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PUTTING CUFFS ON HOMICIDE MURDER RATE FALLS HERE AS ARRESTS RISE

It's getting harder to get away with murder in Buffalo.

More and more killers and accused killers can vouch for that.

Charles Hubbard knows firsthand.

For six years, he was the prime suspect in the stabbing death of Michele Muniz at her Linwood Avenue home. But Hubbard managed to elude authorities.

His luck ran out earlier this year, when Canadian police apprehended him after he was involved in a domestic dispute with a woman in the Toronto area. He was turned over to Buffalo homicide detectives and confessed to killing Miss Muniz.

Benjamin Riley knows it, too.

Twelve years ago, Lynn R. Spandau was raped and fatally stabbed in her Berkshire Avenue home. Several months ago, Riley was charged with killing her after DNA tests -- unavailable at the time of the slaying -- linked him to the crime.

These cases are included in a rising statistical wave of Buffalo murder arrests, while the number of city slayings steadily plummets.

For the first six months of this year, 22 killings were recorded in Buffalo. Homicide detectives made 18 arrests, translating into an arrest rate of 82 percent. The national clearance rate on homicides is about 65 percent.

During all of last year, 47 slayings occurred, and 31 homicide arrests were made, for a 66 percent arrest rate.

The prior year, 59 people were slain, and 26 arrests were made, for a 44 percent clearance rate.

Several reasons account for police solving more homicides. To start, fewer killings mean detectives have more time to focus on cases. Additionally, high-tech DNA and ballistics tests performed by the Erie County Central Police Services laboratory are helping break more cases.

But Judy Rodriguez, a close friend of Miss Muniz, will tell you it is the dedication and persistence of the Buffalo Homicide Bureau's detectives.

"It took time for the pieces to fall together. The detectives were sharp. They knew right away Hubbard did it, but you need patience and faith," Miss Rodriguez said.

Miss Rodriguez, employed as an
Erie County 911 telephone complaint taker, said she was certain it was only a matter of time before Hubbard found himself in trouble again with a woman.

"There's a pattern with men who are violent against women, and once they fall into it, it's hard to fall out of it," she said, referring to Hubbard.

He had been hiding in Canada but had attracted the attention of authorities there after a woman called them to say he had been abusive toward her. A records check showed he was wanted in Buffalo.

Improved lines of communication within the Police Department and outside it with members of the community also play an important role in solving homicides.

"Our homicide clearance rate is the highest it's been in seven years, and the credit goes to our skilled investigators. There's a lot more communication between them and other squads, a better sharing of information, a team approach," Police Commissioner Rocco J. Diina said. "That's what solves cases."

Despite the drop in homicides, which has continued into 1998, Capt. Joseph Riga, Homicide Bureau chief, said the number of investigations conducted by his staff has increased.

That's because the bureau not only investigates homicides, but also suspicious deaths, accidental deaths and suicides.

"We had a total of 204 cases last year, and that comes out to 17 cases for each of our 12 investigators," Riga said.

But not every case gets solved.

For more than two months, Tammy Chaney has lived with this painful reality.

Her 20-year-old brother, Rahsaan M. Jones, was fatally shot outside his family's Florida Street home on June 12.

It's a difficult case.

There apparently were no witnesses, and the crime was committed in the middle of a rainy night when no one was looking out their windows, police said.

Miss Chaney has been going around her neighborhood posting fliers seeking information on her brother's killer. Several days later, she said, the posters were removed.

To help move the case along, the bereaved sister has scraped together a $1,000 reward for the arrest and conviction of Jones' killer.

"My brother was killed for no reason at all. So we all wonder what kind of person would do this," Miss Chaney said. "My brother was a kid with high goals and dreams, and now all the dreams will never be fulfilled."

The slaying remains under active investigation.

"In a lot of cases, information comes forward later, and all we need is a tiny bit of information to lead us in the right direction. No one should ever lose hope," Riga said.

Miss Chaney says that the high rate of arrests in city homicides is something to be encouraged by and that she has not lost hope.

"We just want closure," she said.

So do police.

As for Miss Rodriguez, she says she has been unable to visit Miss Muniz's grave since the 1992 funeral.

"I made myself a promise I wouldn't go back to the cemetery until Hubbard was brought to justice," Miss Rodriguez said.

"It doesn't bring her back. But, dear God, it's bringing closure, and now, after six years, I'll finally be able to go back to the cemetery."

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