Georgia’s governor on Friday signed legislation creating a cold-case unit within the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
The law earmarks $5.4 million for the entity’s creation. In addition, law enforcement agencies statewide must provide the bureau with an accurate count of unsolved homicides and allow families to obtain timely death certificates in those cases.
The Coleman-Baker Act was named after University of Georgia law student Tara Baker, who was killed in her home in Athens in January 2001, and 18-year-old Rhonda Sue Coleman, who was killed in her hometown of Hazelhurst. Both murders remain unsolved.
Gov. Brian Kemp, along with his wife Marty, signed the bill into law at the Athens-Clarke County Courthouse, the Athens Banner-Herald reported. Families whose murders of loved ones have become unsolved cases were also present at the signing ceremony.
Kemp told the families that he recognizes that no law can “heal your broken hearts” but said he hopes the new law will help them find justice, the newspaper reported.
“It’s her legacy,” said Baker’s sister, Meredith Baker Schroeder. “This will do exactly what she wanted to do: help people.”
Baker’s mother said the law signaled hope but was aware there may not be immediate justice for her daughter’s murder.
“This bill is not for us,” Virginia Baker said. “This is for other families; Help them. We don’t want people to find themselves in our situation 22 years later.”
Coleman’s parents also said they hope the law can bring comfort to them and others. “It’s a big step, not just for us, but for other cold cases,” said Coleman’s father, Milton Coleman.