The Justice Files: Testing a theory

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SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Utah) – A man serving a life sentence for a 1986 murder always claimed he was innocent.

Forrest Whittle is serving a life sentence for the murder of Lisa Strong, but now an independent group is reviewing the case to see if the jury got it right.

This week, the Utah Cold Case Coalition posted a video of their investigation.

“We’re trying to figure out what happened some 35 years after the fact..” said Jason Fries with 3D Forensic on the coalition’s video.  “(We are) capturing three-dimensional data to see what happened.”

On May 12, 1986, Salt Lake City police found Lisa Strong murdered on a street corner near 800 East and Kensington Avenue.  She had been shot in the head while walking home. Police at the time called it a random shooting. 

Their investigation eventually linked the casings to a handgun used in two other unsolved murders at the time.

But it took nearly 10 years before Forest Whittle, a known gang member was arrested and charged with Strong’s murder.

After his arrest, Forest Whittle spoke with ABC4 from prison.

“I have never hurt anybody,” Whittle told the reporter. “I never killed anybody.  I am not that kind of guy, don’t believe in violence.  I made mistakes when I was a kid and I am sorry.”

During his trial, another Salt Lake detective claims Whittle didn’t do it. He testified for the defense and claimed the shots came from someone in a car.

But there was sufficient evidence for a jury to find Whittle guilty of Strong’s murder.  Whittle claimed he was framed.

“They don’t have a weapon,” Whittle said.  “They have nothing to tie me (to the murder) except for a couple of guys.  What do I have to do to prove I am innocent?”

Authorities were never able to prove Whittle was behind the murders of Tina Gallegos and Carla Maxwell who both were murdered prior to the shooting of Strong.  To date, those murders remain unsolved.

That’s why the cold case coalition is reviewing the trajectory of the gunfire.  They gathered at the crime scene and found that some of the actual bullet holes were still visible on the front steps. 

“Did she get shot from the corner on foot,” asked Jason Jensen another coalition member.  “Or did it come from a vehicle?”  

Back then, some members of the police department claimed it was a drive by shooting and even offered a description of the car.  But those police officers were discredited and disciplined for going public with their theories.

“If we know there are competing theories we will certainly analyze both of them equally,” said Fries on the video.  “But we also try to find out where the data will lead us to.  The data may show us that those two theories don’t go at all.”

From Whittle’s 1995 interview:

Reporter:  “Did you kill Lisa Strong?”
Whittle: “No.” 
Reporter: “Did you kill any of the others, Tina Gallegos?”
Whittle: “No.”
Reporter: “Or Carla Maxwell?”
Whittle: “No.”  

During Whittle’s trial, one witness told the jury she saw him run past her moments after the shooting.  She was able to confirm it was Whittle while on the stand.

The results of the ballistic testing have not been completed.

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