When a Piedmont mother was found dead in her mobile home in 2003, authorities initially said she died of unknown causes.
But more than a decade later, a fresh investigation into the cold case uncovered evidence that points to a homicide, Calhoun County authorities announced Tuesday.
Deborah Kirkpatrick, 22 was found dead with a gunshot wound to the head on June 3, 2003. Her 22-month-old son was also in the home at the time she died, but was unharmed.
The Piedmont Police Department and Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences originally investigated the case and said Kirkpatrick died from an "undetermined" cause of death.
But there were questions from the beginning, specifically about the crime scene, Calhoun County District Attorney Brian McVeigh said in a news conference on Tuesday.
The story that was being put forward didn't match the forensics that were there, McVeigh said.
Almost immediately after Deborah died, her husband Randall Kirkpatrick, now 33, moved to Tennessee and has lived there ever since.
Randall Kirkpatrick's activities after his wife's death also weren't consistent with a grieving spouse, the DA added.
Deborah's sister, Ann Parris, says Deborah was planning to leave Randall before she died.
"She was actually fixing to leave him because of the things he was doing. She didn't want her son in that environment or herself," Parris said.
For years, the case was considered inconsistent, strange and undetermined, according to McVeigh.
But a few months ago, Calhoun County's cold case unit decided to reopen the case in hopes of making a final conclusion about how Deborah Kirkpatrick died.
After months of hard work and interviewing witnesses, investigators developed evidence that Deborah Kirkpatrick died as a result of a homicide, Calhoun County Sheriff Larry Amerson announced Tuesday.
The witnesses interviewed included people who lived in the same mobile home park where the Kirkpatricks lived back in 2003, as well as other people who had insight into the case.
McVeigh said other evidence was developed that provided a potential motive, but he did not give any further details. He said more evidence will likely be released in court once Randall Kirkpatrick has a hearing.
The cold case unit worked together with the Calhoun County District Attorney's Office and presented evidence to a grand jury.
A Calhoun County grand jury indicted Randall Kirkpatrick on June 20.
Kirkpatrick was arrested on June 27 in Dyersburg, Tennessee. He's being held in the Dyer County Jail on no bond, classified as a "pretrial felon." He is in the process of being extradited back to Calhoun County.
Calhoun County authorities have not yet interviewed Kirkpatrick despite multiple attempts to speak with him, Sheriff Amerson said.
McVeigh specifically thanked the Center for Applied Forensics at JSU for their assistance with the case. He said they helped reconstruct the crime scene which helped officials determine Deborah died in a homicide.
McVeigh also spoke to the challenges specific to cold cases, including witnesses that have died or moved away and the logistics of maintaining evidence properly.
"Anytime you have a case that has that amount of age on it, you worry about apathy both in the community and in law enforcement. Luckily, the cold case unit takes a look at these cases regardless of age to determine if there's any evidence there," McVeigh said.
"Cases like these allow a murderer to walk free among us," Sheriff Amerson said. "It's our duty and responsibility whenever we possibly can to bring closure to that case, closure to the family and to bring justice to those victims who can no longer speak for themselves."
Ann Parris says her family pressed investigators to continuing looking into her sister's death for years. She says it took a toll on the family.
"I don't expect closure out of it. I do expect justice but I think now it wll start healing some of the broken pieces," Parris said.
The Calhoun County Sheriff's Office, Cleburne County DA's office, Calhoun County DA's office and Piedmont Police Department worked together to investigate the cold case.
If a suspect is convicted in Deborah Kirkpatrick's death, this would be the 13th homicide case the cold case unit has cleared since it began in 2000, Sheriff Amerson said.
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