12/02/2011 04:03 pm ET Updated Feb 01, 2012

No Time to Spare

It was around 2 a.m. on Sept. 21 in Rio Vista, Texas when Johnson County deputies responded to a burglary and assault call near 7600 County Road 1202.

Unaware of what had occurred only moments before, the deputies soon discovered Robert Eugene Warren's lifeless, beaten body on the floor on his home. Warren was murdered and died from being beaten in the head repeatedly.

It was 2:06 a.m. when Warren was pronounced dead, but investigators couldn't wait until sunrise to begin processing the crime scene because for them, time isn't necessarily on their side.

When it comes to solving a criminal investigation, the likelihood of solving it decreases after the first 48 hours.

Evidence can wash away, evidence can disappear, witnesses can forget details within the first few hours and the longer it takes to pinpoint suspects, the greater the chance becomes they'll leave the area and never be found, said Troy Fuller, JCSO criminal investigative division captain.

"Have you ever seen that show '48 hours?' Well, it's not too far from the truth," he said. "What you do within the first 48 can help set you up for a positive outcome."

The first 48 hours may only be a guideline but it's seen over and over that the first two days are most critical for collecting the information needed for any investigation.

Within 48 hours, JCSO made its first two arrests in the investigation, capturing two men allegedly associated with Warren's murder.

"We processed the crime scene for about 12 to 13 hours," said Fuller, who has worked in the criminal investigation division for 15 years. "Our initial work and interviews led us to capturing the first two men and identifying the third."

However, Fuller said in many cases it can take weeks, months and years of evidence collection and witness interviews before a detective can identify a suspect.

Because saving time is important to solving a crime, the JCSO is working on moving to a new records management system that will allow the office to operate more efficiently. The office is looking to move to completely paperless to help manage the stacks of records and investigation reports that could potentially overwhelm any deputy.

"We just started working with it at the end of October, and it's basically helping us make the switch to a paperless system," Fuller said. "Making the switch to a paperless system means less lost time and taking better care of the citizens of Johnson County."

Fuller said though the new system is still in its infancy, it will help detectives gain precious time by it making easier for supervisors to make assignments.

"It's all automated," he said. "Now when a call comes in, the report goes straight into the system instead going down on paper, then to us, then into a computer and then back on paper. As you can see, there were a lot of unnecessary steps."

While the first two days are critical, sometimes it takes long hours and dedication past that time to work through cases in which the criminal was careful to leave very little evidence or the crime isn't reported for several days after it was committed.

Sometimes cases that have gone "cold" because of the lack of evidence or eyewitnesses are solved many years later because when new evidence is found.

- John D. Harden

Read more here at The Cleburne Times-Review