KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- A metro family is frustrated, yet determined, after murder charges were dropped in a 1989 cold case.
Sarah De Leon, 18, was killed nearly three decades ago in KCK. Her body was discovered with stab wounds and a head injury alongside some train tracks, and her car was found with its door open.
After an initial investigation, no arrests were made and the case ran cold. It wasn’t until 2014, when KCK detectives cited “new DNA collection and testing technology” as the reason why they reopened the case.
“The partnership with the FBI, West Jordan PD and Sorenson Forensics has allowed us access to cutting edge forensic technology that has permitted us to test samples previously uncontemplated by other methods,” KCK police explained in a press release last year when they revealed they had narrowed in on a suspect and an accomplice.
In October 2016, police arrested Carolyn Heckert of Smithville, Mo. She was charged with first-degree murder in connection with Sarah’s murder, and given a $1 million dollar bond that was later reduced to $500,000.
But last Friday, Wyandotte County Judge Aaron Roberts dropped the murder charge against Heckert, allowing her to walk free after she’s spent the past six months behind bars.
That day FOX 4 reporter Megan Brilley asked Heckert if she killed Sarah, to which her response was, “No comment.”
“I’m mad,” said Sarah’s brother, Matt De Leon, in an exclusive interview with FOX 4 Tuesday. “I mean, I’m angry. I’m not happy with this [justice] system we have.”
Matt called the ruling a “roadblock” and said his fight for justice is far from over.
“Sarah keeps me motivated,” he said. “I mean, this is my sister we`re talking about here, and she`s worth fighting for. We`re not going away. It`s just another roadblock and we will continue to do what we can for Sarah.”
Matt recalled the moment he heard someone had been arrested and charged in the case that’s haunted him his whole life.
“My first emotion was shock,” he said. “I was surprised. I didn’t think that we would ever get to that point. And to hear there was an arrest, I was just totally shocked.”
But that feeling of relief has faded for Sarah’s family since Judge Roberts’ ruling.
“Aaron Roberts obviously has the opposite opinion of the detectives who worked long hours on this case,” Matt said, “the Wyandotte County District Attorneys Dupree and Gorman, the prosecutor, the judge who signed off on the arrest warrant, and the judge who reduced the bail from $1 million to $500,000 when asked to reduce it to $100,000.”
It's unclear exactly which factors led to the judge's decision.
“He said there was plenty of motive, and highly reasonable suspicion,” Matt said. “To me, that’s all we need to know for this to move forward and have a jury decide.”
However, Matt said hearing new details about his sister's brutal murder emerge in court has only motivated him more to push forward.
“When they described that,” he said, “it just really made me understand what kind of person did that, and if that person who did that is going to be on the streets, then they don`t deserve to be there.”
Heckert's defense attorney, John O'Connor, recently told other reporters that Heckert is "elated" the charges were dropped. However, he declined to comment further for this FOX 4 story.