TV show helps solve 1996 murder case

Robert Smith

Thanks to the generosity of a TV cop show, the real cops in Osage County have been able to develop what they believe is a strong case in an unresolved killing from 1996.

Dale Hunter, an investigator for the Osage County Sheriff’s Office, detailed in an interview Friday how the television show “Cold Justice” provided the Sheriff’s Office with the financial support necessary to complete in perhaps 5-6 weeks a volume of witness interviews and other casework regarding three “cold cases” that might otherwise have taken a year and a half, or even two years.

“Cold Justice” helped the Osage County Sheriff Office take a fresh look at three separate cases. One of those is the 1996 homicide in which a warrant has been issued and served. A second investigation is anticipated to soon result in a warrant being issued, and a third case investigation did not result in evidence that would support a prosecution, Hunter said.

Among other things, “Cold Justice” made available expert legal advice to help guide Osage County investigators as they built their cases, Hunter said. Additionally, a fully accredited laboratory facility in Salt Lake City was available to process evidence samples.

The expense and the effort have brought results. In the 1996 killing of Joannie Goodwin, 18, which was previously unresolved, a suspect has been arrested by authorities in Colorado County, Texas, and is being held pending extradition, Hunter said. He identified the suspect in Goodwin’s death as Cherri Brooks Miller.

A first-degree murder warrant for Miller’s arrest has been issued, served and returned, Hunter said.

Joannie Goodwin is believed by authorities to have died in the early hours of Sept. 21, 1996, following a night out with friends. She was last seen about 3 a.m. Sept. 21, Hunter said. Her body was found Sept. 29 by a fisherman along Bird Creek. She had been shot. Though witnesses were interviewed immediately after Goodwin’s death, the case remained a puzzle.

About a decade after Goodwin’s death, and long before Eddie Virden was elected Osage County sheriff, Virden reopened and reinvestigated the death and made headway in it, but the case eventually stalled during grand jury proceedings, Hunter said.

When “Cold Justice” made it possible to look at the death of Joannie Goodwin again, in the past few months, there was a lot of work to do. Hunter said there were 40-50 people to interview, and those interviews led to others. Eventually, no single interview made all the difference, he said.

“It’s a collection of everybody’s stories,” Hunter said. He worked the case along with Investigator Kevin Burke.