35 law officers, representing nearly every police department in Coos County, including the Oregon State Police, the Coos County sheriff's office and the Department of Justice.

The team has re-examined more than 100 pieces of evidence and countless hours of investigation, a statement said. The Coquille Police Department alone has spent more than $42,000 on overtime and $7,000 for travel and other costs.

Frasier said he's been up nights with about 5,500 pages of documents.

"We haven't been sitting on our hands, that's for sure," Frasier said.

Officers have visited Washington, Arizona, Utah, Colorado and London's New Scotland Yard since the investigation began in 2000.

During the most recent round of investigation, Frasier and Dannels presented the case in January to the Vidocq Society, a crime-solving organization based in Philadelphia. According to its website, Vidocq members "evaluate, investigate, refocus, revivify and solve the unsolved deaths officially brought to them."

While the group didn't solve the case, the society members gave local investigators some ideas on how to re-approach it, Frasier said.

Investigators have refused to reveal how Leah died. Her death certificate lists her cause of death in general terms: homicidal violence. Frasier and Dannels said details have been kept confidential to help weed out false tips.

Her mother hopes it will all finally come to an end.

"Ten years is a long time for a family to have to endure this kind of pain with no answers. But we still have to go on," Courtright said. "She deserves justice and she deserves to be remembered and honored on days like the day she disappeared."

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