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Homicides highlight crime conference

MEDFORD — The grimmest of subjects dominated the inaugural Southern Oregon Major Crimes Conference Thursday at Medford's Red Lion Hotel.

Veteran investigators from local agencies along with others from across the country walked more than 100 visiting police officers through the nitty-gritty of infamous homicide investigations.

"We intend to offer this every September until we run out of energy or interest," Jackson County sheriff's Detective Sgt. Colin Fagan said. "We don't see interest waning anytime soon because agencies from around Oregon have expressed excitement over the conference."

The major topic of the day was high-profile homicides, two of which involved children.

However, the first presentation was by Medford police Deputy Chief Tim George and Lt. Tim Doney. They teamed up to outline the convoluted pursuit of Robert Acremant, currently on death row for the murders of couple Roxanne Ellis and Michelle Abdill in 1995.

Doney and George highlighted the twists and turns of the case while giving those in attendance pointers on how to avoid some of the traps they fell into in the early stages of the investigation.

The double murder made national news and became a staple on true crime television shows.

"This is the first time we have presented the full meal deal on the Abdill-Ellis homicide," George said. "There was a lot of work that went into this and I hope they can learn something from it."

The presentation ended with disturbing audioclips taken by Medford police of Acremant bragging about the murders.

George encouraged the visiting officers to share contact information with each other and trade stories of interesting cases.

"People underestimate the value of relationships and discussions you make in your field," George said. "I guarantee that at some point this weekend, someone will learn something useful from another person."

Afterward, retired Arlington, Texas, police Sgt. Mark Simpson described the trials he faced while investigating the death of 9-year-old Amber Hagerman in 1996.

Hagerman was abducted while riding her bicycle in Arlington by a suspect driving a black pickup truck. Her body was found four days later in a ditch. Her murder has not been solved. The case inspired the national AMBER Alert system that is put into effect when children are abducted.

Simpson took the crowd carefully through the early hours of the investigation, during which he believes detectives missed golden opportunities to potentially solve the case.

"Most mistakes are made early in investigations," he said. "Sometimes you only get one shot."

Simpson followed the Hagerman case with another involving a murdered Texas child. He was happy to report the murder of 6-year-old Opal Jennings in 1999 was solved through diligent police work and lessons learned from the Hagerman killing three years earlier.

"I give about 15 of these presentations a year," Simpson said. "I want to give people an idea of what you might go through during a major investigation."

Simpson was called to Jackson County last year to review the Kaelin Glazier murder.

The conference will continue today with a lecture from retired Chicago Police Department investigator Brian Killacky, who will discuss strategies on cold-case homicides.

The proceeds from the conference will go to the Jackson County Children's Advocacy Center.

"We hope to do some good through these terrible things we see as homicide investigators," Fagan said.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 776-4471; or e-mail cconrad@mailtribune.com.