Technology leads to arrest in 17-year-old cold case

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A young life was cut short on March 17, 1991, when the body of Jessica Lynn Keen was discovered in the Foster Chapel Cemetery in Jefferson Township, Madison County. It was determined that Jessica had been sexually assaulted before her death and had tried to escape her attacker by running into the cemetery. The cause of her death was blunt force trauma to her head and body.

Keen had been staying at the Huckleberry House, a group home for teenagers in the Short North area of Columbus, when she disappeared on March 15, 1991. The young girl was last seen walking from the home toward a bus stop and had told residents she was going shopping.

During the course of the longtime investigation, numerous people were interviewed and tested, but evidence disproved that any of her friends or acquaintances had anything to do with her disappearance. Although DNA evidence had been obtained during the initial investigation, the evidence could not be linked to a known suspect.  

With the original evidence resubmitted, a match recently was made to a suspect in North Carolina. It is a result of modern technology, forensic expertise, and the crucial database known as CODIS (Combined DNA Index System), a federally based system that draws from local, state and national databases of profiles from convicted offenders, unsolved crime scene evidence, and missing persons. It allows the Ohio Attorney General’s Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation, based in London, the opportunity to com-pare and exchange DNA profiles to assist local law enforcement in solving crimes.

“The success of CODIS, along with the patience and vigorous dedication of Madison County Sheriff Jim Sabin, our BCI&I Laboratory, and BCI Special Agent Gregg Costas truly demonstrate how possible it is to make progress in solving one-time cold cases and help bring justice for the victims of violent crimes and their families,” said Attorney General Marc Dann.

“Perseverance, technology and patience continue to be the elements that have sustained this case and kept Jessica Keen in our hearts and minds,” said Sheriff Sabin. “With this new evidence, investi-gators can begin a new direction of probing, interviewing and testing. As technology continues to evolve, victims and families of unsolved cases should maintain the hope of a similar outcome.”

The suspect has been identified as Marvin Lee Smith Jr., born on Nov. 11, 1956. Smith has previously served a three-year sentence for an attempted kidnapping and rape convictions. Those convic-tions are unrelated to the Jessica Keen case. Smith, who is now in North Carolina, resided in the Short North area of Colum-bus during the time Keen disappeared.  

Based on the new evidence, Smith has been charged with “corruption of a minor,” a felony. He was arrested on March 28, 2008, in Alamance County, N.C., where he is being held pending extradition.  

Keen’s family issued the following statement regarding the arrest: “We, as a family, are deeply encouraged by these de-velopments. Please respect our family’s privacy as the investigation follows its course. Any further inquiries should be made to the Madison County Sheriff’s Office or the Madison County Prosecutor’s Office.”

Anyone who knew or was familiar with Marvin L. Smith Jr. during his time in Columbus is urged to contact the Madison County Sheriff’s Office at 614-879-9057.

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