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LOSING ’LETTA - Chapter 5: A brother’s quest

Inquiry about missing sister stirs fresh look at cold case by AMY UPSHAW AND C.S. MURPHY ARKANSAS DEMOCRAT-GAZET | December 10, 2009 at 6:44 a.m.
The bones of a young girl found in 1991 in woods off Archwood Park Road lie in a battered cardboard box (at right) in the state medical examiner’s basement “bone room.” The bones remained undisturbed in the storage closet, located at the west Little Rock state Crime Laboratory, for more than a decade.

Fifth in a series

Carmeletta Green’s younger brother Orlando left Arkansas at age 17 for the military, but his sister’s memory chased him wherever he went.

Orlando was just 11 when Carmeletta vanished from the family’s Little Rock home in September 1982.

Her disappearance is the reason he became a police officer two decades later.

Orlando wanted to keep other brothers from feeling the way he did.

This is part 5 of a 6-part series. View all stories here as they become available.

He and Carmeletta had been close, born just a year apart. On summer days, the pair had busied themselves by transforming a backyard storagebuilding into a neighborhood clubhouse.

Orlando served as president; Carmeletta vice president. She also acted as the club’s fundraiser by picking flowers and selling them to neighbors.

Orlando Green
Orlando Green

They spent hours racing their bikes - hers a pink banana-seat with a flower-adorned basket, his a simpler red - up and down Center Street. Orlando always won.

In the fall of 2001, while training at a police academy in New Jersey, he told instructor Michelle Pollina about his sister’s unsolved disappearance. In addition to her duties at the academy, Pollina worked as a detective in a missing-persons unit.

Their conversation led to a call to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.

Though the center did not have Carmeletta on their public list of missing children, it had a file on her that had been closed in 2000 after an unidentified person with the Little Rock Police Department said the girl had been located and was “fine.”

“We knew nothing different until Orlando went to officer Pollina and asked about his sister,” said Gerald Nance, a supervisor at the center.

In the winter of 2001, Pollina called Steve Moore, a veteran Little Rock homicide detective assigned to the department’s newly created cold-case unit.

Moore searched in vain for Carmeletta’s case file, but it had been misplaced.

He also hunted for the old case’s evidence - a drop of what appeared to be blood and a muddy car jack found in suspect Kenneth Cooney’s car.

The detective could not determine what happened to the blood evidence after it went to the state Crime Lab in the 1980s, before DNA testing was available.

Lab records pulled from storage recently indicate analysis in the case was completed quickly. The lab sent one report to police on Sept. 22, 1982, just 9 days after the evidence was submitted.

As for the jack, it had been destroyed.

What idiot would sign off on that? Moore wondered.

He knew that the police property room sent detectives monthly lists seeking permission to destroy old evidence to clear storage space. For years, the duty of going through the list had fallen to Moore.

But this was a missing child.

A quick search of the records showed Moore that he was the “idiot.”

ATTEMPT TO LOCATE

As Moore tried to figure out why he’d signed off on destroying the jack, he learned that the 1982 incident report on Carmeletta’s disappearance was classified as an “ATL Person,” short for “attempt to locate,” rather than as a “missing child.”

When detective Larry Dunnington filled out a supplemental report three days after Carmeletta disappeared, he also classified it as an attempt-to-locate case. Today, Dunnington doesn’t remember why.

How we got this story

As part of a six-month investigation, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette interviewed 38 people and reviewed dozens of court and police documents to tell Carmeletta Green’s story.

Orlando Green provided details about the time he spent with his sister, as well as his decision about becoming a police officer. Orlando and Gerald Nance with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children provided details about Michelle Pollina’s involvement.

Detective Steve Moore provided details about the case file, evidence and his views on the case. Little Rock police gave the newspaper the original incident report on Carmeletta’s disappearance and the supplemental report, which provided details about the case’s classification.

Crime Laboratory Director Kermit Channell provided information about the mitochondrial DNA testing technology and process.

The DNA test results along with the 2008 letter about them were included in a case file provided by the Pulaski County sheriff’s office.

But in a police officer’s world, the two classifications couldn’t be more different. For one, evidence in a “missing child” case would not be destroyed.

So in the late 1990s, when Moore saw evidence listed in a 1982 attempt-to-locate case, he thought nothing of getting rid of it.

The case file likely was misplaced because for years there were no rules for checking out and returning files.

As a cold-case detective, Moore began the investigation anew in 2002. He talked to the detectives who had worked the case before him. Who might have snatched Carmeletta from her bed?

Dunnington had long believed that Carmeletta likely knew who took her. None of her four brothers or sisters, sleeping in the same room, had stirred.

Detectives explained to Moore that her stepfather, Kenneth, and his adult nephew, Larry Cooney, had been suspects in the case since 1982.

Moore found nothing new that would rule them out.

One of the detectives also told Moore that he believed that skeletal remains foundin 1991 in a wooded area off Archwood Park Road in southern Pulaski County could be Carmeletta’s bones.

Moore was leaning toward the same conclusion, but no DNA test had been done.

That soon changed.

In 2002, the Crime Lab began analyzing mitochondrial DNA, a relatively new forensic tool that uses the portion of a person’s DNA that comes from the mother.

The specialized analysis is most often used to identify skeletal remains.

Pat Calhoun, a longtime case coordinator at the state medical examiner’s office, included the little girl’s bones found on Archwood Park Road as one of 11 sets of remains to be DNA-tested.

Carmeletta was the only unidentified dead child Calhoun knew of in the state.

“There are certain cases, that unless I get Alzheimer’s, I will never forget,” says Calhoun, who is now retired.

The Crime Lab asked Pulaski County Sheriff’s Sgt. Eric Holloway to collect a DNA sample from Carmeletta’s mother, Jackie Cooney.

On June 21, 2002, Holloway met Jackie at a local hospital, where a nurse drew her blood. He also had Jackie rub a cotton swab on the inside of her cheek to collect additional DNA material.

Using the new technology, the lab compared Jackie’s DNA with the bones found on Archwood Park Road.

Moore decided to wait for the test results before he questioned Larry or Kenneth.

But months passed. Then a year.

The cold-case unit disbanded, sending Moore back to the homicide division.

By then, Larry had served out his prison sentence for molesting three more children after Carmeletta’s disappearance.

Doctors had diagnosed Kenneth with cancer.

Finally, in November 2008, investigators received a copy of the DNA test results. A clerical error at the Crime Lab had delayed the mailing by almost six years.

The unexpected results - the bones did NOT belong to Carmeletta.

Tomorrow: Carmeletta’s mystery deepens.

How we got this story

As part of a six-month investigation, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette interviewed 38 people and reviewed dozens of court and police documents to tell Carmeletta’s story.

Orlando Green provided details about the time he spent with his sister, as well as his decision about becoming a police officer. Orlando and Gerald Nance with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children provided details about Michelle Pollina’s involvement.

Detective Steve Moore provided details about the case file, evidence and his views on the case. Little Rock police gave the newspaper the original incident report on Carmeletta’s disappearance and the supplemental report, which provided details about the case’s classification.

Crime Laboratory Director Kermit Channell provided information about the mitochondrial DNA testing technology and process.

The DNA test results along with the 2008 letter about them were included in a case file provided by the Pulaski County sheriff’s office.

Front Section, Pages 1 on 12/10/2009

Print Headline: LOSING ’LETTA ◊ CHAPTER 5 A brother’s quest

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