13 Unsolved: COVID-19 complicates cold case of Pasadena man killed 15 years ago

PASADENA, Texas (KTRK) -- COVID-19 has changed the way police investigate crime, and that means, some cold cases are getting colder.

Across the country, plain-clothes detectives have had to put their patrol uniforms back on, covering for officers out sick with coronavirus. Here in Texas, investigators tell us they've had to pivot, figuring out new ways to interview suspects and witnesses, while keeping their distance.

Can police solve cold cases during a pandemic? Or will victims have to wait even longer for justice?

Fifteen years ago, James Andrews was murdered on his front lawn in Pasadena, three days before Christmas.

UNSOLVED: Father killed on front lawn before Christmas

"It seemed like time just stood still," said Sarah Andrews, James' ex-wife.

One year ago, James' family sat down with Eyewitness News to talk about that deadly day, for the first time.

"It took a lot of my innocence away," said Hailey Andrews, James' daughter.

She was 9 when her father was shot and killed.

Fifteen Christmases have passed. This family has spent 15 winters wondering: when will the killer be caught?

Pasadena police have given ABC13 unprecedented access to James' case. Last year, Det. Chris MacGregor laid out all the evidence: crime scene photos, the fatal bullet, even James' bloodstained clothing.

No one ever saw the killer. But someone knows something, MacGregor is convinced.

When we first aired James' story, the hope was someone would work up the courage to come forward. But no news tips came in. And then, COVID-19 hit Texas hard. Progress on James' case didn't happen. In fact, anonymous tips police depend on have slowed down big time. Detectives have had to change how they investigate.

"We're trying to get innovative and say, 'Okay, how can we generate tips and so forth?'" MacGregor said.

In March, as COVID-19 cases surged, MacGregor was working a series of unsolved rape cases from 1999. He was traveling and interviewing, and then, that had to stop. He pivoted.

"Let's start looking into the information that was gathered during it to see if we can further along this cold case," MacGregor said. "Is there still stuff that we can resubmit?"

He went back to the evidence and looked at items that could be retested for DNA and cell phone records that could be reanalyzed using new technology. Some items have been resubmitted to labs.

"Once we get the logistics done, we'll start traveling again to re-interview the victims if they want to reopen this," MacGregor said.

All interviews haven't stopped, but most are on hold. It's not ideal to interrogate a suspect through a mask or via video call. It's hard to get a good read on the person.

If a suspect or potential witness is incarcerated, detectives won't interview the person until coronavirus is contained in the jails.

"It's why we're not going to the jails right now," MacGregor said. "There's a couple people we want to interview in the jails in Harris County, but naturally, what are the primary places we're finding issues with? The jails."

13 Investigates: Texas hits another weekly high in COVID-19 cases

As COVID-19 cases keep rising in Texas, it's fair to wonder: will cold case investigations take a backseat?

James Andrews' family has waited 15 years for justice. How much longer can they wait?

"We never stop working," MacGregor said.

If you know anything about James' unsolved murder, or any cold case Pasadena police are working, call investigators at 713-477-1221.

To watch more of Courtney's in-depth cold case series, "13 Unsolved," check this YouTube playlist.

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